Structural Motivation is the fifth element in the Six Sources of Influence — a framework established by the book “Influencer: The New Science of Leading Change.”
Source 5. Structural Motivation: change their economy.
Structural motivation transcends human factors and delves into the potency of external elements, such as rewards, perks, bonuses, salaries, and the occasional warning and punishment. When employing structural motivation and implementing incentives, the primary objective should focus on the elimination of disincentives — to “change the economy” as it were, i.e., to prevent incentives from undermining the impact of your influence message. Nonetheless, it is crucial to point out that the real driving force of change comes from personal motivation (source 1) and social motivation (source 3).
Use extrinsic rewards third: In a well-balanced change effort, influencers first ensure that vital behaviors connect to intrinsic satisfaction, next they line up social support, and rewards only come third, i.e., only after they have double checked the other two sources of motivation do they apply extrinsic rewards to prompt vital behavior. For instance, organizational scholars have long found that many employees leave corporate award ceremonies demotivated because they themselves weren’t honored and more than half of them believe that they didn’t get picked only for political reasons. In fact, many see the whole ceremony as a sham. Even those receiving the awards feel that they are singled out and may be ridiculed by their coworkers. Why? The ceremony fails to offer intrinsic satisfaction or gain social support.
Use incentives wisely: If the rewards come soon, are gratifying, and are clearly linked to vital behaviors, even small rewards can work wonders. For instance, in a group home for troubled teenage girls, suicide attempts increased dramatically. On top of giving emotional speeches, holding group sessions, and enlisting help from friends and family, the administrators came up with an incentive — if a teenage resident attempted suicide, she would be denied TV privileges for the next week — which could be invoked on the spot, was immediately motivating, and was clearly tied to the desired behavior. The result? Suicide attempts dropped to zero in a matter of months!
If you do it right, less is more: Extrinsic rewards typically don’t need to be large — at least if you’ve laid the groundwork with personal and social motivations (source 1 and 3). It’s often the thought, not the gift, that counts. If you’ve done your work with the intrinsic motives, they can give your token awards enormous value; but if you haven’t, extrinsic rewards run the risk of becoming a source of mockery and cynicism, as exemplified by the above-mentioned corporate award ceremonies.
Reward vital behaviors along the way: Reward small improvements in behavior along the way. Don’t wait until phenomenal results are achieved. For example, a doctor routinely uses vouchers to help direct the behavior of cocaine addicts. In this system, outpatients are required to submit a urine sample three times a week. If all three samples test negative, the subjects receive a bonus voucher to exchange for goods and services provided by the research staff. When employed in conjunction with efficacious conventional treatments and used with addicts who are already morally and socially invested in quitting cocaine, the implementation of such a voucher system — that provides a weekly motivational boost as opposed to a one-time reward upon completion — can yield substantial advantages. Among the patients who were given vouchers, 90 percent finished the 12-week treatment program, whereas only 65% of non-voucher subjects completed the program.
Reward vital behaviors alone: Behavior is the one thing that’s under people’s control, while outcomes frequently fluctuate in response to market dynamics and other external variables. As a result, influencers consistently monitor and incentivize behaviors that demonstrate progress. If the right actions people take are rewarded, the desired results will eventually fall into place.
Watch for perverse incentives: Despite the best intentions, it’s easy to come up with the wrong incentives, as illustrated by many organizations’ reward systems that motivate just the opposite of vital behavior. For example, a consulting firm discovered that many of its best consultants were leaving due to their generous incentive program. They had an annual award luncheon event that recognized the “Road Warrior of the Year” with a $50,000 cash prize. This “Road Warrior” was the consultant who had spent the most days on the road that year. For four years in a row, those “Warriors” quit the firm the same year they won the prize, citing work-life balance issues. What a surprise!
Punishment sends a message, and so does its absence — so choose wisely: Punishment doesn’t guarantee the mirror effect of positive reinforcement. While punishment may yield compliance in the short term, it runs the risk of eliciting resistance or deliberate rebellion from the individual in question. Moreover, punishment can engender a range of severe and detrimental emotional effects, particularly when it’s administered without precision and consistency.
- Before punishing, place a shot across the bow: One way to make use of punishment without having to administer it is to “place a shot across the bow” of those you’re trying to influence, i.e., provide a clear warning to let them know what will exactly happen to them should they continue down their current path.
- When all else fails, punish: If the allure of gratification associated with the wrong behavior continues to prevail after all the efforts — including trying incentives, applying social pressure, appealing to the individual’s personal values, and a shot across the bow — fall short of expectation, it is time to exercise discipline as the next course of action.
Grenny, J., Patterson, K., Maxfield, D., McMillan, R., & Switzler, A. (2013, May 17). Influencer: The New Science of Leading Change (2nd ed.). McGraw Hill.
Collet, B. (2022, Dec. 13). To Succeed in Change and Transformation, Uncover Why People Behave the Way They Do. Agile Leader Academy. https://www.agileleader.academy/post/to-succeed-in-change-and-transformation-uncover-why-people-behave-the-way-they-do
Related articles and book:
Collet, B. (2019). Agile leadership. (Online course). https://www.udemy.com/course/agile-leadership/