You are the nominated Champion for your work’s BeUpstanding challenge. Congratulations! But, now you are wondering how to keep your team motivated to stick with it. How will your communications help your team feel driven to see out the challenge to the end? Fortunately, there’s more that you could consider in addition to the helpful resources, reminders and shout-outs at morning meetings. We’ve applied a theory that provides an effective way of supporting sustained motivation as a leader, and adapted the approach to best suit your role as a BeUpstanding Champion.
Consider this – if you had all the money you needed to survive and be content for the rest of your life, would you still do some form of work? It wouldn’t be unreasonable to say “no”, if your primary reason for working was to earn an income to sustain your living. If you thought “yes”, what would be your reason for wanting to continue working, when the need to earn money or status is no longer a driving factor?
Thanks to Self-Determination Theory (or SDT) co-founders, Richard Ryan and Edward Deci, we’re able to understand how different types of human motivation drives our behaviour. Ryan and Deci formulated a continuum that spans from having no motivation, to having externally controlled types of motivation (e.g., Receiving a treat or promotion), through to more autonomous types of motivation (e.g., Experiencing enjoyment or satisfaction). This is important, because there can be a difference in outcomes.
When motivation is driven by an external motivator (e.g., the reward), you’re more likely to focus on the reward itself, and less on the nature and importance of what you’re doing. These reward-based approaches can still increase productivity, however, the effect is less favourable long-term. Unfortunately, controlled motivation can be of poorer quality and sustainability. It is also linked to some unfavourable side effects, like decreased satisfaction. It is emphasised in SDT that autonomous motivation (e.g. enjoyment of the walk) is more likely to persist and be of higher quality than extrinsic rewards (e.g. being motivated by the double choc muffin waiting at the end of the walk). This has been backed by research in the context of health behaviours, sport, work organisations and schools.
So, now that we understand our motivations, it’s important to understand your role as a leader, in supporting autonomous motivation.
Ryan and Deci emphasise the importance of supporting three core psychological needs in order to achieve sustainable self-determination. These needs are autonomy, competence and relatedness (defined below). And whilst the three core needs are factors that exist within the individual, it is worth acknowledging that they can be influenced by our environment. This is where leadership comes in.
As a BeUpstanding Champion applying Self-Determination Theory, you’d be supporting your team to complete the challenge in their own way, on their own terms and to continue to feel motivated by it. You’d be aiming to ensure that they feel competent and capable to complete the challenge and that there is a sound support network shaking the pompoms and cheering for them along the way.
The 6-part framework below, which has been developed and published by Stone, Deci and Ryan, aims to support leaders to effectively address the three core needs and to help create an environment which reinforces sustained autonomous motivation. We’ve included tips for how you could implement this framework in your role as a BeUpstanding Champion.
- Welcome to the Problem-Solvers! You want to ensure your team are invited and welcome to participate in solving the problem. You might do this by asking open questions and encouraging team member input in the solution. For example, this might look like – “tell me about your ideas on how we can create opportunities for more movement at work?”
- Listen…with both ears. This means remaining open and attentive while the person is sharing their thoughts and empathetically acknowledging their perspective as valid. This could be done by reflecting on the information that you’ve gathered and summarizing it back to that person. For example, “it sounds like this has been a barrier for you to increase your movement at work for some time now.”
- Choices, choices, choices. (Within reason, of course). Provide your team members with an autonomy-supportive rationale for why they are performing a task and acknowledge any unfavourable aspects to it. Use language and tone which demonstrates and emphasizes the team member’s practical choices within this. An example of this in practice would be – “We’ve signed up to BeUpstanding so that we can support more movement into our workdays and reduce our risk of health conditions related to sedentary activity. Participation in the challenge is entirely voluntary and we would be open to you making a practical and reasonable goal for how and when you move throughout your workday, whether that be solo or as a group. It might take some trial-and-error to see how this could best work, but ultimately, we want to support you to find a suitable way to make physical activity more regular within your workday and benefit your long-term health.”
- Look outside the compliment sandwich. It’s not only important to consider providing feedback, but also to consider how you provide your team with feedback. Are you supporting autonomy and competence or focusing on the person’s compliance with instructions? Are you being genuine and acknowledging of the personal contribution that they have provided or are you delivering non-specific, compliment-sandwiched feedback? A way you could demonstrate autonomy and competence-supportive feedback might be – “Thanks for taking the initiative to flag the height-adjustable desk malfunction. Knowing this means we can get it fixed for everyone.”
- It doesn’t have to be a competition! Focusing only on external rewards like remuneration and competition with others, in the absence of support for autonomy, competence and relatedness, might make it more difficult to establish sustained autonomous motivation in your team. Having a “winners” and “losers” approach not only sees a decline in motivation for the losers, but also in the quality of the motivation within the winners. Try keeping the volume down on any “winner’s benefits” talk and redirect the focus toward other autonomous motivators and outcomes which support everyone (e.g. increased productivity, wellbeing, satisfaction, etc.).
- Level up on talent and capabilities…with the right reasons. There’s no doubt that our teams perform better when they are provided with the opportunity to learn and increase their capability, right? But when organisations share and deliver knowledge as a reward, rather than for the purpose of increasing autonomy and self-development, engagement and performance output could be of lesser quality. As a BeUpstanding Champion, you might want to consider how your team shares resources and skills for completing the challenge, and whether this information is being provided with the aim to support autonomy and competence to create more movement at work.
With this framework as a foundation, we hope you will find your own way to support your team to consider their ‘why’ for completing the challenge and to feel self-determined, all without sacrificing performance.
A note from the Author
I would like to Acknowledge the Traditional Owners and their custodianship of the lands on which I researched and developed this content. I pay my respects to their Ancestors and their descendants, who continue cultural and spiritual connections to Country.
This blog was written by Melissa Osborn as part of her Master of Psychology (Health) placement with the BeUpstanding team.