Human Resources

The role of motivation in skills development

September 18, 2023
6 minutes

In our other blog posts, we’ve looked at organizational skills development programs, putting more emphasis on the mechanics and structures of how to build meaningful and engaging programs.However, it is crucial to recognize that, ultimately, employees must possess the motivation to actively engage in learning and skill enhancement. In this blog post, our focus shifts towards the vital topic of motivation. We aim to delve deep into the concept of motivation, exploring what drives us and how we can effectively harness that intrinsic or extrinsic motivation to propel us towards our skill development goals. The goal is for employees to have one or two takeaways that they can apply to their own learning journeys.

Understanding motivation

Motivation is a powerful driver of behavior, including the pursuit of learning and skill development. 

It can be categorized into two primary types: intrinsic and extrinsic motivation.

Intrinsic Motivation:

Intrinsic motivation refers to the internal desire and drive to engage in an activity or pursue a goal because of personal interest, enjoyment, or a sense of fulfillment. In other words, it's doing something for the sheer pleasure and satisfaction it brings rather than for external rewards. 

Here's a deeper look at intrinsic motivation:

Origin: Intrinsic motivation arises from within an individual. It often stems from a genuine passion or curiosity for a particular subject or skill. People intrinsically motivated to learn are often self-driven and find the process of learning itself rewarding.


  • Autonomy: Individuals with intrinsic motivation typically have a high degree of autonomy in their learning choices. They choose what to learn and how to learn it.
  • Curiosity: They have a natural curiosity and a desire to explore and understand concepts deeply.
  • Persistence: Intrinsic motivation often leads to persistence and a willingness to overcome challenges in the pursuit of mastery.


  • An employee who is intrinsically motivated to improve their coding skills because they find programming fascinating and love solving complex problems.
  •  A writer who is driven to write a novel because they have a deep passion for storytelling and creativity.

Extrinsic Motivation:

Extrinsic motivation, on the other hand, involves engaging in an activity or working towards a goal primarily to earn external rewards or avoid negative consequences. These rewards can include tangible things like money, promotions, or recognition, as well as intangible benefits like praise or avoiding criticism. Here's a closer look at extrinsic motivation:

Origin: Extrinsic motivation comes from external sources or factors. It relies on rewards, punishments, or incentives provided by others or the environment.


  • Dependence on Rewards: Extrinsic motivation often hinges on the expectation of rewards or fear of consequences. Without these external stimuli, motivation may decrease.
  • Short-Term Focus: Extrinsic motivation can lead to a focus on short-term gains and outcomes rather than long-term personal growth or skill development.
  • Risk of Burnout: When driven solely by external rewards, individuals may experience burnout or a decrease in motivation once the rewards are no longer enticing.


  • An employee who participates in a training program only because they will receive a bonus upon completion.
  • A student who studies for a test primarily to avoid disappointing their parents or to earn a high grade.

Balancing Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation:

While both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation play roles in skill development, finding a balance between the two is often ideal. Here's how this balance can be achieved:

  • Intrinsic motivation as the foundation: Encourage individuals to find personal meaning and interest in what they're learning. Nurture their intrinsic motivation by connecting their learning goals to their passions and interests.

  • Extrinsic motivation as reinforcement: Utilize extrinsic motivators strategically to provide recognition, rewards, or positive feedback for achieving milestones in the skill development journey. These extrinsic rewards can serve as reinforcement for progress and can help maintain motivation over time.

  • Focus on intrinsic satisfaction: Encourage individuals to focus on the inherent satisfaction and sense of accomplishment that comes from skill improvement. This can help shift the emphasis away from extrinsic rewards and toward a love for learning and personal growth.

Understanding the dynamics of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation is essential for both learners and educators. By harnessing the power of both forms of motivation, employees can effectively navigate their skill development journey, staying engaged, motivated, and committed to continuous improvement.

Understanding Self-Determination Theory 

If we are going to explore motivation and the role it plays in an employee's drive to develop their skills, we must also discuss Self-Determination Theory (SDT). 

SDT is a prominent framework in psychology that focuses on understanding and explaining human motivation. Developed by Deci and Ryan in the 1980s, SDT posits that individuals have innate psychological needs that drive their motivation and behavior. These needs are related to autonomy, competence, and relatedness:


Autonomy is one of the central components of SDT and refers to the innate human need to have a sense of control and agency over one's own actions and decisions. In the context of motivation and skill acquisition:

  • Choice and Control: Autonomy involves the freedom to make choices and decisions that align with one's interests and values.

    In skill development, employees are more motivated when they have a say in what skills they want to acquire and how they want to acquire them. That’s why a skills-first approach and tilr focus on an employee's Aspire Skills.

  • Intrinsic Motivation: When individuals feel that their actions are self-determined and aligned with their own values and interests, they are more likely to experience intrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation refers to engaging in an activity because it is inherently enjoyable and satisfying.

  • Reducing Resistance: Allowing individuals to have autonomy in their skill development can reduce resistance and increase their willingness to engage in learning activities. When people feel forced or controlled, their motivation tends to decrease.


Competence refers to the need to feel effective and capable in one's actions. It involves the desire to develop and master skills, as well as to experience a sense of achievement. In the context of motivation and skill acquisition:

  • Mastery Orientation: Competence-related motivation is driven by a desire to improve, learn, and master new skills. Individuals are more motivated when they believe that their efforts will lead to competence and skill mastery.

  • Feedback and Progress: Regular feedback, opportunities for skill improvement, and a sense of progress are essential for fostering competence-related motivation. When individuals see their skills improving, it reinforces their motivation to continue learning.

  • Setting Challenging Goals: Setting appropriately challenging goals that are achievable but require effort can enhance competence-related motivation. Achieving these goals provides a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction.


Relatedness refers to the need for social connection, relationships, and a sense of belonging. In the context of motivation and skill acquisition:

  • Supportive Relationships: Having supportive relationships with peers, mentors, or instructors can enhance motivation for skill development. Supportive interactions and a sense of belonging can create a positive learning environment.

  • Collaboration and Teamwork: Collaborative learning environments that foster cooperation and a sense of working together toward common goals can satisfy the relatedness need. This can be particularly relevant in workplace skill development.

  • Social Comparison: Individuals often look to others for feedback and social comparison. Positive feedback and constructive comparisons with peers can boost motivation.

**Practical Applications of Self-Determination Theory:**

Understanding and applying Self-Determination Theory can be a powerful tool for increasing motivation and engagement in skill development endeavors. Giving employees choices about which skills they want to develop, options over their learning paths, offering opportunities to develop those skills, and promoting teamwork and collaboration all enhance motivation. 

Maintaining Motivation Throughout the Learning Journey

Now that we’ve explored the building blocks and drivers of motivation, let’s dive into strategies and tips for maintaining motivation during the journey of mastering new skills. Because that initial burst of enthusiasm can be invigorating. But once that excitement and sense of purpose begins to tarnish, it can be really challenging to maintain resolve. 

Setting Clear Goals:

Setting clear and well-defined goals is the foundational step in maintaining motivation throughout your skill development journey.

  • Specificity and Clarity: Your goals should be specific and clear. Instead of a vague objective like "improve programming skills," specify a goal like "complete a Python certification course within six months."

  • Measurable Outcomes: Ensure that your goals are measurable. Define criteria for success, such as achieving a certain level of proficiency or completing a specific number of projects.

  • Achievability: Set goals that are challenging but attainable. Unrealistic goals can lead to frustration, while easily achievable goals may not provide sufficient motivation.

  • Relevance: Align your goals with your broader aspirations and values. When your goals resonate with your personal or professional objectives, you are more likely to stay motivated.

Tracking Progress:

Monitoring your progress is a vital aspect of maintaining motivation. It helps you stay on course and provides a sense of accomplishment. Here's how to effectively track your progress:

  • Keep a Journal: Maintain a journal or digital record of your skill development journey. Document milestones, achievements, challenges, and insights. Regularly review your journal to see how far you've come.

  • Use Visual Aids: Create visual representations of your progress. Charts, graphs, or simple checklists can be visually motivating as they showcase your achievements.

  • Celebrate Milestones: Acknowledge and celebrate your successes, even the small ones. Reward yourself when you reach significant milestones. Celebrating progress can boost your motivation to continue.

  • Regular Assessments: Periodically assess your skills and knowledge to identify areas where improvement is needed. This self-assessment helps maintain motivation by highlighting areas for growth.

Fostering a Growth Mindset:

A growth mindset is the belief that abilities and intelligence can be developed through effort and learning. Cultivating this mindset is crucial for long-term motivation. Here's how to foster a growth mindset:

  • Embrace Challenges: View challenges as opportunities for growth rather than as obstacles. Understand that making mistakes and facing setbacks are natural parts of the learning process.

  • Positive Self-Talk: Replace negative self-talk with positive affirmations. Encourage yourself with statements like, "I can learn and improve with practice."

  • Learn from Failures: See failures as valuable learning experiences. Analyze what went wrong, make necessary adjustments, and persevere with renewed determination.

  • Seek Feedback: Welcome constructive feedback from mentors, peers, or instructors. Feedback provides valuable insights and fosters growth.

Community and Accountability:

Building a supportive network and accountability system can significantly boost your motivation. Here's how to leverage these elements:

  • Join Learning Communities: Participate in online forums, social media groups, or local meetups related to your skill or profession. Engaging with like-minded individuals can provide encouragement and valuable insights.

  • Find an Accountability Partner: Pair up with someone who shares your skill development goals. Regular check-ins and mutual support can keep both of you motivated and on track.

  • Mentorship: Seek out mentors or experienced professionals in your field who can guide you. Mentorship relationships often provide a strong motivational boost.

  • Share Your Goals: Make your goals public within your network. The social pressure of having others aware of your aspirations can act as a motivator.

Incorporating these strategies into your skill development journey can help you maintain motivation and stay committed to your goals over the long term. By setting clear goals, tracking your progress, fostering a growth mindset, and building a supportive community, you can navigate challenges with confidence and continue to grow and improve in your chosen skill or area of expertise.

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