Tag Archives: motivation


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 [the broken link was removed].

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 that as habits are adopted to explain the reasoning about 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 new 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 [the broken link was removed]

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 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

Incentive schemes to get people “motivated” often backfire. 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 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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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 SlogansThe Trouble with Incentives: They Work

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).

Joel notes that relying on extrinsic motivation to drive performance is an abdication of management.

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