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Analysing Performance Motivation with Career Anchors

Dr. Lee Kang Yam

Chief Learning Curator | Flame Centre

In my performance management training, I introduce Edgar Schein’s concept of Career Anchors to help leaders and managers diagnose performance issues.

Performance management workshop with career anchors

Here’s a quick explanation of the Career Anchors:

1. Security / Stability

People with this anchor thrive in organisations that have clear Standard Operating Procedures, structures and systems.

Performance will fall if they work in volatile and uncertain environments or are placed in organisations or departments that do not have clear and well-structured procedures.

2. Autonomy / Independence

They work independently and are able to deliver their work targets but they may not work well with others.

Autonomy anchor-driven person hates to be closely managed. Performance falls for these people if they are micro-managed and their autonomy or individual discretion in making decisions is restricted.

3. Life Style

People with this anchor are motivated by life pursuits.

Work is a means to earn the economic means to fund their lifestyle. They may be motivated by economic stability as they need the money to fund their current lifestyle. Performance falls for these people if their existing lifestyle is threatened either by a decrease in pay or the nature of work.

4. Technical / Functional

People with this anchor seeks opportunities to deepen their expertise.

They enjoy having their expertise valued and validated. Promotion to a managerial level or supervisory responsibility may not be suitable for these people as they may not excel in people management.

5. General Managerial

People with this anchor are motivated by the responsibility of managing others.

However, as organisational hierarchy become increasingly ‘flattened’, the General Managerial-anchored person may feel threatened or demotivated by the lack of upward mobility.

6. Entrepreneurial Creativity

People with this anchor want to start projects or business units with organisational support and resources.

They are motivated by starting things from scratch, and growing and developing it with their own hands. Placing these people in job roles that are routine and administrative in nature may demotivate them.

7. Service / Dedication to a Cause

People with this anchor want to do things that are meaningful to them.

They will follow you to the ends of the earth if they believe what they do is just or contributes to a purpose or cause. However, when they do not believe in the cause anymore, they will rapidly become demotivated by the work.

8. Pure Challenge

There will always be people who are motivated to overcome impossible odds, solve difficult problems and overcome the competition.

Conversely, simple and routine tasks with strict Standard Operating Procedures bore them. These ‘simple’ and routine work do not bring the best out of them but demotivate them.

Using the concept of career anchors leaders and managers can understand what motivates people, and put people in the right roles that optimize the fulfilment of their career anchors.

Performance falls when people are going against their career anchors or are suppressing their career anchors when making decisions in work and life.

What do you think about using career anchors to explain a fall in performance? Are your people moving with their career anchors or against their career anchors?

If you find this useful, check out our Performance Management tools and how we can help managers and organisations manage appraisals to align, inspire and empower high-performance.

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