The Extrinsic Motivation Continuum for Retention

by | Jan 10, 2023

According to researchers, extrinsic motivation operates on a continuum that starts very externally and moves towards being intrinsic.

Step 1. External reward/punishment: Individuals participate in a system/process to gain external rewards (ex. money) or avoid punishment (ex. can’t pay bills).

Step 2. Advancement of ego: Individuals are focused on the approval of others (ex. compliments, recognition) and themselves (ex. maintaining self-esteem and feelings of worth). They can also be motivated by avoiding guilt at this stage.

Step 3. Identification: Individuals start to become conscious of the value of their activities or associations. They see the personal importance of a behavior beyond short-term reward.

Step 4. Integration: Individuals start to see themselves as part of the group and see their personal values and needs in congruence with the objectives of the team.

Except for a few intrinsically motivated agents, each agent in your office will be somewhere along this path.

Based on this continuum, there are two ways to look at retention strategy:

1.  Be better at Step 1 and Step 2 than your competitors by constantly increasing the value of what you’re offering.

2.  Attempt to convert your Step 1/2 agents into Step 3/4 agents.

Both strategies have advantages and disadvantages, and one approach is not necessarily better than the other.

But it’s important to pick one and commit yourself to it.

If you try to execute both strategies at the same time, you’ll likely be outmaneuvered by a competitor that is more focused.

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