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.