There has been a significant amount of research on the merits of intrinsic versus extrinsic motivation (see Eisenberger, Deci, Ryan, Locke, Latham, Kohn, and now Dan Pink…). Both sides of the controversy claim that their favored motivational drive is best. In my opinion, they are both barking up the wrong tree.
It has been shown empirically that both types of motivation drive behavior. In the real world, both extrinsic and intrinsic motivations are utilized in almost all work situations. I don’t know of any work place that doesn’t provide employees with some type of pay and most have some sort of variable pay. I also don’t know of a workplace where there isn’t a focus on (or at least lip service to) improving how jobs are structured for greater engagement or how leaders can inspire their employees. However, the real discussion should be on how to leverage both forms of motivation to get the behavior change that is needed.
The main issue in this debate focuses around the general impact that extrinsic reward has on intrinsic motivation. Both sides of the debate admit that in certain circumstances extrinsic rewards can either have a detrimental or positive impact on intrinsic motivation. The issue that businesses face is how to create incentives that not only drive immediate performance but also have a positive influence on intrinsic motivation. The discussion needs to be not on an either/or type scenario, but on how do we leverage the power of both.