Creating Autonomous Motivation Through Self-Determination

Topics: Motivation, Self-determination theory, Autonomy Pages: 24 (7639 words) Published: October 29, 2010
Beyond Talk: Creating Autonomous Motivation through Self-Determination Theory

By Dan N. Stone*, Edward L. Deci**, and Richard M. Ryan***

Please send correspondence to: Dan N. Stone University of Kentucky Von Allmen School of Accountancy 355F Gatton Business and Economics Building Lexington, KY 40506 859-257-3043 (phone), Last printed: November 24, 2008

Thanks to Cam Cockrell (University of North Texas), Tim Miller (University of Kentucky), and Tim Mitchell (Georgia State University) for comments on earlier drafts. The first author gratefully acknowledges the financial support of the Gatton College of Business, the Von Allmen School of Accountancy and the University of Kentucky.

* ** ***

Gatton Endowed Chair, Gatton College of Business, University of Kentucky Gowen Professor in the Social Sciences, University of Rochester Professor of Psychology, Psychiatry, and Education, University of Rochester

Many managers and academics have a passing familiarity with self-determination theory (SDT), which articulates the core principles that underlie sustainable motivation in organizations. But far fewer understand how to successfully implement a SDT intervention in the face of organizational pressure for short-term accountability and performance. We present the core principles of SDT, describe the principles that underlie successful SDT-based interventions, propose six steps (i.e., actions) that facilitate the creation of autonomous motivation, articulate the obstacles to successful implementation, and present examples of successful organizational implementations.

1. Introduction
Who hasn‘t heard, and perhaps even chanted, the now-familiar motivational mantra? Motivation comes from the self, not from a desire for money. Managers should empower employees, foster decision participation, and support self-initiation and autonomy. Many managers and academics now recite this mantra; some even say that it is old news. Curiously though, when visiting organizations and observing in University classrooms, we find managers and academics who chant the mantra but fail to practice it when leading and teaching. This makes us think of a joke from Woody Allen‘s movie, ―Annie Hall‖ (Internet Movie Database, Inc. 2007). In the movie, Woody Allen‘s character tells of a man who goes to the psychiatrist. ―Doc,‖ he says, ―you must help me. My brother thinks he‘s a chicken.‖ ―Bring him in,‖ replies the doctor. ―I‘ll convince him he‘s not a chicken.‖ ―No,‖ the man exclaims, ―we need the eggs!‖ Managers, too, act like they ―need the eggs‖. So they apply over-learned carrotand-stick motivational strategies despite the fact that promoting autonomy actually yields more ―eggs‖ (i.e., motivation). Walking the unconventional autonomous motivational walk often requires questioning organizational assumptions, making tough, sometimes unpopular, choices, and, taking risks. To avoid these risks, managers and teachers too often take the easy way—talking the politically correct talk but walking the over-learned walk. In the Mann-Gulch fire, twenty-seven firefighters died because they would not drop their tools; because of the rapid spread of the fire, the firefighters‘ normally sensible instincts to retain their, now useless, firefighting tools contributed to their fiery

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deaths (Weick 1993, 1996). Unfortunately, we observe many managers and academics who doggedly cling to the now discredited tools of command-and-control methods; these methods ensure the death of employees‘ motivation and pro-active engagement in work just as surely as the Mann-Gulch firefighters stubborn retention of their tools contributed to their untimely deaths. Over the past 30 years, two of the authors, Edward L. Deci and Richard M. Ryan, have developed a theory of human motivation, called self-determination theory (SDT), that identifies the core principles underlying sustainable motivation (e.g., see Deci and Ryan 1985, 2007; Ryan and...
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