I just finished viewing Dan Pink’s taped talk at TEDGlobal from 2009. His topic was motivation and the mismatch between what science knows and what the business world is running with.
I thought I’d summarize the argument and throw in a few comments pf my own because this is extremely important.
The underling assumption in the business world is that if you want results you have to measure it and reward performance, typically with money or perks.
When put to the test, this model fails in all but highly restrictive and simple circumstances.
Pink shares the following conclusions for a string of studies (1).
- “As long as the task involved mechanical skill, bonuses worked as they would be expected: the higher the pay, the better the performance.”
- Once the task called for “even rudimentary cognitive skill,” a larger reward “led to poorer performance.”
This is robust across cultures (2):
- “In eight of the nine tasks we examined across the three experiments, higher incentives led to worse performance.”
- “We find that financial incentives … can result in a negative impact on overall performance.”
The reason for these results is that motivation is driven by or desire for:
- Autonomy (the desire to exercise control over one’s own life)
- Mastery (the desire to become good at, or master, something that is important to us)
- Purpose (the desire to be part of something important, something bigger than ourselves, the desire to contribute to society)
This has been pointed out by a number of other authors as well. One of these authors is Bjarte Bogsnes, one of the architects of the Beyond Roundtable solution to revamp traditional budgeting, forecasting, planning, performance measures and reward systems (3).
When actually put to the test in real work environments, productivity goes up, worked engagement goes up, worked satisfaction goes up, turnover goes down.
Pink invokes the widely different outcomes of two large, real life initiatives as proof (or at least string support) for his contention: The quest to create a digital encyclopedia, Microsoft’s Encarta and Wikipedia, respectively.
The Encarta team was empowered in the traditional sense with a monetary reward system. Wikipedia, as we know had nothing like that at all. Yet, Wikipedia appears to be the bigger success.
Now, there’s probably a lot more to the story about this particular horse race, but it does offer support for the main contention. At the core of these research findings is that intrinsic motivators are far more effective than extrinsic motivators.
To summarize then, what science knows about motivators, but business doesn’t, is this (and I’m quoting Pink):
- “The 20th Century awards, those motivators, we think are the natural part of business; do work, but only in a surprisingly narrow band of circumstances.”
- “The if-then rewards often destroy creativity.”
- “The secret to high performance isn’t rewards and punishment, but that unseen intrinsic drive; the drive to do things for their own sake, the drive to do things because they matter.”
We already know this; the challenge is now to definitively move past the carrot and stick mentality into something considerably better informed and effective. Something that actually appreciates people for the amazing problem solvers they are.
1) D. Ariely, U. Gneezy, (2005). G. Lowenstein, & N. Mazar, Federal Reserve Bank of Boston Working Paper No. 05-11, July 2005; NY Times, 20 Nov. 08.
2) Dr. Bernd Irlenbusch, London School of Economics.
3) Bogsnes, Bjarte, (2009). Implementing Beyond Budgeting, John Wiley & Sons, Hoboken, NJ.