Achievement motivation - American business
Achievement motivation has to do with how inspired people are to pursue and accomplish their goals. When an individual does accomplish a desired goal, it typically results in a sense of positive self-worth, which contributes to personal and professional growth and development. The motivation to achieve may be affected both by dispositional characteristics, such as individuals’ perceptions of their abilities and potential to succeed; and by external forces, such as the promise of rewards for success or threat of punishment for failure.
Some individuals appear to have an intrinsically high level of achievement motivation. These people typically do not require the use of external incentives to prompt them to work towards their goals because they already have the desire to do so. People who are motivated mainly by a high need to achieve will seek out challenging tasks and work hard to succeed at them. People low in the need for achievement tend to pursue very easy tasks, where the chances of success are high; or they choose tasks that are extremely difficult, where no reasonable person could be expected to succeed. Thus when failure occurs, it is not attributed to the person’s lack of skills or abilities but to the difficult nature of the task.
In contrast, some individuals are driven primarily by a fear of failure rather than a need to achieve. This fear of failure may lead them to avoid challenging tasks altogether. People who are motivated mainly by this fear will avoid the risks presented by difficult or complex tasks, precisely because they may result in failure. Instead, these individuals tend to prefer easy tasks where, even though the rewards may be small, the chances of success are great. A smaller subset of individuals may be motivated by a fear of success. People who fear success may worry that after succeeding at a challenging task, other people will raise their expectations of them. The pressure of these expectations, coupled with the individual’s fear that he or she will be unable to continue success at that level, may lead these individuals to sabotage their own efforts to succeed in the first place. Thus they avoid the potential anxiety and pressure associated with success.
In addition, the nature of any given task may affect an individual’s decision to pursue it and how hard that person tries to succeed. Specific tasks may elicit either intrinsic or extrinsic motivation, or both. Intrinsic motivation involves the desire to perform a behavior or task for its own sake, perhaps because the person finds it pleasurable or exciting. Extrinsic motivation involves performing a behavior or task in order to earn external rewards or to avoid punishments. Maximizing intrinsic motivation appears to be very effective for increasing and maintaining the performance of a desired behavior. Therefore employers or supervisors who try to make routine tasks more interesting or exciting may increase the chances that employees will want to work on those tasks.
On the other hand, providing external motivators for a task that is already intrinsically motivating may backfire, inadvertently decreasing the person’s intrinsic motivation to perform it. For example, one study found that people who were given money as an external motivator for working on a puzzle found the puzzle to be less interesting than people who were not paid for working on it. Extrinsic rewards may change people’s perceptions of how attractive or fun a particular task may be. In other words, once someone receives money for a task, it becomes more like work than like pleasure. In this respect the extrinsic reward may be interpreted as a control device used to entice a person into working on a task that has little intrinsic value.
However, the use of extrinsic rewards can be highly effective under certain conditions, such as when they are used to provide feedback or information concerning a person’s performance. For example, when a salesperson receives an unexpected bonus for successful work, he may increase his future efforts, thus leading to improved performance rather than a decreased interest in continuing the task.
Finally, achievement motivation is linked to employee motivation in the sense that people motivated by a high need to achieve will likely seek out challenging tasks at work and strive to accomplish them. Employees with a high level of achievement motivation can contribute in significant ways to the success of any business.
See also MOTIVATION THEORY; PERFORMANCE APPRAISAL.
Baron, Robert A., and Donn Byrne. Social Psychology, 10th ed. Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 2003; Myers, David G. Exploring Psychology, 5th ed. New York: Worth Publishers, 2002.
—Elizabeth L. Cralley