Tag Archives: motivation

Your Purpose Must Be About You

Guest post by Jurgen Appelo

I’m a writer. It’s the one thing that I intend to do for the rest of my life. That means, when I focus on writing, I cannot focus on knitting. Somebody else will have to do the knitting, so I can focus on the writing. And maybe later, I can trade my wonderful book for someone’s beautiful sweater. This concept applies to all other professionals too. Everyone is entangled in a web of economic dependencies, and therefore, the purpose you choose for yourself should somehow generate value for the others around you. Or else nobody will give you a knitted sweater.

This all makes perfect sense to complexity scientists, who have known for a while that complex adaptive systems find a global optimum through local optimizations and interdependencies. (At Home in the Universe by Stuart Kauffman) The parts in a complex system all try to optimize performance for themselves, but their efforts depend on the dependencies imposed on them by the parts around them. With a mix of competition and collaboration, the parts interact with each other without any focus on a global purpose. Nevertheless, the end result is often an optimized system. Biologists call it an ecosystem. Economists call it an economy. I call it common sense.

Putting the “Why” in Your Mission Statement

Most management scholars and experts have ignored the insights from the complexity sciences (or are unaware of them) and some have suggested goals for teams, and purposes for businesses, that are too narrow. There are many corporate mission statements in the world expressing ideas such as, “Make money for shareholders”, “Put customers first”, and “Achieve superior financial results” (The Leader’s Guide to Radical Management by Stephen Denning). In each of these cases, the purpose of the organization is (too) narrowly defined as providing value to one type of client or stakeholder.

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Motivation, Rewards, Performance Appraisals and Your Career

In this interview Dan Pink again makes some great points relating to psychology, managing people and managing your career.

Q. What kinds of programs can managers and companies put into place to motivate their workforce?

Assuming companies are paying people fairly, they should do what they can to foster autonomy, mastery, and purpose. One of my favorite specific ideas is this: The Australian company Atlassian conducts what they call “FedEx Days” in which people work on anything they want for 24 hours and then show the results to the company the following day. These one-day bursts of autonomy have produced a whole array of fixes for existing products, ideas for new ones, and improvements to internal processes that would have otherwise never emerged. For creative tasks, the best approach is often just to hire great people and get out of their way.

I agree. Focusing on motivation is wrong, as Douglas McGregor detailed in the Human Side of Enterprise over 50 years ago. The problems with theory x management (motivation through fear and rewards) has been detailed over and over again decade after decade. I get tired of us ignoring very well done work to help us manage better for decades 🙁

Q. Are you suggesting that offering someone a 50 per cent raise won’t motivate him or her to work harder?

…most organizations dangle what I call “if-then” rewards — as in, “If you do this, then you get that” — bonuses, commissions, and like. Fifty years of social science tells us that “if-then” rewards are great for simple, routine, algorithmic work [but not creative work]… The best use of money as a motivator is to hire great people and then pay them enough to take the issue of money off the table.

By the way, even that juicy, non-contingent 50 per cent raise has some serious limits. People will be thrilled in the short-run, but over the long term (say, the third paycheck) the thrill will become the status quo…

Again I agree: When Performance-related Pay Backfires, Righter Incentivization, Build an Environment Where Intrinsic Motivation Flourishes.

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Massively Unjust Executive Compensation Damages Companies and Investments

For years I have believed the massively unjust executive compensation packages have been doing great harm to American businesses. As an investor, one of the big risks that has to be evaluated is how much of the business profits executives will divert to their personal bank accounts. And investors also have to worry about the risks executives take to reach huge incentives which then greatly damage your investment.

In 2007, I added two of my own deadly diseases to Dr. Deming’s list. These deadly diseases have emerged since Dr. Deming created the list of 7 deadly diseases (which started out at 5 deadly diseases- he added 2 more later). Excessive executive compensation is one of those new deadly diseases. Our outdated and harmful laws, regulation and tolerated behavior relating to patents, copyright and “intellectual property” is the other.

The Incentive Bubble by Mihir Desai, Harvard Business Review

Mature corporations without large shareholders may become bloated with perquisites or preoccupied by empire building that satisfies managers rather than shareholders—the classic principal-agent problem.

In order for these pay mechanisms to be successful, managers and investors should be rewarded only for success beyond what would normally be generated. Said another way, there are returns that one can generate by doing little, and managers and investors shouldn’t be compensated for those returns.

A very important point to consider in calculating “excess” returns is an understanding of variation. This core component of Dr. Deming’s management system is not understood by most executives today and leads to mis-assigning credit and blame. In addition, an appreciation of systems thinking shows the fallacy of assigning individual causal credit or blame when in reality much of the result is systemic in nature (result of the system with little ability to sensibly assign individual cause – not that those wishing to have huge transfers of corporate wealth deposited in their bank account won’t pay lots of money to people that will create fancy formulas to try and justify such payments).

The rapid spread of stock options over the past two decades resulted in large windfalls for managers because no effort was made to subtract average performance during a period of remarkable returns in asset markets. Moreover, wide varieties of misbehavior have been traced to incentives created by the “cliffs” in most compensation packages: strike prices and vesting dates. Reaching for extra earnings by cutting small corners when such large amounts were at stake was inevitable. The corporate governance crises of the past 15 years had many roots; large stock option grants and the distorted incentives they provide loom large among them.

Absent regulators, irresponsible intermediaries, and oblivious homeowners were all important agents in creating the financial crisis, but the transformation of investment banks into risk-hungry institutions was central to it—and that transformation is connected to the growth of financial-markets-based compensation. At a basic level, the appetite for risk by managers of investment banks can be linked to the rise of compensation structures that provided them with highly asymmetrical incentives

Second, it is tempting to diminish the role of the skewed incentives identified above and reorient the debate toward ethics and morality: If only we hadn’t lost our sense of right and wrong. Such complaints may be well-grounded, but they obscure just how important these high-powered incentives are. More can be achieved by understanding incentive structures and the ideas that underpin them than by bemoaning a decline in character or promoting the virtues of professionalism. And moving away from shareholder-centered capitalism toward stakeholder capitalism risks overcorrecting the excesses of the past three decades. Indeed, capitalism appears to be serving managers and investment managers at the expense of shareholders.

Well said. From a Deming management perspective I see the huge problems created by the deadly disease of unjustly outsized executive compensation. And as an investor I see great risk in executives destroying investment returns as they try and extract hugely excessive amounts of the profits the organization makes to their personal treasuries.

Related: Taking What You Don’t Deserve, CEO StyleObscene CEO Pay, 2005 dataExecutives Again Treating Corporate Treasuries as Their Money“Too often, executive compensation in the U.S. is ridiculously out of line with performance” Warren BuffettLeverage, Complex Deals and ManiaThe soaring executive pay in the 1990’s turned Drucker into a leading critic of unjust pay (and those levels were tiny compared to what executives are taking from treasuries today) – No Excessive Senior Executive Pay at ToyotaBrooks Brother BureaucratsLosses Covered Up to Protect Bonuses

Management Improvement Carnival #149

Jon Miller hosts Management Improvement Carnival #149 looking at blog posts examining motivation, highlights include:

  • a wonderful cat photo
  • Kevin Meyer found some bright spots on his trip to India and documented them in several fun articles in Evolving Excellence. My favorite was leadership lessons from Ganesha, a set of mindsets and behaviors that are both motivating personally and constructive in motivating others.
  • On productivity and motivation, one article began by explaining how researchers found that doing or saying something nice, even if this was a very small gesture, has proven to improve the job performance of people including doctors. The premise is that positivity promotes performance.
  • Addressing the question of “Where do I start?” in learning lean thinking and putting it into practice, Mark Rosenthal suggests adopting the find the bright spots advice from the book Switch. Finding brights spots is always good advice. While companies fail at thing for a wide variety of local and specialized reasons, success tends to cluster around a handful of factors; motivated people; removing waste, variation and burden; a long-term view. We need to drill a level deeper in each one of these.

I agree that motivation is a very important topic. I think trying to improve management without a good understanding of how people are really motivated is very difficult and weaknesses in this area end up frustrating many improvement efforts.

Related: Incentivizing Behavior Doesn’t Improve ResultsMotivate or Eliminate De-MotivationYou’ve Got to Find What You Love

You’ve Got to Find What You Love

Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle.

– Steve Jobs

Watch this great commencement speech by Steve Jobs at Stanford in 2005.

We lost a great person today, when Steve Jobs died at the age of 56. His words are just as important today: you have got to find what you love to do. Keep looking until you find it. It won’t necessarily be easy to do. But life is too short to waste merely getting by.

My father found what he loved and pursued that throughout his life. He also died young. They both died young, but they both had great lives because they took charge to make the most of their lives. By doing what they loved they made the world a better place for many others, and themselves. Take that message to heart and make your life the best it can be.

Related: Quotes from Steve JobsPeter ScholtesPositivity and Joy in WorkBuild an Environment Where Intrinsic Motivation FlourishesRemembering Bill Hunter

Many Good Employees Want to Continue to Do Their Current Job Well

Far too much focus on managing people is given to helping them get ahead. Yes many people want to be promoted, and it is good to help them. But I would guess a majority of people really don’t (at this time – they may want to look to promotional later) want to take on new responsibilities (even for more money). But much of the way many speak and coach is disconnected from this reality and really ends up being disrespectful in assuming because I want to climb the ladder as far as I can I you do to.

There are several psychological factors behind this mindset. Many of those striving to get ahead can’t really conceive of the idea that others don’t have the same driving goals (and as many find in a “mid-life crises” – they may not have that either, but they don’t want to question their thoughts on this matter). And it is applying a simplistic one size fits all view of the world.

You can’t coach people effectively to reach their goals if you can’t understand what they are seeking. You can coach them how to do their current job – even if you don’t understand their ambitions (so at least part of the responsibility can be done well, even with this misunderstanding). Often it takes some work to learn what they desire. The culture of your organization may well make people hesitant to say they want to focus at getting better at their current job now, instead of stating a all consuming desire to earn more money.

Stop Ignoring the Stalwart Worker, makes some good points, though I am not so interested in Thomas DeLong’s definition of a stalwart worker. He sees them as not seeking attention and deep loyalty to the organization. I find his point that we ignore most people and the myths he mentions are the points to take note of. Too often the myths are used as the basis for managing people. And that is a mistake.

People do not all want the same thing out of work. A manager should know what their employees want and help them move in that direction. I find far too little actual management of people goes on. Many managers really take less than an hour all year making this happen. They are too busy doing all the busy work their organization has created for managers to actually get to know their employees and then think about how to help them grow (if that is what they want), and then actually coach them. Many managers also seem to think the little coaching they do should be reserved for those seeking rapid advancement. This is a bad concept. And it goes against respect for people principles. Most often the way to deal with the limited time for coaching is to cut out less important things taking up the managers time and increase the time working with all employees.
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Build an Environment Where Intrinsic Motivation Flourishes

50 years after Douglas McGregor’s classic, The Human Side of Enterprise, too many managers still have not learned that using extrinsic motivation is not an effective way to manage complex human systems (organizations). The issue is important to me because their is a huge amount of poor management based on this thinking (focused on how people need to be fixed/motivated) instead of fixing what management really needs to fix.

You can succeed as a manager, and progress in your career, by viewing your role as helping people do their jobs well. As McGregor shows workers want to do a good job. He termed managing with this understanding theory y; and theory x is the idea that people should be motivated with carrots and sticks because they are not going to do work otherwise. Organizations have often so systemically de-motivated people they seem to have lost that desire. What you need to focus on is not motivating them with cheap tricks. Instead focus on eliminating the factors that de-motivate them.

Often simplistic motivation is seen as a replacement for fixing management performance (improving the management systems…). Instead managers should focus on eliminating the sources of de-motivation in the workplace. If you need hints, Dilbert does a good job of showing you what management does that de-motivates.

To succeed as a manager assume people wish to do a good job. If employees are not performing some task well, the manager needs to figure out what is wrong with the system that leads to this outcome (not what is wrong with the employees). When a manger views the problem as one of motivating workers that puts the problem within the worker. They need to be changed. That is the wrong strategy, most of the time. Instead you will have much more success if you seek to improve the system to improve performance.

I believe there is often a burden to overcome. As people have their intrinsic motivation crushed time after time day after day, week after week, year after year they try to protect themselves by shutting off their hope to achieve intrinsic motivation at work. You may have to show you really are serious before they will open up again. You have to make real changes and do so consistently that shows respect for people. Intrinsic motivation is a strong force and a few earlier adopters will quickly come along in all but the most broken organizations. You can build on that success (and eliminat more and more de-motivation) to grow intrinsic motivation in more and more people.
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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

Understanding Psychology: Slogans – Risky Tools

De-motivation Poster

Slogans mainly are bad. But like most things they can be used in ways that help or hurt. The main problem is when they substitute for a method to achieve the aim (most of the time). If the slogan serves like a mission statement to focus people on something useful to focus on and it is one minor part of a system to achieve a result it can be fine and even useful.

The issue, to me, is not so much that slogans are innately horrible. It is that, in practice, slogan are used in harmful ways most often (especially outside of sports). They tend to substitute for system improvement. The main work of shifting psychology (we do expect to win now, we do expect a focus on reducing bugs in our code…) after years of creating a different culture has to be in changing methods, priorities, values… Slogans, if done right, can be a way of focusing on the change. Or they can be a real reminder of values. But the slogan only provides value as part of a system confirming the aim they emphasis.

Unfortunately, they also to be used as a way to focus criticisms on individuals. Don’t you know/care that our slogan says zero defects? Can’t you read? Jeez, I even put up a huge poster with our slogan saying zero defects and you can’t even do what it says in this beautiful poster? Well, I will give you a bad performance review now, you can’t say you don’t have that coming after you failed to do what our slogan told you to do.

A slogan by itself has negative value. Take any wonderful slogan and move it somewhere else it will do more harm than good. As a minor part of a system though it can tap into how we people think and act (psychology) and provide value. Be careful though, it is much easier to do harm with slogans than to provide value.

If the slogan emphasizes what is being practiced every day, it can be a helpful reinforcer. If it conflicts with what is done every day it breeds cynicism and shows disrespect for people. This which is a huge problem. And managers have to know it is very easy for people to see the lack of cloths on the emperor slogan. Dilbert does a great job showing the risks of using slogans. Those you are targeting the slogan to are more likely to think like Dilbert than the they are to think like the pointy haired boss (and if you are the one pushing the slogan that means you are well on your way to being the phb – so be careful).

Slogans clearly fall under Deming’s understanding psychology area of management. To use them effectively you need to make sure the value provided, exceeds the cost and risk. I see no better way to evaluate slogans than through the lens of Deming’s system of management, interdependent components of: psychology, systems thinking, understanding variation and theory of knowledge. If the slogan is not supported by they system of management in place it will do harm.

In response to: Are Slogans Always Bad or Can They Inspire?

Related: Deming on eliminating slogans and motivational postersEliminate SlogansToyota Targets 50% Reduction in Maintenance Wasteposts on psychologyHow to ImproveStop Demotivating Employees

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

Habits

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

When Performance-related Pay Backfires

When Economic Incentives Backfire by Samuel Bowles, Sante Fe Institute

Dozens of recent experiments show that rewarding self-interest with Economic incentives can backfire when they undermine what Adam Smith called “the moral sentiments.”

Punished by Rewards, by Alfie Kohn, is a great book on this topic. The area of “motivating” employees is one it is often hard for managers to learn. Even managers that have been studying Deming, Ackoff, Ohno… for years still have trouble with the idea that trying to find the right incentive scheme to motivate the right behavior is the wrong approach. Read the The Human Side Of Enterprise by Douglas Mcgregor (in 1960) to re-enforce the understanding of human motivation provided by Toyota’s respect for people principles.

Managers need to eliminate de-motivation in the work systems not try and find bonus schemes to motivate behavior. Eliminating de-motivation is often much more work. You can’t just get some money from the bonus pool and start giving it away. You have to manage. But if you are a manager you shouldn’t be afraid to actually manage the system and make it better.

Related: “Pay for Performance” is a Bad IdeaReward and Incentive Programs are Ineffective — Even Harmful by Peter Scholtes – The Defect Black MarketWhat’s the Value of a Big Bonus?Problems with BonusesLosses Covered Up to Protect BonusesStop Demotivating Employees

When performance-related pay backfires:
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Management By IT Crowd Bosses

John Hunter's IT Crowd badgeJohn Hunter’s IT Crowd badge (Reynholm Industries)

The IT Crowd is a great BBC show on an IT support office in a large organization. The IT staff are knowledgeable and tired of dealing with foolish users of IT. And you wouldn’t want to watch for any customer support tips (though companies like United Airlines might do just that). Anyone involved in IT know Internet Explorer 6 is not an acceptable tool in this day and age. But some IT departments don’t let that stop them from forcing it on their users. Orange UK exiles Firefox from call centres

Yes, the corporate world is taking its sweet time upgrading from Microsoft’s eight-year-old Internet Explorer 6, a patently insecure web browser that lacks even a tabbed interface. Take, for example, the mobile and broadband giant Orange UK.

According to a support technician working in the company’s Bristol call centre – who requested anonymity for fear of losing his job – Orange UK still requires the use of IE6 in all its call centres, forbidding technicians from adopting Mozilla’s Firefox or any other browser of a newer vintage.

This technician tells us that about a quarter of the Bristol staff had moved to Firefox after growing increasingly frustrated with IE6’s inability to open multiple pages in the same window and overall sluggish performance. But a recent email from management informed call-centre reps that downloading Firefox was verboten and that they would be fined £250 if their PCs experienced problems and had to be rebuilt after running Firefox or any other application downloaded from the net.

Great management. Provide only an outdated and poor tool. Then threaten to fine employees that try to get a tool to allow themselves to do their job. Yes, it makes sense to setup rules for managing IT resources in a company but it is not acceptable to provide extremely outdated tools and then instead of fixing the problem when employees can’t stand your lousy service any longer you threaten to fine them. Wonderful. I guess you could call it the punishment-by-threat-demotivation-drive-in-fear management (for those that think Alfie Kohn’s Punished by Rewards model is too light on the punishment part of management).

Related: Stop Demotivating Me!Software Supporting Processes Not the Other Way AroundLean IT Systems – Not ERPThe Defect Black Market (another theory X IT management example)Change Your Name
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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

Motivate or Eliminate De-Motivation

To Motivate or Not to Demotivate

The idea that you cannot motivate a person is wrong. I suspect that it has grown out of failed “motivational” initiatives like company slogans, posters, pep talks, performance reviews, and coffee cups with the text “teamwork” printed on it. I agree that those practices are probably not the best way to motivate most people. But there are bad ways and good ways to do things. And it’s the manager’s job to find out what the good ones are…

Note: Frederick Herzberg also tells us that motivation is an intrinsic thing, which means that you actually cannot directly motivate a person. You can only try to influence their motivation. That’s true. But it also applies to people’s demotivation. And therefore I only consider it just a semantical issue, that bears no relationship to the motivation-vs-demotivation issue.

I still think eliminating de-motivation is the better way to look at it.

I still see far to many managers thinking in a theory x way – 50 years after McGregor’s The Human Side of Enterprise. If there was not such a systemic failure to apply effective management practices and such a desire to substitute motivation for management I wouldn’t see this as a big deal. The issue is important to me because their is a huge amount of poor management based on how people view the need to fix how people are motivated instead of fixing what management really needs to fix (see all the links in the related section at the bottom of this post).

“eliminating demotivation” is a too simplistic view

When our management subsidizes a great party that is organized by our employees themselves, and the employees appreciate our company’s financial contribution, do you still talk of “elimination demotivation”? I think that would be just a silly way of turning the matter upside down. I simply call it motivating people.

I would say a party doesn’t really motivate people. But it can (taking psychology into account) gain advantages by helping bond people to each other, letting people feel good as they form social relationships, build trust with others… They can be good things that can build a stronger work environment. And by building social ties we can create an environment where people are more interested in working toward common goals.
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Motivating Employees

No Matter How Badly You Want It:

“When it seems easy, it’s like they already wanted to do it in the first place.” Martin paused. “It seems impossible when they didn’t ever want to do it. So, it doesn’t seem to matter what you want, as the manager, or how badly you want it. The only thing that seems to matter is whether your team members want to do it?”

The lights were circling in Martin’s head. The whole time, as a manager, he had been looking at motivation as getting people to do something he wanted. His mind was beginning to change.

Douglas McGregor discussed this topic well in 1960. He explained theory X management (managers believe the workers will do only what they are forced, coerced into doing) and theory Y management (managers believe the workers want to do a good job and the managers job is to help them do so) in his excellent book: The Human Side Of Enterprise.

When a manager thinks in a theory y way they assume people wish to do a good job. If the employees are not doing some task the way the manager wants, the manager needs to figure out what is wrong with the system that leads to this outcome (not what is wrong with the employees).

When a manger views the problem as one of motivating workers that puts the problem within the worker. They need to be changed. That is the wrong strategy, most of the time. People want to do a good job; the job of a manager is to remove the de-motivation within the system.

Related: MotivationIncentive Programs are IneffectiveMotivation Posterrespect for workers posts

Motivating People to Change

Don’t miss a nice series of posts by Jon Miller: How to Motivate People to Change – part 1, part 2, part 3. [links broken, so removed 🙁 ]

Success may come in the short term when motivation is through a combination of fear and reward centering on financial safety and security, belonging to a group and achievement of status…
There is some question as to whether this type of approach to motivation is sustainable, and at the very least it is not one that can be applied to motivate 100% of the workforce…

Toyota’s Creative Idea Suggestion System is possibly the longest continuing and most successful improvement methodology today. It is a great process for motivating workers and for sustaining improvement. So simple, yet so powerful.

Related: Stop Demotivating EmployeesCommunicating Changetheory x motivationIncentive Programs are IneffectiveMotivational Posterstheory x or theory y managementposts on managing respect for people

Why Extrinsic Motivation Fails

Why Motivation by Pizza Doesn’t Work

This completely changes the role of the manager as motivator. Rather than being the source of motivation (kind of a ludicrous idea in itself), the manager must help employees to find their own intrinsic motivation.

Lean thinkers understand this idea as respect for people. Dr. Deming talked about joy in work. Douglas McGregor talked about theory x and theory y thinking. All of these perspectives incorporate an understanding of workplace systems and human psychology. Extrinsic motivation is easy but not effective. It is really just abdicating management and using extrinsic motivation in place of management. The alternative requires managers to actually manage. This is challenging but the correct choice to make.

Stop Demotivating Employees

So rather than trying to bribe people to want things using pizzas and promotions, managers should help their people to discover meaning and develop skills at work. What some managers don’t realize is that people want to do good work. Create a happy, positive work environment and people are naturally motivated. Even better: They motivate themselves and each other.

As I have stated before: Alfie Kohn has some great books and articles on the problems with extrinsic motivation, and related ideas – I know it is hard for many people to believe (the link provides some online articles that can help as well as some books).

Related: MotivationDangers of Extrinsic MotivationEliminate SlogansWhy Extrinsic Motivation Fails

Eliminate Slogans

De-motivation Poster

This poster may do a better job, than my posts, of showing why posters and slogan are not an effective management strategy. Text from the poster: “If a pretty poster and a cute saying are all it takes to motivate you, you probably have a very easy job. The kind robots will be doing soon.”

Despair (link to the motivation poster shown here), offers many such de-motivational posters and note cards – well done satire, in my opinion, but they might be too much for some.

Along the lines of our post, Stop Demotivating Employees, the founder of Despair wrote a book entitled: The Art of Demotivation.

Another poster example: Ambition – The journey of a thousand miles sometimes ends very, very badly.

One of Deming’s 14 obligations of management was to eliminate slogans.

Also see:

Related: Why Extrinsic Motivation FailsDangers of Extrinsic MotivationAlfie Kohn has some great books and articles on the problems with extrinsic motivation

Dangers of Extrinsic Motivation

The Econ 101 Management Method by Joel Spolsky. Once again Joel presents interesting ideas very well – past posts referencing Joel.

But when you offer people money to do things that they wanted to do, anyway, they suffer from something called the Overjustification Effect. “I must be writing bug-free code because I like the money I get for it,” they think, and the extrinsic motivation displaces the intrinsic motivation. Since extrinsic motivation is a much weaker effect, the net result is that you’ve actually reduced their desire to do a good job.

Alfie Kohn has some great books and articles on this, and related ideas – I know it is hard for many people to believe (the link provides some online articles that can help as well as some books).
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