Understanding Organizational Climate and Culture
Article published on: July 8, 2016
Download the PDF
…climate and culture are interrelated but different constructs. Specifically, perceptions shape beliefs (seeing is believing) in typical fashion, but it is also the case that beliefs cause perceptions (believing is seeing). In this way the shared perceptions of those in a work unit (i.e., climate), as both shaping and being shaped by shared beliefs (i.e., culture), are considered.1
Researchers place five rhesus monkeys in a large cage. They then erect a ladder and tie a banana to the top rung. As soon as the researchers exit the cage, one of the monkeys begins scampering up the ladder to claim the coveted banana. Immediately upon touching the ladder, another researcher sprays all of the monkeys with ice water, causing them to retreat into their shelters.
The researchers repeat the water spraying every time a monkey attempts to climb the ladder and retrieve the banana. Rhesus monkeys are smart creatures and they quickly learn the new norm for dealing with the ice water bath, “Do not climb the ladder!”
Next, the researchers replace one of the original animals with a new rhesus monkey. The new monkey immediately attempts to climb the ladder to retrieve the banana and the other four violently repel the newcomer. After repeated beatings, the new monkey learns the norm, “Do not climb the ladder!”
Once again, a researcher replaces an original monkey with a new one and the cycle repeats. The new monkey attempts to climb the ladder to retrieve a banana and is immediately beaten by his four peers.
The researchers eventually replace all the original monkeys in the cage. None of the current monkeys has experienced the spray of ice water for climbing the ladder, but they all know from their peers that climbing the ladder is wrong and will result in an immediate and violent response from fellow monkeys in the cage. Why do they stay off the ladder? Because they have always done it that way.
This is the power of culture.2
The “monkey story” has made the rounds through many business schools because it is a simple yet powerful illustration of organizational culture. The researchers use a compliance-focused influence technique (i.e., ice water as a form of punishment) to impose their will (i.e., what they value and believe) on the group of monkeys. They are attempting to change behavior and establish a group norm for dealing with a problem—monkeys climbing on the ladder. The resultant behavior accepted by the group is to self-police; beat anyone that climbs the ladder.
If we “peel back” the monkey story, we can uncover some important insights about organizational culture. The monkeys live together in a cage. They have a shared history of cohabitating in this small community, which provides stability, meaning, and predictability for its members.3 Collectively, they face two primary challenges, solving problems and managing internal anxiety within the group. These two challenges are the catalysts for the creation of an organization’s culture. Social psychologist Edgar Schein uses the terms external adaptation and internal integration to describe these group actions.4
External adaptation, or problem solving, focuses on the actions of an organization to accomplish its mission and achieve results. These external actions typically are the most important activities leaders undertake because they deal with the achievement, and often survival, of the group, and serve as litmus tests for assessing the success or failure of the leader. In the monkey story, the researchers are “the leaders” and they identify a problem the group must solve, monkeys climbing on the ladder.5
The leadership has two primary ways to influence the situation and assist in problem solving. They can do it through direct action, which Schein calls primary embedding mechanisms, or through indirect action, which he calls secondary reinforcement mechanisms.6 The primary embedding mechanisms consist of six direct actions (i.e., behaviors) leaders can take to influence thinking and behavior within the organization:
- What leaders pay attention to
- How leaders react to crisis
- How leaders allocate resources
- Deliberate role modeling, teaching, and coaching
- How leaders allocate rewards and status
- How leaders recruit, promote, and excommunicate7
Schein uses the term “embedding” because successful use of these methods by leaders results not only in changed behavior and thinking, but also in the integration (i.e., embedding) of what the leader values and believes into the psyche of the organization. When changing behavior, if the new behavior solves the problem and organizational members embrace the change, the action becomes accepted practice, i.e., a group norm. More importantly, as the behavior becomes routine and unquestioned by the group, the rationale for the action – the outcome valued by the organization – becomes embedded in the group psyche as well. When leaders change the thinking in others, followers believe a future behavior change will solve existing problems. They value the outcome before the behavior change occurs. Because of their strong beliefs, behavior change follows, eventually leading to an accepted practice, i.e., a group norm. As you can see from these two approaches to “embedding,” leaders can change behavior to achieve success and bring about a change in thinking. Alternatively, leaders can focus on changing the thinking in others and use beliefs to drive behavior change.
When we put these two pieces together – the changed behavior in the form of group norms and the change in thinking to embrace the outcome we value – we have a shared belief. When viewed collectively within a group, the shared beliefs form the organization’s culture. The monkeys adopt a group norm to stay off the ladder. They initially value not being sprayed with cold water, which eventually morphs into not being beaten up by fellow members of the group for walking on the ladder. To put it in simpler terms, the monkeys have a shared belief that staying off the ladder helps ensure the safety of their community.
To state our culture definition more formally, organizational culture is the shared beliefs of a group used to solve problems and manage internal anxiety.8 By shared beliefs, we mean the collective norms and values of an organization. Norms are the unwritten rules that define and govern acceptable behaviors associated with outcomes important to the organization. These outcomes are what the organization values.9 In other words, we use norms to achieve outcomes the organization values.10 Old members preserve the shared beliefs within the culture by teaching new arrivals how to think, feel, and behave to solve problems and maintain the group’s internal stability. These norms and values reflect the organization’s shared learning or “what we do and why we do it.”
Before we leave the monkey story, we need to examine two more points. We discussed the importance of the six primary embedding mechanisms as powerful tools leaders use to shape behavior and thinking in organizations. As referenced earlier, Schein also discusses the use of secondary reinforcement mechanisms to strengthen the norms and values imposed through the primary embedding mechanisms. They include:
- Organizational design and structure
- Organizational systems and procedures
- Rites and rituals
- Design of physical space
- Stories about important events and people
- Formal statements of philosophy and vision11
These mechanisms are powerful “indirect action tools” when used in conjunction with Schein’s six primary embedding mechanisms. By indirect action, we mean these activities are primarily process-focused steps leaders take to reinforce the direct actions of the primary embedding mechanisms. Many leaders fail in their efforts to shape behavior and thinking because they default to reinforcement mechanisms in lieu of Schein’s embedding mechanisms. For example, imagine the leader of the research team in the monkey story issuing his subordinates a policy letter (a secondary reinforcement mechanism) on methods for properly spraying ice water on rhesus monkeys in lieu of attending the first day of the experiment. If an action is important to a leader, he or she pays attention to it and makes it a priority (the first, and arguably most important, primary embedding mechanism). Not attending the first day of testing sends a message to subordinates and it is not a positive one.
Lastly, we need to address the issue of internal integration, the counterpart to external adaptation (i.e., problem solving) and the second challenge all groups face as part of day-to-day operations. As you recall, group members have a shared history and common purpose. They thrive in a stable and predictable environment that provides meaning for their daily activities. The group realizes it must solve problems to survive (i.e., external adaptation), but it wants to do it without the drama of contentious infighting. In other words, the group wants to manage internal anxiety as part of its day-to-day operations.
Managing internal anxiety requires focusing on people and their collective needs. Taking care of people means creating a stable environment that fosters consistent behavior, predictable outcomes, and mutual trust among followers. This stability allows organizational members to learn the rules for power, influence, and status within the group. Members learn the norms governing behavior and the pecking order for moving up. To help members understand acceptable and unacceptable behaviors within the group, leaders allocate awards and punishments (which are primary embedding mechanisms). When viewed collectively, these actions help reduce anxiety and strengthen unit cohesion.12
To illustrate the challenge with managing internal anxiety, we need to return one last time to the monkey story. The leadership (i.e., the researchers) attempt to change group behavior and create new norms within the monkey community by spraying the members with ice water. What affect did this action have on internal group anxiety? It does not take a scientist to answer this question. A soaking wet, cold, and ticked off monkey is probably not too different from a soaking wet, cold, and ticked off human.
Welcome to the concept of organizational climate.
“I want to be able to eat off of it!”
In 1986, I commanded a mechanized infantry company in Germany. Our new battalion commander had been in the unit about 30 days when he decided to inspect the motor pool. He began with the M113s in my company, ancient armored personnel carriers (APCs) from the Vietnam era. He had us open the engine panels and remove the floorboards from the troop compartment.
“I want to be able to eat off of it,” he said.
I was not sure what I was hearing. “Excuse me?” I said.
“I want the engine compartment and the space under the floorboards so clean we could eat a meal off of it,” he explained.
I was flabbergasted. “Why?” I exclaimed.
“Because you just might learn something about maintenance when you properly clean your vehicle,” he replied.
And learn we did.
As a young and brash company commander, I had little understanding of organizational culture and climate at the time, but I did know the battalion commander was attempting to impose his will on the organization and my company in particular.
I did not like it. Nor did my soldiers. This was not how we did business in the battalion, let alone the company. Everyone knew the floorboards on an M113 hid a lake of greasy, nasty slime and the engine compartments were little better. How do you do preventive maintenance on vehicles older than dirt?
As word percolated through the battalion about the new cleaning standards for the tracks, anger in the unit rose to a boiling point. The actions of the battalion commander created a very negative attitude towards tracked maintenance among members of the battalion.
What does this experience teach us about organizational climate? Three points stand out. First, the actions of the commander to change behavior within the unit (i.e., his compliance-focused influence techniques) had an immediate and negative impact on morale in the organization. This is not unusual when dealing with change. Ideally, leaders create a supportive command climate, one that fosters mutual trust and psychological safety, to enhance the organization’s ability to solve problems and manage internal anxiety. People, however, normally resist change initiatives because the actions challenge existing norms and practices within an organization. Unlearning old habits and relearning new ways of doing business is hard and anxiety spikes as organizational members struggle with the change.13 Change initiatives typically degrade an organization’s climate, at least in the short run, until members perceive some level of success. Success is the “gold standard.” It drives up morale, reinforces the new behaviors, and validates the value of the outcomes associated with the change initiative. When these behaviors become second nature – a norm everyone accepts without question – the organization has successfully anchored the change within the unit’s culture.
The next point is the impact of leadership on an organization’s climate. Soldiers create collective perceptions of the work environment – both good and bad – based on leader actions.14 This is an important point. Leaders shape the collective perceptions of organizational members by how they respond to problems, challenges, and day-to-day activities that affect the group. Whether the leadership responds directly through primary embedding mechanisms, indirectly through secondary reinforcement mechanisms, or not at all (the leader might elect to ignore the issue), members form individual judgments about the work environment based on leader actions that they socialize with other members of the organization. These collective perceptions of the work environment form the organization’s climate.
While the majority of problems, challenges, and day-to-day activities groups face are “in-house” matters as in the motor pool story, many pressing issues originate outside the organization. How do external concerns affect organizational climate, especially when unit leadership has little control over the circumstances?
We can best answer this question with another example. Suppose an organization receives a short-notice tasking to deploy in 30 days. Individually, the tasking will anger many soldiers, which should come as no surprise to the unit leadership. An organization’s culture thrives on stability and predictability, and internal anxiety spikes with short-notice taskings. Though the unit leadership did not generate the tasking, they are not idle observers. All members of the organization will closely watch how the leadership responds to the tasking. Will the leaders paint it in a positive light, emphasizing the unit’s readiness and willingness to meet the challenge? Alternatively, will they react in an angry and negative manner, railing against its unfairness and attacking the credibility of the higher headquarters? As you can see by this example, outside factors do influence organizational climate, but the actions of the unit leadership ultimately shape the collective perceptions of the work environment.
The last point to emphasize from the motor pool story is that organizational climate is not all pervasive. Collective perceptions of the work environment are associated with specific activities and events. In other words, anger, dissatisfaction, or pleasure by soldiers in one area does not automatically apply to another.15 In our motor pool story, the anger among the men focused on a specific outcome, tracked vehicle maintenance. The maintenance directive did not affect soldier attitudes in other areas such as individual and collective training. This is significant. An organization can have a poor climate in one area, ethics for example, and a strong climate in another such as warfighting.
When we consider these ideas on climate collectively, we can summarize them with the following definition. Organizational climate consists of collective perceptions of the work environment formed by members of the organization based on actions, policies, and procedures of the leadership.16
Reflecting on the motor pool experience, our dissatisfaction with the battalion commander was short lived. He talked a big game about tracked vehicle maintenance, but then backed it up with his actions. He provided extensive cleaning supplies to include power washers for the tracks. He followed up with coveralls for every soldier in the battalion to include officers. Finally, he ensured every person who rode on a vehicle was in the motor pool during motor stables, beginning with himself. He was the primary role model, teacher, and coach for the battalion.
I doubt my boss ever heard of Edgar Schein, but he was a poster child for Schein’s primary embedding mechanisms. The battalion commander made vehicle maintenance his priority and it quickly became the priority for every soldier in the battalion. After the initial shock of scrubbing engine compartments wore off, a transformation unfolded in the unit. We began to take pride in our vehicles. Not only were the engine and floorboard compartments clean, but our tracks ran better as we uncovered problems we never knew existed before “the scrubbing.” Maintenance was no longer a buzzword in the battalion. It was what we did to enhance our ability to fight and win.
Did our new approach to maintenance become anchored in the culture? I cannot say for sure; it is a tough question to answer. What I can say is maintenance improved by leaps and bounds in the battalion and we were proud of our efforts. Did the climate improve when it came to tracked vehicle maintenance? I think you know the answer.
Seeing is believing.
As a leader, you are responsible for improving your organization and achieving results – improving while operating. To do so means, “owning” your organization’s culture and climate. This can be a difficult concept to wrap your head around, especially within the broader context of an organization’s culture given its depth and complexity. “Ownership” means shaping the culture and climate as needed using compliance and commitment-focused influence techniques. We have referred many times to Schein’s embedding and reinforcement mechanisms. They are powerful tools for influencing behavior and thinking in organizations. To apply them effectively, you need to be comfortable with the overarching concepts of compliance and commitment, and the use of each to influence an organization’s culture and climate.
Compliance Focused (“Seeing is Believing”). Compliance-focused influence techniques emphasize immediate and short-term behavior changes. When used to support an organization-wide outcome such as a change initiative, compliance-focused influence techniques often generate dissatisfaction with aspects of the work environment, which becomes a climate issue for the leadership. Dealing with the climate issue can be disconcerting. How much dissatisfaction are you willing to accept in the organization as you wait for directed behavior changes to generate visible successes for the unit? For this reason, we consider this a “culture first” approach. As we saw in the motor pool story, the battalion commander moderated the dissatisfaction through his effective application of primary embedding mechanisms, especially the use of resources and his command-directed priorities.
Deliberately reducing morale and weakening the organization’s climate to advance a change initiative is not an easy decision to make. Doing so jeopardizes trust between leaders and subordinates, which can be slow to return even with eventual success of the initiative. The advantage of compliance-focused influence techniques, however, is significant and best captured in the phrase, “Seeing is Believing.” Collective perceptions within the workforce are powerful catalysts for change. Once directed initiatives begin to show progress and achieve success, attitude changes quickly follow. Members of the organization begin to see value in the actions and, as a result, perceptions (i.e., climate) shape shared beliefs (i.e., culture).17 To put it simply, changes in behavior lead to changes in thinking.
Commitment Focused (“Believing is Seeing”). If I can get you to change your thinking and commit to an organizational outcome, the chances of achieving success improve dramatically. Commitment means taking personal ownership and assuming responsibility for something larger than oneself. Committed individuals share a vision. We often see this in the form of an organizational vision in which key members of the group share a common picture of the future and a strategy for achieving the way ahead.18 Committed members are passionate self-starters, demonstrating initiative and radiating energy.
Unlike compliance-focused techniques, you cannot simply direct people to change their thinking when attempting to gain commitment; it is an individual choice. Instead, you attempt to sway them using rational and soft influence techniques emphasizing logic, reason, and emotions.19 Effectively applying these influence techniques requires personal power, the trust-based authority given to leaders by followers because of their admiration and respect for the person. Leaders that effectively use personal power rely heavily on relationship building and personal appeals to establish emotional bonds with their followers and build a cohesive team. From an organizational perspective, this takes the form of a supportive command climate.20 A strong climate grounded in personal relationships does not guarantee committed followers, but it does make individuals more willing to consider the ideas presented by the leadership. For this reason, we consider this a “climate first” approach.
The challenges with commitment-focused influencing are significant. Leaders must build a repository of personal power to establish their authority to use soft influence techniques. Concurrently, they must have a supportive organizational climate in place to improve the effectiveness of the influencing methods. This means a climate that creates psychological safety for its members.21 Next, they must identify key individuals needed to support the initiative or outcome within the organization. Finally, they must have patience to allow these critical organizational members to make the choice and commit to the shared vision.
On the plus side, commitment-focused influencing allows leaders to build a foundation of core followers within their organization. With a coalition of hard-charging, dynamic, and committed followers, the road ahead suddenly becomes a little easier and the impossible suddenly becomes achievable. Building a “foundation” does not require every individual within the organization. It is unrealistic to think everyone will be committed to a specific endeavor. A foundation, which John Kotter calls a guiding coalition,22 consists of critical subordinates in positions to influence other key members of the group. With a solid core of “believers” within an organization, leaders attempt to change thinking to change behavior – “Believing is Seeing.” In this way, a belief in positive behavior change serves as a catalyst for actual behavior change.23
Integrative Approach (“Seeing and Believing”). When organizations face multiple challenges, a singular influencing approach might not meet the organization’s needs. Consider the motor pool story once more. As the battalion commander led the maintenance initiative with its heavy emphasis on compliance-focused influencing and behavior change, he was working a second, longer-term action with the staff on New Equipment Training (NET). The battalion would replace the M113s with Bradley Fighting Vehicles in 18 months. The M113 was nothing more than a glorified battlefield taxi. No one would dream of fighting from the aluminum “deathtrap.” In comparison, the Bradley was a mini-tank. To grasp this vast difference in capabilities, the battalion needed a mindset change beginning with the staff. The commander began the process with education. On the battalion’s next trip to Grafenwoehr for gunnery training, he had the staff observe an M2-equipped mechanized infantry battalion conduct a combined arms live-fire exercise. The firepower demonstration was impressive and it set the conditions for a change in thinking among the staff.
The challenge with the integrative approach is that it requires the leadership to balance antithetical methods of influence. In our example, the battalion commander is driving behavior at the company level with his maintenance initiative and potentially jeopardizing aspects of the organization’s climate. At the same time, he is taking a strong, people-centric approach with the staff as he attempts to influence their thinking on the value of the Bradley Fighting Vehicle. An outside observer might accuse the battalion commander of maintaining two standards when dealing with the company commanders and the staff. The battalion commander understood, however, that command climate was not all pervasive – one size does not fit all. With the companies, he would change behavior to change thinking. With the staff, he would change thinking to change behavior.
In our efforts to provide a clear and concise foundational discussion on organizational culture and climate, we sidestepped a few significant issues, which we return to now.
We deliberately avoided an arcane argument on whether leaders have changed organizational culture under their watch. It is a question few people could answer with certainty. As we know, culture consists of norms and values that reflect the organization’s shared learning or “what we do and why we do it.” Research shows leaders can change behavior and thinking in organizations in a relatively short time using compliance and commitment-focused influencing techniques. In particular, Schein’s primary embedding and secondary reinforcement mechanisms have proved most effective, especially with behavior change. As the behavior becomes routine and unquestioned by the group, the rationale for the action – the outcome we value – eventually becomes embedded in the group psyche. Can we measure the exact time and date when the embedding of shared beliefs occurs? Do we really care?
An organization’s culture can be incredibly complex depending on the overall size and depth of the unit. Add to this mix the countless norms and values that drive day-to-day behavior and thinking. Leaders do not have the time or energy to map all the shared beliefs within an organization. They will slowly learn the culture— “what we do and why we do it”—as they assimilate into the organization. Their primary focus is with improving the organization, solving problems, and getting results. How much should they worry about the culture?
Typically, we care about solving problems, not dissecting the culture, unless they are one in the same. This occurs when norms within the organization prevent us from achieving our outcomes. When “business as usual” inhibits learning, adapting, innovating, and problem solving, then we should care a lot about culture. We know changing norms requires success because success is the “gold standard.” It increases morale, reinforces new behaviors, and validates the value of the outcomes associated with the change initiative. As a result, changing culture typically is not an organizational objective; it is an outcome.
Earlier we discussed the two challenges all organizations face, problem solving (i.e., external adaptation) and managing internal anxiety (i.e., internal integration). What happens when these two factors conflict? We saw examples in each of our stories. Most organizations, especially the military with its strong “mission first” ethos, default to addressing operational concerns. We accept short-term disruptions to the organization’s climate with the understanding that operational success will eventually lift morale and improve the collective perceptions of the work environment. What if the turnaround never occurs? Worse yet, what if the leadership does not care? The military traditionally rewards leaders based on short-term mission success, not the well-being of organizational members. This willingness to turn a blind eye towards internal integration issues helps create the perception that many Army leaders tolerate toxic leadership to ensure mission success. Successful leaders understand external adaptation and internal integration are not an either/or dilemma. They require balance, not choice.
For our final point, we return to the monkey story. By the end of the tale, the monkeys had a shared belief that staying off the ladder helped ensure the safety of their community. What was the catalyst for this belief? No one knew. The ice water spraying was lost to history as new members joined the organization. Transpose this idea to your current organization. Why do people do what they do in the unit? You ask this question repeatedly as a new leader when you observe and assess organizational processes, practices, and behaviors. You continue your assessment over a period of weeks and months as you slowly assimilate yourself into the organization and discover what people do and why they do it.
Often you receive the vague response of, “this is what we have always done.” Do not presuppose this is a bad response. It validates the power of culture to create a stable and predictable environment. What it does indicate is the organization might not be very flexible in its thinking and learning. If members cannot answer why they do what they do – and the behavior appears to have nothing to do with problem solving, customs, or traditions – then the norm may no longer serve a valid purpose. You may need to take action to change it. Then again, you may not. How will your actions affect the climate? What is the downside of maintaining this behavior within the organization? There are no easy answers. Dealing with an organization’s climate and culture is a constant challenge with few certainties except for one according to Edgar Schein. If you cannot figure out how to manage it, then it will manage you.24
- David V. Day, Mark A. Griffin, and Kim R. Louw, “The Climate and Culture of Leadership in Organizations,” in The Oxford Handbook of Organizational Climate and Culture, ed. Benjamin Schneider and Karen M. Barbera (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014), 101.
- Many MBA programs use a version of the “Monkey Story” to illustrate how an organizational culture develops. Supposedly, the story was inspired in part by the rhesus monkey experiments of G.R. Stephenson in 1967.
- Edgar H. Schein, Organizational Culture and Leadership, 4th ed. (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2010), 16.
- Ibid., 18.
- If you are uncomfortable applying these concepts to monkeys, think of the story as a leader attempting to reduce or eliminate injurious behavior within an organization associated with safety violations or ill-conceived risk taking.
- Schein, Organizational Culture and Leadership, 250-257.
- Ibid., 236.
- Ibid., 18. Schein’s more expansive definition of culture on page 18 is: “The culture of a group can now be defined as a pattern of shared basic assumptions learned by a group as it solved its problems of external adaptation and internal integration, which has worked well enough to be considered valid and, therefore, to be taught to new members as the correct way to perceive, think, and feel in relation to those problems.”
- Mary Jo Hatch and Ann L. Cunliffe, Organizational Theory, 2nd ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), 187.
- Our reference to values does not have an ethical connotation. We are not referring to principles or concepts that guide right and wrong behavior. Our focus is on what is of value, worth, or importance to an organization.
- Schein, Organizational Culture and Leadership, 236.
- Ibid., 94.
- Ibid., 313.
- Day, “Climate and Culture of Leadership,” 107.
- Benjamin Schneider and Karen M. Barbera, “Introduction: The Oxford Handbook of Organizational Climate and Culture,” in The Oxford Handbook of Organizational Climate and Culture, ed. Benjamin Schneider and Karen M. Barbera (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014), 5.
- Day, “Climate and Culture of Leadership,” 104. We elected to use this expanded definition based on The Oxford Handbook of Organizational Climate and Culture over the Army definition from ADRP 6-22, Army Leadership, August 2012, because it better highlights the role leadership plays in shaping climate. The Army definition from paragraph 7-6 states: “Climate is how members feel about the organization and comes from shared perceptions and attitudes about the unit’s daily functioning.”
- Ibid., 101.
- Peter M. Senge, The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of the Learning Organization (New York: Currency Doubleday, 2006), 192.
- Richard L. Hughes, Robert C. Ginnett, and Gordon J. Curphy, Leadership: Enhancing the Lessons of Experience (New York: McGraw-Hill Irwin, 2006), 138.
- Building a supportive command climate begins with a fundamental understanding of motivation. According to Hughes, Ginnett, and Curphy in their work Leadership: Enhancing the Lessons of Experience, motivation is anything that provides direction, intensity, and persistence to behavior. Intrinsic motivation is driven by an interest or enjoyment in the task itself, and exists within the individual rather than relying on any external pressure. Daniel H. Pink, in his book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us (New York: Riverhead Books, 2009), further identifies the three factors that drive intrinsic motivation as a sense of purpose (a cause greater than oneself), autonomy (being self-directed), and mastery (becoming better at something that matters to you). Extrinsic motivation comes from outside the individual and focuses on attaining an outcome. Factors that drive extrinsic motivation include rewards (money and grades), competitions, coercion, and threats of punishment. Job satisfaction is directly tied to the intrinsic factors of motivation—people like doing work that is inherently interesting and enjoyable; it provides value to them. Job dissatisfaction is influenced by negative factors of extrinsic motivation such as a bad boss, poor work conditions, or low pay. According to Fredrick Herzberg’s Two-Factor Theory, job satisfaction and job dissatisfaction act independently of each other, which means increasing the positive factors of extrinsic motivation (giving someone time off for example), will not increase job satisfaction; it will simply reduce job dissatisfaction. In others words, time off does not make the job more enjoyable (though it could make an unpleasant job less objectionable). Creating a supportive command climate means appealing to the factors that drive intrinsic motivation (purpose, autonomy, and mastery) while reducing the extrinsic factors that create job dissatisfaction.
- See Army Doctrinal Reference Publication (ADRP) 6-22, Army Leadership, table 7-1. The table provides a summary of the leadership competency Create a Positive Environment. Key points include fostering teamwork, encouraging open communications, inspiring initiative, demonstrating care for followers, and setting high expectations.
- John P. Kotter, Leading Change (Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 1996), 57.
- Day, “Climate and Culture of Leadership,” 101.
- Schein, Organizational Culture and Leadership, 22.
Carey W. Walker is an assistant professor in the Department of Command and Leadership at the Command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, KS. He retired from the U.S. Army in 2004 as a Lieutenant Colonel after serving 24 years in various infantry and staff assignments in the U.S. and overseas. He holds a B.A. from Rutgers University and an M.S. from Kansas State University.
Matthew J. Bonnot is an assistant professor in the Department of Command and Leadership at the Command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, KS. He retired from the U.S. Marine Corps in 2011 as a Colonel after 25 years active duty. He holds a B.S. from the University of Central Missouri, an M.S. from Boston University, and an M.A. from the College of Naval Warfare.