Imagine you are a leader of the group, a CEO of a well-known firm. Your job is to guide people to achieve something together. As a businessman first thing that pops into your head, in order to make people work harder, is the simplest way: I should pay them more. If I want a group of highly motivated people, I am supposed to reward them. But is this entirely true?
Let’s begin by observing the downside of this problem. If I do not reward enough people for their work, what kind of result do I get? We are talking about motivation, but this is not the kind of “black or white” situation. We are talking about what drives and inspires people’s behaviors. Moreover, we are talking about what makes the difference, given the context and the people who play within that.
But before coming back to the original questions, let’s clarify some aspects which may be the situation clearer. Appears interesting the “Two-factor theory” developed back in the 50sby the American psychologist F. Herzberg. He divided job characteristics into two different clusters: hygiene factors, just minimal standards that do not motivate people, which may cause dissatisfaction whether they are missing; motivation factors, which are satisfying “higher-level needs” and that may truly motivate people to push harder. Therefore, there is a difference between being satisfied (motivational factors) or simply being not dissatisfied (hygienical factors). And take a guess, which kind of factor could be the base salary…
“Money is what gets workers in the door, but it doesn’t make them go to the extra mile.”
Another relevant difference for answering our initial questions is the one between extrinsic and intrinsic motivation. “Extrinsic motivation is driven by external forces such as money or praise. Intrinsic motivation is something that comes from within and can be as simple as the joy one feels after accomplishing a challenging task.” What happens with the traditional “carrot and stick approach” is that we put the focus on extrinsic motivators. But are they actually suitable in any context, and also, are they an advantage in terms of results achieved?
The amount of question is increasing, and before trying to find them an answer, let’s focus on what kind of impact could reward have on performances. Basically, they narrow our focus on the result, opening a big problem in terms of creativity. As observed in an experiment organized by the Federal Reserve Banks of the USA, conducted by Dan Ariely, we can remark this discrepancy: as long as tasks are mechanical, the higher the pay, the better the performance. But with even rudimentary cognitive skills required, the larger the reward, the poorer the performance. What we are assuming is that the reward approach works fine when there is no sign of imagination in the requirements. Besides these mechanical tasks, “if-then” rewards destroy creativity: not only there are no benefits in the outcome but also there are worse results.
“There is a mismatch between what science knows and what business does”
The answer to all the abovementioned questions is not “paying people to perform better is bad.” The problem is wider, because not only we are talking about mechanical and creative tasks but also the necessary reflection is between extrinsic and intrinsic motivation. But the question now is, how do we deal with intrinsic motivators?
Now we mention two of my favorite authors, Daniel Pink and Dan Ariely. They both worked on motivation, and they made pretty clear that the important thing with designing jobs and the relative performance expectations is the sense of purpose that has to be perceived while doing the job. This is intrinsic motivation, it goes way beyond the “hygienical factors” abovementioned, as well as the simple “if I want people to perform better, then I pay them more” approach.
Creating a good environment in which everyone is feeling important, trusted, and worthy is surely the first step to expect better performance from individuals. In designing tasks there has to be a correct balance between a “challenge” degree, and the “skills” required: too much challenging drives to anxiety, on the other hand, too less leads to boredom.
Daniel Pink suggests three characteristics to get people motivated: Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose. “Autonomy is the urge to direct your own life and work. Mastery is the desire to get better and better at something that matters. Purpose is the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves.” These are the pillars of an entirely new view of the motivational system, built enhancing individuals’ performance, thanks to the focus on the individual itself and his feeling. Moreover, it should be built with the underlying assumption of being paid fairly, to get the topic off the table and concentrating on something that really matters, motivational, not hygienical factors.
Imagine you are a leader of the group, a CEO of a well-known firm. Your job is to guide people to achieve something together. As a businessman first thing that pops into your head, in order to make people work harder, is the simplest way: I should pay them more. If I want a group of highly motivated people, I am supposed to reward them. Suddenly, you realize you are not leading a group of machines but people, inspiring them through your work. Therefore, you work hard yourself every day to set conditions to give these people the tools to feel the purpose in what they do, and you will see that this works a thousand times better than a reward to boost performances.
- Herzberg, F., Mausner, B., & Snydermann B. (1959). The motivation to work. New York: Wiley.
- Ariely, Dan and Bracha, Anat and Meier, Stephan, Doing Good or Doing Well? Image Motivation and Monetary Incentives in Behaving Prosocially (August 2007). IZA Discussion Paper No. 2968, FRB of Boston Working Paper No. 07-9, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1010620
- Ariely, D. (2016). Payoff: The hidden logic that shapes our motivations. Simon & Schuster.
- Pink, Daniel H., Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. New York, NY: Riverhead Books, 2009