Tag Archives: demotivate

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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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 too 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 there 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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Problems with Bonuses

What sort of bonuses should we pay? by Seth Godin:

Money, it’s been shown time and time again, is a demotivator. I’m not talking about a fair or even generous salary. Being a cheapskate is no way to find a great employee. But once people have joined your team, incremental money–bonuses and the like–usually demotivate people.

He is right. Why salary bonus and other incentives fail to meet their objectives by Dale Asberry.

Lean Manufacturing Visionary Jim Womack On Frontiers Of Lean Thinking [the broken link was removed] by Jim Womack Continue reading

Dilbert and Deming

5 June 2005 Dilbert Strip on motivational posters – [update – well the pointy haired bosses running the site removed the page so we removed the link] New update the phb has been overthrown. Here is the strip:

motivational poster, Dilbert comic

The point of that poster is your spirit should soar like an eagle while you continue to do mundane work

Dilbert can show the silliness that is common place in many workplaces, as just that – silly. Point 10 of Deming’s 14 points called on management to eliminate slogans. Deming refined the wording as he learned: the text from the Deming Institute site (another site broke their link, so it was removed) now states:

Eliminate slogans, exhortations, and targets asking for zero defects or new levels of productivity. Such exhortations only create adversarial relationships, as the bulk of the causes of low quality and low productivity belong to the system and thus lie beyond the power of the work force.

That text works well for me, but I think Dilbert provides a great service in pointing out the same idea that such slogans are silly and even harmful in a way many others find more accessible. Of course most managers don’t seem to notice when Dilbert points out that a management “tool” they use lacks value – that the “emperor has no clothes” (The Emperor’s New Suit by Hans Christian Andersen, 1837).