You hear about a new training course that will develop your skills.
Do you sign up? Why?
Psychologists have found that our goals can be categorized into four main types:
- Mastery Approach
- Performance Approach
- Mastery Avoidance
- Performance Avoidance
Mastery goals are those in which we want to master or become competent in something. Performance goals are those in which we want to show competency to other people, a boss for example. Approach means hoping to gain something while avoidance means wanting to avoid losing something. Let’s take four people: Sue, Bob, Ryan and Liz.
Sue signs up for a managerial training course because she wants to develop her managerial skills in order to become a better manager in work. She has a mastery approach goal.
Bob signs up because he wants to show his manager that he has good managerial skills and get a promotion. He has a performance approach goal. Ryan signs up because he is worried that his managerial skills aren’t up to scratch and he wants to improve his own capabilities. He has a mastery avoidance goal.
Liz signs up because she is worried that if she doesn’t sign up her own manager will think that she has poor managerial skills. She has a performance avoidance goal. Based on this information who do you think will be the most productive? On the one hand the promise of a promotion will incentivise Bob. On the other hand, anxiety around their performance will incentivise Ryan and Liz. But, as we wrote in our last blog, intrinsic motivation (a motivation inspired by internal factors like satisfaction in one’s work. Link here) is important in the workplace so Sue might be the most productive.
In 2013 two psychologists put this to the test. They assessed 1,441 employees over a 10 month period. They measured their intrinsic and extrinsic motivation the type of goals that they had and their work effort .
As you might expect, they found that people who are intrinsically motivated put in the most effort when they have a mastery approach goal. So Sue, who derives pleasure from doing work because she wants to be competent, will put the most effort into the course. Surprisingly, however, people who are extrinsically motivated, like Bob, actually put in the most effort when they have a mastery avoidance goal. Although Bob might be working towards a promotion he will actually be more motivated by the thought that his skills are lacking than by the promise of a promotion.
What does this all mean? Well it means that while external factors like promotions and pay-rises are welcome, and often deserved, the secret to real work ethic and productivity is to live up to your own internal standards. Often the internal sense of satisfaction that comes from learning a new skill or doing a job well is more rewarding than what anyone else could say to you. The next time you have a goal take a look at what type it is. If it’s purely performance-based take a second look and see if you can change it into a mastery one instead. It might just push you past the procrastination stage.
- Dysvik, A., & Kuvaas, B. (2013). Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation as predictors of work effort: The moderating role of achievement goals. British Journal of Social Psychology, 52(3), 412-430.