Science PROVES Carrots Are Rotten and Sticks Are Broken

I just watched a terrific presentation by Dan Pink, author of A Whole New Mind, The Adventures of Johnny Bunko and Free Agent Nation (and coming in December, Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us. Succinctly and humorously, Dan dissects the “mismatch between what science knows and what business does.”

Dan discusses, as I’ve written before, about how incentives actually stop creativity in its tracks by focusing people too strongly on the reward – “If you do this, then you get that.” As Dan says:
“There is a mismatch between what science knows and what business does. Our business operating systems (how we motivate people, how we apply our human resources) are built around these extrinsic motivators – around these carrots and sticks. For 21st century tasks, that mechanistic reward and punishment approach doesn’t work, and often does harm.”

“If/then rewards work really well for tasks where there is a simple set of rules and a defined destination to get to. However, in much of the world, white collar workers are doing much less work that is routine, left-brained rule-based work. So what really matters are the more right-brained, creative, conceptual kind of abilities. For complex problems of any kind in any field, those if/then reward – the things around which we’ve built so many of our businesses – don’t work! This is a FACT.”

Dan also cites the Dan Ariely research I’ve written about here in which study participants are offered small, medium and large rewards, proving these reward structures only work for tasks involving mechanical skills. Those tasks requiring even “rudimentary” cognitive skill, a larger reward led to poorer performance.
“Too many organizations are making their decisions – their policies on talent and their people – based on assumptions that are outdated, unexamined and rooted more in folklore than in science. If you really want high performance on those definitional tasks of the 21st century, the solution is not to do more of the wrong things – to entice people with a sweeter carrot or threaten them with a sharper stick.”

What does he suggest as a new approach? “The scientists who have been studying motivation built more around intrinsic motivation, around the desire to do things because they matter, because they like it, because they’re interesting, out of a desire to do something important that is larger than ourselves.”

I agree completely. The problem, however, lies in the average company’s ability to communicate to employees how their efforts matter, how they are making a difference and why what they do is important both to the company and to what the company is trying to achieve in the world. That’s where strategic recognition comes in.

As Dan points out, companies lack the structures and systems necessary for motivating 21st century creative workers. Unlike extrinsic incentive awards that are known before the task is completed, strategic recognition is given spontaneously after the behavior or action being recognized occurs. Done properly to feed employee needs for intrinsic motivation, strategic recognition affirms for employees how their efforts matter to the group, team, company or customer achieving their goals and why those efforts are important within a much larger context of the company’s strategic objectives and the values that are important to them.

The spontaneity and sincerity of such recognition is what motivates employees to keep doing those things that bring personal fulfillment as well as company success. Building such an intrinsic motivational system on a platform that is also measurable and governable also gives company leaders the bottom-line proof they need of the value of these systems.

0 comment(s):