Mark Craemer No Comments

Forget all the things you may currently believe about motivating employees. Cash incentives to stimulate productivity may work in the short term, but are ultimately not sustainable. Threats are also short lived because employee resentment brings about ill will and this is counterproductive in the long run.

Such carrot and stick approaches for improving performance simply are no longer effective and it’s time organizations move to a more radical approach.

In Daniel Pink’s insightful book “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us,” he explores the question of what motivates people to do innovative work. Based on more than thirty years of research in behavioral science, he provides compelling evidence showing that monetary rewards can actually hinder creativity.

And as Pink relates in his speech at the TED Conference, when it comes to motivation, there is a huge gap between what science knows and what companies do.

Today, many companies more closely track knowledge workers hours at their desks rather than results produced. And, as I wrote about in a previous post, Results Only Work Environment or ROWE is one way to change this mentality.

Author Pink convincingly argues that once our basic need for financial stability is taken care of, the desire for intrinsic motivation kicks in. Intrinsic motivation is founded upon personal rewards (individual interest or love) rather than extrinsic motivation (money). In fact, many scientific studies have demonstrated that people actually become less motivated when money is tied to doing something we are already drawn to doing. It actually devalues it for us!

Further, Pink suggests it is necessary for both employees and employers to break free of this old “if-then” paradigm and replace it with “now-that” instead. Rather than hold out some reward or punishment in order to accomplish a goal, there should be an opportunity to tap into an employee’s own individual interest in meeting the goal.

“If tangible rewards are given unexpectedly to people after they have finished a task, the rewards are less likely to be detrimental to intrinsic motivation,” said Edward L. Deci, the University of Rochester psychology professor and author of “Intrinsic Motivation.”

The key to tapping into these intrinsic interests, according to Pink, is via autonomy, mastery and purpose.

Autonomy is about the urge to direct our lives. It means enabling employees to determine specifically what is entailed (task), when the work is done (time), how it gets done (technique), and with whom it is done (team). Autonomy requires management to step aside and give employees the opportunity to fully apply their creative selves.

Mastery is about the desire to get better at something that matters. It enables each of us to fully engage who we are in what we do. Only in this way are we likely to embrace the work we do as it transcends merely making a living and extends into making a life.

Purpose has to do with the yearning to do what we do in service of something larger than ourselves. It is the desire to leave the planet better than we found it. Purpose has to do with contributing to the greater good.

Writer and management consulant Peter Drucker stated “. . . once each knowledge worker has defined his or her own task and once the work has been appropriately restructured, each worker should be expected to work out his or her own course and to take responsibility for it.”

Enabling employees to tap into autonomy, mastery and purpose requires management giving up some control over how, when and where people work. It means the boss needs to incentivise people in ways that stimulate their desire to do good work. It means trusting that employees will choose to do the right thing for them as well as the organization.

These motivation techniques may not make sense for every workplace, but at a time of economic recession, global competitive pressures, corporate distrust, and low employee engagement, it makes sense to at least consider them wherever possible.

Mark Craemer

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