Have you ever stopped to really consider what motivates you or your employees?? This is a critical question for today?s companies. When I do one-on-one coaching with employers, this topic comes up a lot. For decades, most businesses have utilized extrinsic methods of motivation with the ?carrot? and the ?stick.?? This typically takes the form of bonus plans or negative reviews and firing for poor performance. The question to be asked is whether or not we are getting the desired results from these extrinsic efforts to motivate our teams.
Interestingly, recent scientific studies are challenging the way business leaders have traditionally thought about getting results. Researchers at the London School of Economics conducted an analysis of 51 separate studies on financial incentives in employment relations and found overwhelming evidence that the incentives may ?reduce an employee?s natural inclination to complete a task and derive pleasure from doing so.? According to Dr. Irlenbusch of the LSE, ?we find that financial incentives may indeed reduce intrinsic motivation and diminish ethical or other reasons for complying with workplace norms such as fairness.? As a consequence, the provision of incentives can result in a negative impact on overall performance.?
Author and speaker Dan Pink helps us make sense of this counterintuitive point by arguing that extrinsic rewards are only effective for left brain activities that involve rules and routine tasks such as certain types of accounting, financial analysis, or computer programming. However, there has been a major shift in many organizations to outsource as much of this routine work as possible. Therefore, many jobs today require more right brain creative problem solving skills than ever before.? The problem, as noted above, is that studies have shown that traditional incentives do not work well to motive employees tasked with right brain responsibilities.
When you look at the way most firms attempt to motivate their employees, it becomes apparent that most businesses have not caught up with these scientific discoveries.? So, what do we do to motivate today?s employees?? Leading thinkers point to the value of intrinsic rewards for work.? Pink notes three key elements for the new paradigm of employee motivation:? Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose.
It is particularly apparent with the younger generations that they will be demanding more autonomy in their work life.? They will not be content to be blindly directed by management without some level of self-direction.? Employees empowered with autonomy usually have a sense ?ownership? and are more engaged.? A practical example of this is Google?s practice of allowing its engineers to spend 20% of their paid time on their own projects.? Of note is that about half of Google?s products and services have been created by employees during this autonomous work time including Gmail. In the extreme, some companies have completely gone away from schedules and allow everyone to work their own hours.? The bottom line is that autonomous workers have greater productivity and job satisfaction.? The problem is that the ?manager? mindset has been so ingrained in our business psyche that this can be a difficult shift.
For centuries, most people either worked in agriculture or in a trade with their hands.? This usually involved years of training and experience to master a craft.? In the industrial age, we were challenged because our labor became repetitive and disconnected from the final product or service. This led to inevitable job dissatisfaction problems and poor productivity. Today is no different. We want to provide the opportunity for our employees to learn and become better at their skills and abilities.? We all tend to feel better about ourselves when we improve.? A focus on mastery allows people to once again become experts at their craft and to continually improve.? It is no wonder that most successful organizations today place a high value on the training and development of their people.
When your work seems pointless, it is hard to become motivated to give it your best.? An effective leader knows how to bridge this gap and let each employee know how his or her contribution directly impacts the success of the organization.? I believe that as human beings we all desire to find our purpose in life.? Since work takes such a huge part of our time, it is only natural to seek meaning and purpose in our work. I strongly advocate that businesses also benefit when they have clearly stated visions and values that define who they are.? This allows employees to connect with the larger purpose of the company.
In sum, it will be imperative for businesses to embrace these scientific findings that intrinsic motivators can achieve the best organizational results.? I believe in the very near term, U.S. companies will face increased competition globally even in the right-brain work prevalent in our economy today.? Incentivizing management and workers with outdated ?carrot? and ?stick? models will lead to being left behind.? Companies that unleash the potential of their employees through intrinsic motivators such as autonomy, mastery, and purpose will lead the pack in the future.