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Instrumental vs. Integrative Motivation

Updated on December 16, 2017
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Jessica J. Lockhart is an author, a humanologist and the creator of Humanology, Optimism Coaching® and Personal Essence® among other tools.

Based on their own type of motivation, human beings will devote themselves to their work in completely different ways.

I first learned about instrumental and integrative motivation when I was an English teacher, many years ago. The concept was first established by Gardner and Lambert in 1972 to explain why some students acquire a second language faster and better than others. Today I want to explain how that same concept applies to companies and performance and clearly explains evolution and sustainability. There are many other classifications of motivation one could use for companies, but I think this simple dichotomy is easy to use and very revealing.

Motivation is part of the Personal Sphere of a human being. The nature of a person's motivation can not be changed by anybody but that person because it is rooted in the person's belief system. We all have our own type of motivation and nobody can change it unless we each decide to change it ourselves. A good manager will be able to identify the type of motivation his or her subordinates have and will combine their skills based on the company's needs at all times. Neglecting to do so will have a very negative and serious impact on the company's overall performance and development.

Instrumental motivation refers to the one that drives human beings to reaching goals and objectives. Integrative motivation is the one that employees feel when they want to be part of the company and thrive with it. Although every human being has a bit of both, one is usually more important than the other and guides the person's actions. Human beings whose main motivation is instrumental will be completely task-oriented whereas those with integrative motivation will be more company-oriented.

Both types of motivation are necessary for companies to survive. If only instrumental motivation existed, employees would just seek objectives without considering the overall good of the company or its long-term survival. We often see this happening in companies that fail; they reach amazing goals but lack the solid foundations on which to stand after their very fast growth. On the other hand, when only integrative motivation exists, companies survive but barely ever reach great levels of success.

Each type of motivation entails a different set of characteristics. Let me try and summarize the most important ones:

  • Instrumental motivation:
    • task or goal-oriented, this type of motivation mainly focuses on expanding, reaching and growing
    • Always looks ahead and outside
    • those whose motivation is mainly instrumental will set and pursue goals and objectives more than anything else.
    • routine will be their number one enemy, destroying their drive and desire
    • the perfect driving force when looking to expand, grow or disseminate
    • A must in entrepreneurs and visionaries. No company can grow without it.
  • Integrative motivation:
    • the motivation of permanence and stability
    • Always looks inside
    • those whose motivation is mainly integrative will strengthen the company's values and philosophy and will seek every opportunity to create greater internal cohesion and team spirit.
    • risk will be their number one enemy, paralyzing them
    • the perfect force when stabilizing a new company or in situations of crisis
    • Basic in departments seeking to consolidate the company: human resources, accounting, and so on.

Companies need different mixtures of both types of motivation, depending on their level of development, growth and market situation. A good CEO or owner will make sure that their companies hire professionals with the right type of motivation depending on the tasks to be performed. Different realities will require different combinations. Once a stage is reached, a new combination might be required. That's why motivation is never fixed. Thriving companies know this and seek the right type for their moves.

Good managers also know that different types of motivation play different roles and will promote their employees also based on the company's needs. So, if growth and expansion is needed, instrumentally-motivated individuals will be promoted to leading roles. When consolidation and stability are required, though, those promoted will be the ones with integrative motivations.

Understanding motivation in human beings is part of humanology. Humanology thus helps companies understand their own elements and components better. When those in higher positions contemplate their work from the point of view of humanology, things become clearer and make better sense.

© 2017 Jessica J Lockhart

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