Employee Motivation – New Secrets

by admin on August 13, 2010

"motivation"Traditional motivation theory says money talks. If you promise employees additional income (or some other tangible reward) for additional productivity, productivity will increase. But does it work that way in reality?

Having watched the video of Daniel Pink discussing the science of motivation, I did a quick Google search for ‘the science of motivation’ and discovered a huge number of sites referencing this work.  Wouldn’t that lead you to the conclusion that the world now knows about the motivation ‘news’? I thought so…

But another Google search for ‘employee motivation’ resulted in the same tired old theories of using ‘carrots and sticks’ to motivate employees. Daniel Pink’s news still has not carried over into the business world. At least it hasn’t traveled very far…so far.

The studies examined and reported in Drive show that money doesn’t necessarily talk very well in some instances. As Pink reports in the video, contingency rewards (“If you do this, you’ll get this”) can actually decrease performance for tasks that require some degree of problem solving.

The results of these studies show that there are two main types of jobs:

  • Algorithmic jobs, where the employee “follows a set of established instructions down a single pathway to one conclusion.” (Drive, Daniel H. Pink, page 29) An example of an algorithmic job is a grocery checkout clerk.
  • Heuristic jobs are the opposite of algorithmic jobs. “Precisely because no algorithm exists for it, you have to experiment with possibilities and devise a novel solution. (For example,) creating an ad campaign is mostly heuristic.” (ibid)

Here’s an interesting statistic: It’s estimated that in the US, 30 percent of jobs are algorithmic, while 70 percent are heuristic.

Let’s look at heuristic work

As work has become less routine and ‘algorithmic’, it has become more interesting and enjoyable for employees. Dare we say work has even become ‘fun’? For many people the answer is, “Yes!”  (Note: There is a distinction here between ‘work’ and ‘job’.)

So what happens when we get paid to have fun? Surprisingly, pay turns fun into work! And that work then, isn’t nearly as fun any more.

But don’t people still need to be paid?

Of course they do! Everyone has to earn a living. “If someone’s baseline rewards aren’t adequate, or equitable, her focus will be on the unfairness of her situation and the anxiety of her circumstance. You’ll get neither the predictability of extrinsic motivation nor the weirdness of intrinsic motivation. You’ll get very little motivation at all.” (Drive, Daniel H Pink, page 35)

Baseline rewards are defined as salary or wage, plus benefits and perks. What’s fair as a baseline will be different for every position, field, and location. It should be based on the local standard of living as well as within the ballpark of what other companies with similar positions are paying.

Don’t people who work hard want to be rewarded and acknowledged?

The premise is that people will go above and beyond what is expected of them for the sheer enjoyment of achievement. Acknowledgment and reward do not necessarily need to be in the form of money.  And as we’ll see in another article, acknowledgment and reward should be unexpected to be most effective.

“The implications for motivation are vast. Researchers…have found that external rewards and punishments  – both carrots and sticks – can work nicely for algorithmic tasks. But they can be devastating for heuristic ones.” (ibid, page 30)

So, if external motivation doesn’t work for heuristic tasks, that means internal, or ‘intrinsic’ motivation is best. We’ll look at that in the next article.

In the meantime, here’s a video that does a goodt job of explaining the theory of extrinsic vs intrinsic motivation.


"I love my job"How does the world view your business? What reputation does your business have in your community?

Some small businesses have learned the hard way, that unhappy customers are far more likely than happy customers to make their feelings and experience known online. Negative customer comments, or stories, in strategic places can have huge impact on business reputation.

But the customer side of your business is not the only side that’s affected by stories. Your ability to attract great candidates for employment also depends on the stories they hear about being an employee in your business. Your reputation as an employer is known in HR circles as your Employment Brand.

Just as you must pay close attention to what customers are saying about your business, you must also pay close attention to what your employees are saying about you as an employer. Positive, inspiring stories about what it’s like to work for you will lead to candidates seeking employment with you without much recruitment effort on your part.

Dr. John Sullivan, noted Human Resource thought leader, calls Employment Branding “The only long-term recruiting strategy.”

Conversely, negative stories about working for you and your company will work against you when it comes to finding good employees.

So how do you know what stories your employees are telling about working for you?

Obviously, if you ask directly for employee stories, you may get only positive ones. It might be better to begin your process by telling your employees that you want to evaluate how your company is doing as an employer. Let them know that your reputation is important to you and you want to do what it takes to make your workplace a workplace they choose to stay with and one that attracts great new employees. Make sure you follow through on this, or your reputation among your employees will suffer.

Next set up a survey on one of the free survey sites like surveymonkey.com. You might ask questions like the following:

  • What makes our company a good place to work?
  • What makes our company a poor place to work?
  • Give an example of a time when you felt excited about working here – what lead to those feelings?
  • Give an example of a time when you wished you didn’t work here – what lead to those feelings?
  • What would make our company a better place to work?
  • Given a choice would you stay as an employee of our company?

Add any other questions you believe will have the best likelihood of giving you a clear picture of where you currently stand as an employer. Your challenge is to identify your employees’ intrinsic motivators and what makes them feel emotionally connected to your company.

If you don’t already do so, design an effective exit survey. One study in England showed that while employees were still with the company, a high percentage said their reason for leaving was for promotion or higher wages. Once they had left (IE: some time had passed) that number had dropped considerably. They then felt ‘safer’ giving their real reasons for leaving.

Go back to your former employees and ask them to complete an exit survey, even if you had them do one before they left. Here your main questions will be centered around their reasons for leaving and any suggestions they might have for improving the employment situation in your company.

So what are the key stories being told about your company? Please share them with us, along with any Branding or reputation management tips you might have, in the comments section below.


Surprising Motivation News

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Workplace conflict is something anyone who works in an office is going to face at some point.  Yet when you’re faced with it, you may hesitate to deal with it head on it for many reasons : You don’t want to make the issue worse You don’t want to cause permanent damage to a work [...]

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