What Makes Them Tick?

Ella Ingram


Change agents universally work with colleagues, administrators, internal and external partners, and others. Let’s take as a given that these individuals have priorities and interests about which they are highly motivated. One change strategy that we as change agents can use is describing opportunities to engage in a change project in ways that are motivationally attractive. But first, we have to know what makes them tick.

In his classic essay “Carrots and Sticks”, Jon Wergin described a simple model of faculty motivation in four parts: autonomy, community, recognition, and efficacy (ACRE). This model combines elements of self-determination theory (Ryan & Deci 2000) and what psychologists know about extrinsic motivation (classic reward systems). Although the ACRE model specifically calls out faculty, it gives us direction and tools for creating and framing change activities in ways amenable to the broad community of academic professionals.

First some definitions. Autonomy is the freedom to experiment, to do things without fear of consequences, the power to grow, and to follow one’s own lead especially in ways that add to the common good. Not surprisingly, community is described by participating in the assembly of scholars, belonging to a place and system, playing an important and unique role, and giving and receiving nurturing from colleagues. Recognition comes in any form that causes the individual to feel valued both privately and publicly, to know that one’s work has worth to others, being paid attention to, or holding regard as a professional and scholar. Finally, efficacy means having an impact on the (academic) environment, contributing to the betterment of society, improving oneself to do good and add to quality of life, and escalating skills and abilities.

Our colleagues and partners regularly reveal their motivations. Change agents with open ears will hear indicators of motivation all around them. For example, a close colleague of mine will readily admit that he comes to work because that’s where the interesting people are – a firm community statement. In contrast, the statement “You do it your way, and I’ll do it my way” is clearly an autonomy declaration. Our colleagues tell us all the time what makes them tick.

Consider these other statements.

  •  “Erika, I’m so glad to work with you.” (community)
  • “I really need some support to make this happen.” (recognition)
  • “I’m anticipating a challenge, but I think I can do it.” (efficacy)
  • “Don’t try to control me.” (autonomy)
  • “Will the administration actually take my advice this time?” (recognition)
  • “This work will surely have a big impact on our school.” (efficacy)
  • “Who else is on the committee? Is Bob on the committee?” (community)
  • “I have tenure. I can’t be fired.” (autonomy)

These and similar phrases are indicators of what makes professionals tick. Perhaps you recognized yourself in one or more of these phrases. I know I do!

Spend some time in the coming weeks listening for ACRE statements. When you hear one, make a little mental note about that person and what type of motivation might be driving them in that situation. Once you have some of this information, you can begin crafting the opportunities and description of those opportunities to best attract individuals with varying motivations. Stay tuned for more on that topic in a future blog post.

Ryan, R.M. & Deci, E.L. 2000. Intrinsic and extrinsic motivations: Classic definitions and new directions. Contemporary Educational Psychology 25, 54–67. doi:10.1006/ceps.1999.1020

Wergin, J.F. 2001. Beyond carrots and sticks. Liberal Education, 87(1), 50-53.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s