Idea Management Systems: How to Escape the Fatal Flaw

by Leila Durmaz

Idea Management Systems: How to Escape the Fatal FlawDid you know there is one fatal flaw that can cause your idea management system to self-destruct?

Yup, it’s true. And, unfortunately, many organizations suffer from it.

What is this common flaw, you ask?

Here’s the short answer: Relying on extrinsic motivators.

Extrinsic motivators are dangerously easy to implement. That’s why many organizations try to use them. Don’t fall into the trap!

You might be wondering why extrinsic motivators are such a big deal. Let’s find out why…

What Are Extrinsic Motivators?

Extrinsic motivators derive from factors external to the person being motivated. Common extrinsic motivators include:

  • Rewards (for example, money or grades)
  • Threat of punishment
  • Competition is also an extrinsic motivator because it encourages the performer to win and beat others, instead of enjoying the intrinsic rewards of the activity.

On the opposite side of the spectrum are intrinsic motivators. Intrinsic motivators come from factors internal to the person.

Intrinsic motivation refers to motivation that is driven by an inherent interest or enjoyment in the task itself, and exists within the individual rather than relying on external pressures or a desire for reward. A common example is:

  • A student who is interested in mastering a topic, not just in achieving a good grade.

Research has shown that people motivated by intrinsic factors perform at a higher level and are able to sustain this over a longer period of time compared to people motivated by extrinsic rewards.

Why Is Extrinsic Motivation Bad for Your Idea Management System?

So, why is it so important that you avoid extrinsic motivators and focus on intrinsic motivation instead? Here is a real-life example…

Our company was approached a few months ago by Sara (name changed to protect privacy), an HR manager who was frustrated with her idea management system. Sara’s idea management system was solely based on a reward system where a reward was calculated based on what her organization thought the idea might be worth.

In the beginning, it seemed to work well. Cost savings were calculated & employees were given a percentage of that.

However, after a while, Sara began to notice serious problems:

  • Employee enthusiasm began to wane.
  • Employees that did put in good, innovative ideas didn’t get rewarded with what they thought was fit.
  • When employees saw others getting bigger rewards, they got turned off.
  • Teamwork morphed into harsh individualism.

As a result, the idea management system was struggling and Sara’s team was frustrated to the point that they seriously considering ending the system. What should Sara do?

Best Approach for Eliminating Extrinsic Motivation and Tapping Into Intrinsic Motivation

If Sara were creating a brand new idea management system, the best approach would be to tap into intrinsic motivation. Please see the white paper “How to Build an Idea Management System That *Actually* Works” for detailed instructions on how you can create an idea management system built on intrinsic motivation principles. 

However, Sara’s idea management system was already in place and was using extrinsic motivators. What was the best solution for her?

How to Escape Extrinsic Motivators Already In Place in Your Idea Management System

Based on our conversations with Sara, here is what she decided to do:

  • Create a “Team Reward”: If you are unable to cut extrinsic rewards completely, the best choice may be to create a “Team Reward” instead of individual rewards.

For this “Team Reward,” upper management could dedicate a specific time (once a quarter, for example) in which they determine total costs saved by the department in that quarter. Then, a percentage of the money saved is distributed to all employees in the appropriate department. This “Team Reward” would eliminate individuality and could encourage team spirit and collaboration.

The key takeaway, then, is:

When building your idea management system, tap into intrinsic motivation as much as possible.

If you are stuck on using extrinsic motivators (due to circumstances outside of your control), then use team rewards instead of individual rewards.

To learn more about idea management systems and how to escape this fatal flaw, download our free white paper here.

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Leila Durmaz blogs at Practical Innovation Management likes researching the best practices for innovation management. Follow Leila at @ideaglow

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