Intrinsic motivations for PMs and over-justification effect

I have spent a lot of time thinking about working fun, creating that atmosphere of the excitement and strong internal motivation in the teams. So when I watched the lectures by Kevin Werbach on Coursera about the intrinsic motivation I wanted to stand up and yell “Got it!”. After thinking for 5 min more I realized, that there is no silver bullet, but again – smart people have thought about that for a long time and wrote a lot of books, which I should read)). So it is the long way ahead.

It all starts when we are talking about rewards.

The biggest danger of rewards can be that they actually demotivate. The basic reason is that rewards are acting as the extrinsic motivation and can crowd out the intrinsic, that already existed.

People start so much thinking about getting the reward that they think the reward is the reason of doing the activity and they no longer have the intrinsic. So the ultimate result is that you are less motivated than when you started. This is sometimes called the over-justification effect.

Over-justification effect

The substitution effect of the reward – when it replaces the intrinsic motivation by the less effective extrinsic motivation. It is very easy to see this effect when dealing with some creative activities, like drawing, playing music, etc.

3In one of the lectures Kevin Werbach described one example: day care pickup. Parents were often late to pick up their children, so people in daycare center had to stay longer and wait for them. So the daycare center decided to set th punishment for the parents – they charged parents for the every time they were late. I was surprised to find out that parents started coming late, then previously! But after thinking for a bit I remembered the similar situation at my work: project managers were supposed to come every morning 10-15 min before the start of the working day to have the “status meeting”. Or course, we were all late) I was among the most hardcore behindhands. And one morning our head of department came out with the idea – let us change some small sum of money for been late. Great! I was coming on time for 2 days or so… And then I started been late every day, even skipped the meetings at all. So did the other managers. We all felt as we paid for been late and we have right to do so 🙂

What limited me from coming late previously? Social pressure – my colleagues, desire for not creating inconvenience for head of department, as he was the nice guy. But it was exchanged by the certain amount of money I can pay to be late. So I choose sleeping longer very day)

So we should always keep in mind that we can fail with getting the desired result by providing a reward, people can become less motivated to do the task and that will produce the worth results than been intended. But the clue here is to have the curtain level of the intrinsic motivation in the beginning.

The over-justification effect is more common when having the following types of rewards:

  • Material tend to create the most demotivating effect
  • Unexpected rewards – the person was already doing the task guided with the intrinsic motivation and can be rather surprised by getting some unexpected reward for good performance
  • Rewards based on achievement

Here comes the self-determination theory, which basis was developed by Edward L. Deci and Richard M. Ryan, – the theory of human motivation, which is able to show that people are not necessarily always motivated by rewards. Also it states that the intrinsic motivation is in fact more powerful and more effective way to encourage people act in certain ways.

The motivation spectrum:


Amotivation: totally demotivated

Extrinsic motivation: according to the self-determination theory there is the spectrum from the most external to the most internal forms of extrinsic motivation.

External regulation is the most external in this spectrum. It is the case when you really don’t want to do something or you are indifferent to it, but you do it because someone else said you to. So it is completely an external cause that pushes you. It can work in some cases, but, as there is no “you” in this action – your willingness, this tend to be the less effective motivation tool.

The next one to the right of the regulation is introjection. The core thing here is the status – person do not really want to do it, but want to get the certain status by completing the task, get appraisals from the other people. It is closer to the “you”, as you are not doing it because of other people.

Identification – person can really see some value in it – that is why he is doing that. It is not because of the status or someone said it should be done. But still person don’t much enjoy the activity)

Integration – complete alignment between the person’s goals and the thing.

Intrinsic motivation – person does the thing because he loves it, because it is fun. As wiki states: it is the natural, inherent drive to seek out challenges and new possibilities.

The main question is how to utilize the different kinds of motivation appropriately for the situation. You can’t cheat people in the thinking they love doing something, they can either find the fun in the activity or not.

Self determination theory promises us to cope with that!

So, the core of it are the three characteristics of the intrinsic motivation. If they are present – it is highly like the people will enjoy the activity by itself.


Autonomy: Person is making the choices by himself, he is in the control. “It is not someone from he outside telling me to do that thing, it is my own choice.”

Competence: person’s sense of ability. It is about solving problems, overcoming obstacles, achieving something.

Relatedness: Your activity is connected to something beyond yourself.

This is the theory used by the number of the great companies, which use the intrinsic motivation to achieve amazing results.

I am finally coming close to the thoughts I wanted to discuss – how managers can use the intrinsic motivation. Guys, it’s a great thing – so powerful and free of charge! ^_^

Here are my thoughts:

Learning: The pursuit of knowledge can be a strong intrinsic motivation for an employee. Training opportunities will make the company better place to work for the majority of the people, as learning is our natural desire of getting new knowledge.

Challenges: Do not forget about challenges. Yes, we are not doing the rocket science, but enterprise development can provide you a lot of challenges. Keep the balance.

Satisfaction: It can be reached through a good feedback – clear and fast. What can be better knowing how you are doing, what is your level of performance, etc. How you results benefit the company, community?

Feedback from the manager  and customer is really important for the team. Here we come closer to the next item:

“Well done”: I noticed, that managers in our country seldom praise colleagues! It is so hard to tell “You are amazing guys, well done!” for them. Do not forget doing that.

Responcibility: Delegate more, trust your team. They are much better than you think. Been able to feel the autonomy – when they can make their own decisions, they will surprise you with the results.

Team spirit, doing valuable things: Team members should feel being a part of the one group, been unique. They should know and feel, how their results benefit the company, how they benefit their customers and users. We are not doing just something – we are developing the product, which will be used by the people.


Materials used:

Coursera Gamification course lectures by Kevin Werbach

Effects of reward on intrinsic motivation, R. Eisenberger, D. Pierce, J. Cameron

3 thoughts on “Intrinsic motivations for PMs and over-justification effect

  1. Спасибо за посты 🙂 очень интересно и вдохновляет) а главное примеры с практики 🙂 т.ч. еще раз спасибо)

    P.S. от куда такие стильные иллюстрации? 😉

    1. Рада, что интересно) У меня еще много тем в запасе)
      Иллюстрации 😉 моих рук дело…у меня тяжелая форма зависимости от маркера и белой доски…как вижу – сразу рисую и не оторвешь)

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