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Beyond Good Luck: A Sense of Control Increases Motivation, Productivity, and Achievement


As long as workers can attribute their wins to luck, they don’t have to feel bad about their losses. Of course, the downside to that is that they also don’t get to take credit for their success. If you want to motivate your team to take responsibility, learn from their mistakes, and excel in their work, you might consider applying attribution theory.


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Attribution Theory

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Bernard Weiner crafted attribution theory, which attempts to explain why people do what they do, and how to improve achievement, performance, and productivity. It remains highly influential in social psychology today. While we cannot control everything that goes into achieving, Weiner’s work helped isolate three moldable causes.


Stability refers to an attribution, such as personal ability. Some attributions are more stable than others, and stable factors may be negative or positive. For example, if you are doing a good job and you believe it is because you are skilled at your job, your ability is generally stable. On the other hand, if you become ill and somebody else finishes a task for you, the attribution, illness, is not stable. It’s not like you are going to be sick every week.

Workers need stable causes for their productivity, such as appropriate job training which increases ability and confidence.

Locus of Control

This may be the most important of the three. A worker’s locus of control is either internal or external. People with an internal locus of control look to themselves when things don’t go well. They ask, “how can I do this better?” People with an external locus of control blame outside forces when things don’t go well. “I got sick — I couldn’t help it,” or, “It’s somebody else’s fault.” This difference in viewpoint causes some people to solve problems, and others to give up.

No one person controls everything in the workplace. It would be unfair to not acknowledge when outside forces have an effect upon work productivity. But a person’s general locus of control is vital to predicting achievement of long-term goals. When we look to ourselves for ways of improving work quality, we are most likely to excel.

To apply this in the workplace, ask your team how they can respond best to any given situation. Consider making excuses a red flag. And if you wish to improve your own job performance, remember to ask yourself what you can do, not how others should change.


That being said, we must also remember that there are things we do and do not control. Knowing the difference between the two helps us focus on the things we can control.

There is no point in berating yourself or anybody else because a snowstorm hit and the roads were not safe to drive on first thing in the morning. We don’t control the weather, but we can control how we respond. If an employee can work from home during the storm, you increase productivity beyond what it would be if the office simply shut down for the day.

The bottom line with attribution theory in the workplace is to make sure people can do the jobs they are given, then have them take responsibility for getting it done. People who feel responsible and in control will achieve more, increase productivity, and turn in a higher quality work product.

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Thanks, Beth! Agree with you, workers need stable causes for their productivity. We believe that results of project depends from all of our employees. That’s why we delegate responsibility, using project management tools. Our favourites are (super simple task management app) and (helps organize to-do lists the way they look in your mind). They are simple and helpful.

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