It is a commonly accepted motivational theory that rewarding good behavior and punishing undesirable behavior produces improved results. And studies have proven this to be true… but not all the time. In this week’s Fridays With Vistage webinar, Daniel H. Pink discusses what really motivates 21st century employees in his presentation, “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us.” Daniel is a New York Times best-selling author, a former White House speechwriter and is a featured keynote speaker in the Think BIG: Vistage 2013 International Member and Chair Conference. To understand what encourages people to go above and beyond in the modern workforce, Daniel draws conclusions from social science studies.
He references a particular study performed by four prominent economists in which test subjects were divided into three groups. Each group was paid a different bonus in tiers of small, medium and large to perform various exercises. The not-so-surprising results were that “as long as the task only involved mechanical skill, bonuses worked as they would be expected: the higher the pay, the better the performance.” But the catch was that “once the task called for ‘even rudimentary cognitive skill,’ a larger reward ‘led to poorer performance.’”
Daniel refers to these types of rewards as “if-then motivators,” meaning “if you do this, then you get that.” If-then motivators are effective for mechanical work, but are not for “complex, creative” work. Work has evolved in the last century from performing straight-forward tasks to those involving more complicated thinking, “but the motivational mechanisms we use remain stuck in the past.”
“Money really matters, but it matters in a slightly different way… you’ve got to pay people enough,” he states. A business owner can’t violate the “norm of fairness,” which means two people working the same job and producing the same output should make close to the same pay, or else jealousy can hinder progress. He says, “Pay people enough to take the issue of money off the table.” If employees are thinking too much about their pay, then they are not focusing enough on work.
After money is not at an issue, he claims there are “3 key motivators for enduring performance.”
1. Autonomy – He invites his audience to take a step back and look at management as what it is; a “technology for organizing people into productive capacities” that was invented in the 1850s. Management is good for “compliance,” which businesses need, but it is not good for employee engagement. When an employee is engaged, he or she is more inclined to strive to achieve better work. To encourage engagement, employers should nurture autonomy by giving employees more control over the time they work, the team they work with, the task that they actually do and their technique.
2. Mastery – Wanting to excel at the tasks we perform is an inherent human trait. A study monitoring 12,000 responses from several hundred volunteers found that the days people were most motivated at work were when they were “making progress in meaningful work.” But in order for people to recognize their progress, they need to receive feedback. “Frequent, organic and informal” feedback is more effective for younger generations than giving a more formal, annual performance appraisal. Daniel suggests do-it-yourself performance reviews or a program called “office hours” in which managers set aside a small block of time weekly for non-obligatory feedback discussions.
3. Purpose – In a study conducted by Michigan State of new employees at a call center, participants were divided into three groups and each received the same training. However, five minutes prior to their first phone calls, group 1 was allowed to study whatever they wanted, group 2 studied previous employee statements exemplifying the benefits of the job itself, and group 3 was given testimonies from those who benefited from their cause. Group 3, which was given a purpose for their calls, received more than twice the weekly pledges and donation amounts than group 1 or 2. In this instance, five minutes of instilling a purpose motivated employees to increase productivity by more than 200%.
He likens entrepreneurs to artists as both are “giving the world something that it didn’t know it was missing.” In a study of 23 professional artists, art experts reviewed 460 of their commissioned and noncommissioned pieces. The results revealed “the commissioned works were rated as significantly less creative than the noncommissioned works, yet they were not rated as different in technical quality.” Too many constraints in the commissioned pieces led to less creativity, and this relates to the business world as just about everything that employees do at their jobs is commissioned work.
Daniel encourages business owners to focus less on telling employees how to do things and more on why their tasks contribute to the company as a whole. For more info on Daniel, please visit his website www.danpink.com or follow him at twitter.com/danielpink