Motivation vs. Determination: Why You Should Know the Difference

“I’m motivated” versus “I’m determined”.

In a lot of conversations, you could probably say either sentence and get the same idea across.

Yet, there is a difference. To put it in the words of executive coach Jamie Douraghy, “Motivation is what gets you started. Determination is what helps you finish what you started.”

If we’re determined to do something we’ll stay on it, even after that initial motivation disappears. For most c-level and HR leaders, that's exactly the kind of drive you dream of seeing in your employees.

So why does the highly motivated, truly determined employee seem so elusive?

What Makes Employee Motivation and What Makes Determination?

There are thousands of articles on how to motivate your employees.

Most of the traditional advice focuses on encouraging more fun at work, recognizing individual contributions and, if you really want to go big, integrating some sweet perks into the mix.

And that all makes sense. After all, can you imagine a workplace where everyone communicates clearly, thanks each other (both verbally and with rewards), and works in an office with a fully stocked kitchen and and the latest ergonomic workstations?

It would be hard not to feel motivated at a place like that, right? Or would it?

The truth is, both motivation and determination probably come from somewhere much simpler.

Professor Edward Deci and clinical psychologist Richard Ryan created the basis for something called the self-determination theory. Like the name suggests, the idea is that most people are already intrinsically motivated and determined. The trick is to sustain it.

Self-determination theory suggests that fostering a sense of “autonomy, competence, and relatedness” helps make sure people don’t lose the intrinsic determination they start with. But doing that in the hustle and bustle of a busy workplace is a whole lot harder than it sounds.

Why Do Employees Lose Their Motivation?

It can be easy to think of employee motivation in terms of giving.

Giving employees proper feedback, acknowledgement and rewards, all contributes to their level of motivation. But if we already have an inherent sense of determination, then maybe employee motivation is more about simply not taking anything away.

Business consultant and author of Good to Great, Jim Collins reverses the framework and suggests that people usually start with motivation and end up demotivated. He goes so far as to say that a boss thinking they need to motivate you is, “discounting what you really are as a person.” Instead, he suggests ways to avoid demotivating.

Here are Jim's three strategies:

  1. Address the problems.
  2. Don’t come into a meeting with a decision already made.
  3. Show tangible results.

According to Jim, these factors help keep the motivation on your side. He argues that it's the opposite—avoiding problems, making decisions before asking for input, and pointing to intangibles—that robs your employees of the natural motivation they came in with.

Will a Performance Review Help or Hurt?

At the end of the day, it might not be a question of how to motivate through performance reviews, but how to make sure your performance review process doesn’t demotivate your employees.

Consider whether your review process and management style gives employees a greater feeling of autonomy and whether you're really ready to listen with open ears to what they have to say. If you're taking the time and steps necessary to address problems head on, and use tangible data to backup your decisions, the rest will take care of itself.

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