How to know if your Job is Intrinsically Motivating

Many people are aware of the ‘Autonomy-Mastery-Purpose’ triad concept promoted by Daniel Pink in his hugely popular book ‘Drive’. Pink says for jobs to be intrinsically motivating, people need to have autonomy (to make decisions over what they do and need), mastery (continuously learning and improving oneself) and purpose (a guiding principle that is beyond profit and self-interest).

What many people may not be aware of is a closely related and equally interesting framework presented by Hackman and Oldham in the 1970s which is called the Job Characteristics Model (JCM). It describes 5 core characteristics of a job and how they lead to intrinsic motivation.
Below is the model representation :

The model describes 5 core dimensions of a job, 3 psychological states it achieves and the personal and work outcomes of such a job.

The core dimensions are : Skill Variety, Task Identity, Task Significance, Autonomy and Feedback. The first three contribute towards experienced meaningfulness of the work.

1.      Skill Variety : refers to the different variety of skills required to complete a job. More the variety, better is the engagement at work. If the job involves doing the same kind of tasks the person might experience the work as monotonous and therefore may not find much meaning in it. For example, if a person is a software tester whose main responsibility is to test software code, he/she might be more engaged in the job if there are opportunities to test different products, do testing under various testing environments, writing automated test systems, etc. The variety could be increased if the person has overlapping responsibilities with other teams, such as design team or development teams.

2.      Task Identity : refers to the degree to which a job requires completion of a identifiable and ‘whole’ piece of work – that is doing the tasks from beginning to end to produce a visible outcome. Imagine an assembly line, where each worker works on only one part of the entire product such as an automobile. The worker has no visibility or ownership to the final product. Take the case of the tester from the example in bullet no.1 – the tester’s responsibility is to only test the code written by the development team, and therefore contributes to only one part of the product making. In such cases, the degree of Task identity is less. Increasing task identity will increase the meaningfulness of the job. How to increase degree of Task Identity ? In practice, where products require several people and multiple skills, it is not possible to have an individual do everything. What is possible, apart from the special skills that the individual applies to the job, is to give opportunities for contributing to other tasks in making the product . Working in a cross-functional team is a good option to increase Task Identity.

3.      Task Significance : the degree to which a job has significant impact on the lives and work of other people in the same organization or a different organization, such as the client’s. If the individual perceives her job to be directly contributing to the well-being or work outcomes of another individual, this indicates a higher degree of task significance and is also experienced as more meaningful. Quite often, people at the lower rungs do not have clarity on how the work that they do adds value to their customers. Helping them become aware of this will add meaningfulness to the work they do.

The fourth dimension contributes to the experienced responsibility for the work outcome.

4.      Autonomy : the degree to which the job provides independence and discretion to the individual to make decisions related to her own job, such as schedules, tools, processes, etc. Degree of autonomy determines the extent of responsibility the individual will take for the outcome of the work. Higher the degree of autonomy, higher is the responsibility experienced by the person. Put in other words, if the person does not have the freedom to decide about things that relate to his own job, then he will not be able to take full responsibility for the outcomes.

The fifth dimension leads to knowledge of the work results.

5.      Feedback : direct and clear information about the outcome of the work performed by the individual to improve her overall performance. Availability of feedback information is crucial since it helps to know the gaps and take actions to improve.

All the three psychological states lead to high internal motivation, high quality work performance, high satisfaction with the work and low turnover.

According to the theorists, the overall potential of a job to be intrinsically motivating is the highest when all of the following conditions are true : (a) the job is high on any of the first 3 core dimensions that lead to meaningfulness (b) high on autonomy and (c) high on feedback.

There is also a formula to calculate Motivating Potential Score (MPS) :
MPS = ([Skill Variety + Task Identity + Task Significance]  /3 ) x Autonomy x Feedback


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