Can Personality Lead to Better Performance?

Topic: Motivation, Personality, Job Performance
Publication: Personality and Individual Differences (MAR 2009)
Article: Using a two-factor theory of achievement motivation to examine performance-based outcomes and self-regulatory processes.
Authors: Story, P.A., Hart, J.W., Stasson, M.F., & Mahoney, J.M.
Reviewed By: Samantha Paustian-Underdahl

Have you ever wondered why some employees seem to find it easier to achieve their organizational goals than others? Current research proposes that theories of achievement motivation can explain some of  these employee differences. Achievement motivation refers to the tendency to set and work toward personal goals and/or standards (Cassidy & Lynn, 1989). It can be broken down into two motivational factors: intrinsic achievement motivation (IAM) and extrinsic achievement motivation (EAM) (Ryan & Deci, 2000). While researchers agree that achievement motivation is a complicated concept, many disagree about how it differs amongst employees.

Researchers debate how individuals who are intrinsically or extrinsically motivated may differ in their self-regulation and in their need for learning. In the current study, Story, Hart, Stasson, and Mahoney (2009) examined 340 college students in order to look into these two issues. They found that IAM scores were positively related with scores on the Need for Cognition scale. Thus, greater levels of intrinsic motivation were associated with a higher need for cognition.

It seems that employees who are  intrinsically motivated may be more interested in mastering skills and learning new material than in simply meeting a goal or competing with coworkers. On the other hand, EAM was not significantly related to need for cognition. The authors believe that rather than being motivated by learning, extrinsically motivated employees may be motivated by competition and external rewards.

The authors also found that IAM was positively related to frequency of self-regulation, showing that those with higher levels of intrinsic motivation reported higher levels of self-regulation. However, there was no significant correlation between EAM and frequency of self regulation.  Extrinsically motivated employees may need a greater push from management (e.g., rewards, deadlines, regulation) in order to successfully reach their goals.

The take-away here is that depending on the type of motivation an employee has, and the kinds of organizational policies and practices in place, an employee may find it more or less difficult to work towards achieving their goals. Intrinsically motivated employees will naturally be compelled to learn and master organizational skills and tasks. They will probably not be motivated by deadlines or external rewards. On the other hand, extrinsically motivated employees are more likely to succeed in competitive environments in which they have deadlines and are closely regulated by supervisors. Intrinsically motivated employees however, may be more successful in environments where they can independently regulate their goal-attainment strategies.

Story, P.A., Hart, J.W., Stasson, M.F., & Mahoney, J.M. (2009). Using a two-factor theory of achievement motivation to examine performance-based outcomes and self-regulatory processes. Personality and Individual Differences, 46, 391-395.