Tag Archives: extrinsic motivation

Incentivizing Behavior Doesn’t Improve Results

In the webcast Dan Pink’s shares research results exploring human motivation and ideas on how to manage organization given the scientific research on motivation.

  • “once a task called for even rudimentary cognitive skill a larger reward led to poorer performance”
  • “Pay people enough to take the issue of money off the table. Pay people enough so they are not thinking about money they are thinking about the work.”
  • “3 factors lead to better performance: autonomy, mastery and purpose” [not additional cash rewards]
  • Open source software is created by highly skilled people contributing their time to collaborative projects that are then given away (such as Linux, Ruby, Apache). For large efforts their are often people paid by companies to contribute to the open source software but many people contribute 20-30, and more hours a week for free to such efforts, why? “Challenge, mastery and making a contribution”
  • “When the profit motive becomes unmoored from the purpose motive, bad thing happen. Bad things ethically sometimes, but also bad things like not good stuff, like crappy products, like lame services, like uninspiring places to work… People don’t do great things”
  • “If we start treating people like people… get past this ideology of idea of carrots and sticks and look at the science we can actually build organization and work life that make us better off, but I also think they have the promise to make our world a just a little bit better.”

The ideas presented emphasize respect for people, an understanding of psychology and validating beliefs with data. All of it fits very well with Deming’s ideas on management and the idea I try to explore in this blog. It isn’t easy to adjust your ideas. But the evidence continues to pile up against some outdated management practices. And good managers have to learn and adapt their practices to what is actually effective.

Related: Extrinsic Incentives Kill CreativityThe Trouble with Incentives: They WorkRighter IncentivizationIndividual Bonuses Are Bad Management

The Trouble with Incentives: They Work

Gipsie B. Ranney has a great new article – The Trouble with Incentives: They Work

I have wondered whether the escalation of pay, perks and parachutes for CEOs actually tends to attract individuals who are primarily extrinsically motivated, rather than individuals who are seriously interested in creating value. Several recent examples appear to be consistent with this view.

An important issue with regard to incentives is possible effects on teamwork and cooperation. If the incentive system is set up as a zero-sum game, then for me to win, you have to lose. This is a very effective way to ensure that there is little or no teamwork or cooperation. Interactions between individuals and groups are likely to become negative, to the detriment of the organization as a whole. When incentives are based on narrow functional objectives, achieving those objectives may guarantee that the system as a whole will be suboptimized.

the Mayo Clinic, “which is among the highest-quality, lowest-cost healthcare systems in the country.” He reports that “decades ago Mayo recognized that the first thing it needed to do was eliminate the financial barriers. It pooled all the money the doctors and the hospital system received and began paying everyone a salary, so that the doctors’ goal in patient care couldn’t be increasing their income. Mayo promoted leaders who focused first on what was best for patients, and then on how to make this financially possible.” He goes on to say, “the core tenet of the Mayo Clinic is ‘The needs of the patient come first’ – not the convenience of the doctors, not their revenues. The doctors and nurses, and even the janitors, sat in meetings almost weekly, working on ideas to make the service and the care better, not to get more money out of patients.”

Could it be that physicians, insurers, drug companies, and patients are simply acting rational to the system? The players are incentivized to behave as they do. The system delivers what it is designed to deliver.

She sums it up very well:

There may be cases in which incentives work only as intended, but I suspect they are relatively rare. The trouble is that we are usually dealing with complex systems (people and organizations) that may behave not at all like our myths would predict. The best policy may be to avoid incentives altogether and focus instead on creating systems in which intrinsic motivation, cooperation, ethical behavior, trust, creativity, and joy in work can flourish.

Find more articles on management improvement in the Curious Cat Management Improvement Library, including: An Interim Report on Motivation in the Workplace by Gipsie Ranney, Remembering NUMMI by Gipsie Ranney and Improving Problem Solving by Ian Bradbury and Gipsie Ranney.

When you can’t prevent arbitrary targets and rewards based on meeting them the strategy I attempt to put in place is figure out how the system will be distorted in order to meet those targets and then put in measures that will discourage such distortions. It isn’t perfect but can help prevent some of the worst distortions (and degradation of system-wide performance they cause).

Related: Righter IncentivizationThe Defect Black MarketDr. Deming on the problems with managing with targets (and incentives based on them)Extrinsic Incentives Kill Creativity


Some things about what people do also have their roots in psychology. Deming had an understanding of psychology as one of 4 areas in his system of management. A huge factor in what people do is based on what they are used to doing – habits. It is often difficult for people to change – not necessarily because they don’t want to, or the alternative is more difficult or they think it is unwise. It is difficult just because they are in the habit of doing something else.

William James explored the power of habits – The Laws of Habit

Often I favor convincing people why certain actions are best and then they can chose to take those actions. But you can also get people in the habit of the actions you seek to encourage and then let the power of habit work. For health, I think this, often is a good strategy.

But it also is done in many ways that culture is established in an organization. You enforce that meetings must have an agenda. Then it becomes a habit. You enforce that decisions are based on data. Then it becomes a habit. You enforce that the work area must be clean. Then it becomes a habit.

Two ways you can notice that things are becoming a habit:

1) when people bring “work” ideas to their personal life – Visual Management and Self-Reliance, Laundry Kaizen.

2) you find yourself in a new environment where the habit is not practiced and you are uncomfortable. You go to a new organization and 5s is not being practiced and you feel uncomfortable. You go to meetings without agendas and they seem to wander and waste time and you can’t imagine why they don’t use an agenda and follow it.

When the ideas have reached the level of habits you have changed. I think with health issues this is the understanding people should have. How do I change things so people adopt good habits. Then you have to find strategies that effectively move people to adopt those habits.

The strategy is based on the idea that adopting the habit can be easier than convincing someone to change with the power of pure logic. But it is also important as habit are adopted to explain the reasoning on why the habits are important. By understanding the role those habits play in successful health, for example, a person knows how to adapt to changing circumstances. And they know what are the key factors that should remain as methods are adapted over time. Explaining why 5s is valuable is important even beyond the habit.

If you get someone to behave in a certain way to get some incentive you rarely get the change in psychology. They don’t adopt a new habit. They do something to get what you offer. They will continue to do it if the incentive is offered. If not, they stop. Does Rewarding Children Backfire?

In response to: In search of metrics

Related: Flaws in Understanding Psychology Lead to Flawed ManagementRespect for People, Understanding PsychologyInformation Technology and Business Process SupportPunished by Rewards? A Conversation with Alfie Kohn

Extrinsic Incentives Kill Creativity

If you read this blog, you know I believe extrinsic motivation is a poor strategy. This TED webcast Dan Pink discusses studies showing extrinsic rewards failing. This is a great webcast, definitely worth 20 minutes of your time.

  • “you’ve got an incentive designed to sharpen thinking and accelerate creativity and it does just the opposite. It dulls thinking and blocks creativity… This has been replicated over and over and over again for nearly 40 years. These contingent motivators, if you do this then you get that, work in some circumstances but in a lot of tasks they actually either don’t work or, often, they do harm.”
  • there is a mismatch between what science knows and what business does
  • “This is a fact.”

What does Dan Pink recommend based on the research? Management should focus on providing workplaces where people have autonomy, mastery and purpose to build on intrinsic motivation.

via: Everything You Think about Pay for Performance Could Be Wrong

Related: Righter IncentivizationWhat’s the Value of a Big Bonus?Dangers of Extrinsic MotivationMotivate or Eliminate De-MotivationGreat Marissa Mayer Webcast on Google Innovation

What’s the Value of a Big Bonus?

What’s the Value of a Big Bonus? by Dan Ariely

To look at this question, three colleagues and I conducted an experiment. We presented 87 participants with an array of tasks that demanded attention, memory, concentration and creativity. We asked them, for instance, to fit pieces of metal puzzle into a plastic frame, to play a memory game that required them to reproduce a string of numbers and to throw tennis balls at a target. We promised them payment if they performed the tasks exceptionally well. About a third of the subjects were told they’d be given a small bonus, another third were promised a medium-level bonus, and the last third could earn a high bonus.

So it turns out that social pressure has the same effect that money has. It motivates people, especially when the tasks at hand require only effort and no skill. But it can provide stress, too, and at some point that stress overwhelms the motivating influence.

When I recently presented these results to a group of banking executives, they assured me that their own work and that of their employees would not follow this pattern. (I pointed out that with the right research budget, and their participation, we could examine this assertion. They weren’t that interested.)

This is an interesting look at an effect of bonuses. We all know monetary bonuses can influence behavior. The problem is the type of behaviors that result. Huge bonuses, for example, create huge incentives to risk the future of the company for the chance at a huge bonus for the executive. Extrinsic motivation leads to many problems.

Problems with bonuses: Losses Covered Up to Protect Bonuses“Pay for Performance” is a Bad IdeaProblems with BonusesBook: Punished By Rewards: The Trouble With Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A’s, Praise, and Other Bribes by Alfie Kohn – posts on executive pay

Righter Incentivization

So incentive schemes to get people “motivated” seem to backfire often. Why can’t we figure out how to incentivize the behavior we desire and have it not backfire on us? What is the righter way to dangle incentives in front of our employees to get them to do what we want? Well aiming at that is a bad strategy. Using extrinsic motivation less badly is possible but the correct answer is just don’t do it.

The problems of individual incentives seem to far outweigh any potential benefit. Dr. Deming was against this strategy decades ago, and I agree. Peter Scholtes and Alfie Kohn (among others) do a good job of explaining why it is a bad idea. Douglas McGregor‘s Human Side of Enterprise is a good place to start. Managers need to eliminate de-motivators of employees not try to find better carrot dangling schemes to somehow make the carrot dangling incentive produce the desired behavior.

I have written about this area previously: Problems with Bonuses, The Defect Black Market, Why Extrinsic Motivation Fails and Losses Covered Up to Protect Bonuses.

Bob Sutton has a good blog and wrote an interesting post recently: Washington Mutual and Perverse Incentives

the problem with using money as a motivator is that it is very difficult to get the incentive system designed so it motivates the right kind of behavior and discourages the wrong kind

their reward system — and misguided culture to supported it — helped bring down this once great bank [WaMU]

My question: Problems like this crop up over and over again. What can we do to stop them? Should we stop using individual incentives? I think that is too extreme, but how do we design individual incentive systems that avert a narrow and misguided focus?

I would say don’t try to create righter individual incentives. While it is possible to make it less bad, spend your time on more productive management activities. That is my answer.

Related: Reward and Incentive Programs are Ineffective — Even Harmful by Peter Scholtes – Theory X (motivation by carrot and stick)We eliminated commissions, incentives…Individual Bonuses Are Bad ManagementAnother Quota Failure ExampleRighter Performance Appraisal

Management Improvement Carnival #45

Read the previous management carnivals. Also see the management Reddit for popular new blog posts to include in future carnivals.

  • Hire them, fire them, do what you want with them by Jay Padinjaredath – “A quote from Deming: “In Japan when a company has to absorb a sudden economic hardship… First the corporate dividends are cut. Then the salaries and the bonuses of the top management are reduced…. Lastly, the rank and file are asked to accept pay cuts…”
  • The Art of the A3 by Matthew May – “Every A3 tells a story. And like every story, each one is a little different, style-wise. But like any good story, there’s a clear structure.”
  • Spirit of the Toyota Suggestion System by Mike Wroblewski – “Our job as lean leaders is to help create that environment and inspire everyone to act, to take action to make improvements.”
  • To Motivate or Not to Demotivate by Jurgen Appelo – “Some people tell me that ‘you cannot motivate a person’. You can only “remove the impediments that prevent a person from being motivated”. Or, in other words, ‘you can only eliminate demotivation‘. Well, I don’t agree!”
  • Managing To Learn by Tom Southworth – “PDCA, or continuous improvement, never has an end, does it? We’re not solving problems, we’re implementing countermeasures to make positive changes to an existing condition.”
  • Demotivating a (Good) Programmer by Louis Brandy – “consider this your executive summary: he is motivated because he likes the actual work. That’s the Achilles heel. Now, before you think you’ve got this problem solved, let me explain to you the secret to the secret: what he thinks is cool is almost beyond your comprehension”
  • Apologizing Does NOT Get to the Root Cause by Mark Graban – “if you’re just putting the fire out without looking for a root cause or for prevention, you’re going to have the same problem occur again.”
  • Continue reading

Restaurant Eliminates Tipping to Improve System Performance

Why Tip? by Paul Wachter

When he opened the Linkery, Porter said, he hoped his employees would become as emotionally invested in the venture as he was, sharing a sense of purpose and joy in their work.

Porter instead proposed a service fee of 18 percent, to be pooled and split roughly 3 to 1 between the restaurant’s front of the house and its kitchen.

Porter, like the anti-tippers of yore, was persuaded tipping itself was pernicious. “If you have a fixed gratuity, but people are still tipping, then you’re back to Square 1 in terms of the money dynamic,” he says.

The restaurant was already paying 65 percent of its employees’ health-insurance premiums, and Porter was working on a scheme to give long-term employees ownership stakes in the business.

But Chelsea Boyd told me that eliminating tipping had made her work as a waiter at the Linkery more meaningful than any other restaurant job she has had in the previous 10 years. “For the first time, I get to concentrate on the job, and I’m looking at the guests without seeing dollar signs or worried about what anyone else is making,” she says. Under the old system, waiters earned between $25 and $35 an hour, much of which was untaxed. “Now, waiters make about $25 an hour, which is fully taxed,” Boyd says.

Renee Lorion, a former waitress at the Linkery who now works in publishing in New York, liked the new anti-tipping policy too. “As servers, we all took a pay cut, but we knew it was for the general health of the restaurant,” she told me. “What made it work is that Jay was very transparent about the restaurant’s finances.”

Obviously, the kitchen appreciates the new policy. “Earning three or four extra bucks an hour makes a difference,” Matthew Somerville, a cook, says. “In most restaurants, there’s not a close relationship between the front and the kitchen. But here you don’t have that tension, where waiters are trying to accommodate customers’ special requests, while the cooks doing the extra work don’t see any of the tips.” Today, Porter’s employees appear almost as fervent in their opposition to tipping as their boss.

The single most important factor in determining the amount of a tip is the size of the bill. Diners generally tip the same percentage no matter the quality of the service and no matter the setting.

In his one concession to big tippers, Porter offers them the option of donating money to charity. The Linkery’s charity of the month is printed on the menu, and in two years more than $10,000 has been raised for various causes.

This is an interesting article discussing some of the psychological and systems thinking aspects of managing a system made up of people.

Related: Eliminating CommissionsLosses Covered Up to Protect BonusesRespect for People, Understanding PsychologyLosing Consumers’ TrustCompensation at Whole FoodsI wasted the best years of my life

Management Improvement Carnival #34

Please submit your favorite management posts to the carnival. Read the previous management carnivals.

  • Introduction to Factorial Designs by Jonathan Mendez – “I like the idea of velocity in marketing — test, learn, test, learn, test. Instead of one large test I prefer focusing attention on certain areas or elements to achieve deeper understanding.”
  • MIT’s Message about Lean Enterprise Transformation by Mark Edmondson- “1. Market leaders are good at embracing enterprise change; 2. Enterprise change requires a holistic approach that engages all stakeholders. This includes employees, suppliers, customers, unions, and investors/owners”
  • Two Types of Bottleneck by David J. Anderson – “I now teach that there are two types of bottleneck: capacity constrained resources CCRs; and non-instant availability resources”
  • Oranges, Pebbles, and Sand by Ron Pereira – “In this video my daughters and I demonstrate how meeting an objective is just the beginning to improvement.”
  • Why errorproof when you can double-check? – “If you are in the position to prevent the error in the first place, why wouldn’t you? And, I’d argue, if you can write a tool to detect the screw up – ie, it is possible to programmatically figure out that the template is wrong,”
  • Systems and Improvement by John Dowd – “Thus did Deming, over sixty years ago, show a basic model about how to think about quality and improvement.”
  • Continue reading

Losses Covered Up to Protect Bonuses

Does it surprise you to learn traders would cover up losses to protect bonuses? It shouldn’t, it happens over and over. Would it surprise you that almost any bonus (or quota) scheme increases the odds that the data will be doctored to meet the goals? It shouldn’t. Intelligent measures to make such doctoring difficult can help reduce the practice. But it is a likely risk of any such goal. As we have quoted Brian Joiner as saying: there are: “3 ways to improve the figures: distort the data, distort the system and improve the system. Improving the system is the most difficult.” So it is no shock that distorting the data is often the tacit people use (especially when the rewards are great or the punishment for missing is severe).

Of course the people that take unethical or illegal action are responsible for their actions. But managers that set up poor systems and then get poor results should not be surprised. You mainly read about the exciting distortion of data – but there is much more such distortion that doesn’t seem interesting enough for the press.

Traders at top investment bank ‘covered up losses to protect their bonuses in £1.4 bn scam’

A top investment bank said yesterday that some of its traders had tried to protect their massive bonuses with a £1.4billion scam. Credit Suisse was forced to admit it will pay the price for the traders’ ruthless scheming by sinking into the red. All the traders involved – some of them based in London – have been fired or suspended.

Shares in the bank, which is based in Zurich, tumbled 7.5 per cent yesterday. Credit Suisse admitted it had discovered intentional “pricing errors” by a small number of traders involved in complex investments linked to the mortgage market.

Related: Problems with BonusesBe Careful What You MeasureMeasuring and Managing Performance in OrganizationsAnother Quota Failure Example