Throw the carrot and stick away
There is no right answer for what motivates us. It depends what is the assignment or situation or to whom we are doing it for and what is the outcome we want. In personal life the motivation might be something like this: I go to the gym to feel more energized and to be in better health. In school the motivation might be something like this: if I just pass this course I will graduate on time the grade won’t matter. Or in hard financial situation the motivation might be something like this: I will take this cleaning job so I can pay my bills. When it is narrowed to business perspective and finding what is the best way to motivate yourself and others to do cognitively demanding work there seems to be a right answer.
In the book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us the author Daniel H. Pink reveals the answer that has been proved by science. Pink tells about different studies done on this topic and the outcomes. A typical motivation scheme within organization is rewarding: you get bonuses, higher pay and so on. Typical way of rewarding is rewarding the top performances and ignore the bottom performances. And the ones in the middle get a little bit. Known as the carrot and stick incentive.
Study conducted in M.I.T the results were shocking. Students were given tasks requiring different skills and offered reward according to their performance. In mechanical skills bonuses worked as expected: the higher the pay the better performance. When the task called for rudimentary cognitive skill; larger reward let to a poorer performance.
In the dozen studies done the results were surprising. Sentences with IF did not work. Often we think If you do X then I’ll reward you with Y. It would strip down all the enjoyment of the process of learning or working on hard problems. In some cases, they don’t work or if they do they create harm. It will do significant harm to one’s long-term motivation to do cognitively demanding work. There is a mismatch between what science knows and what business does. Carrot and stick incentive works when there is simple set of rules and clear goals. For narrowed focus it works really well. For certain tasks it narrows or focus and we lose potential.
Jobs in the 21st century require different tasks than in the last century. Things are more automated therefor today’s jobs ask for more creative skills and employee engagement. The ‘if you do this, I’ll reward you with that’ type of external incentives are horrible when learning a difficult subject or coming up with creative solutions to complex problems. I will reflect this to my study experiences and to different methods I have experienced. In primary, secondary and high school it was often you study this and you get a grade. I would just remember things do an exam, get a grade I was satisfied with and then forget more or less what I learned. In secondary school I had to get good grades in order to get into a good high school, in high school I had to get good grades in my matriculation examination if I wanted to go to a certain university. When I started my studies in TAMK I did not pay that much attention to the grades because I am not planning on doing my master’s degree right away. After finishing all the mandatory courses in the first year, some with higher motivation and some with lower, I started to think what is the way that motivates me. It certainly was not this carrot stick incentive. During my second year of studies there were more projects and Innoevent where we were given the freedom to solve real company cases and I took a part of case competition where we solved real business cases. Why I enjoyed those more and did better was because no one was not telling me exactly what to do and how to do and I learned more skills in a way I like to learn.
In the book the best ways to motivate yourself and others is to spark the three intrinsic drivers. Pink gives the Atlassian example of autonomy. Australian software wanted to improve their products so they did an experiment that they hope would spark innovation. They gave each of their programmers one day of complete coding freedom to work on whatever problem they wanted as long as they presented their results to the team on the following day. They worked on what they want and with whomever they want. On the next day they gathered to the conference room with beer and chocolate cake on the table and presented the results to the group. This crazy experiment let to crazy good results: new product ideas and to creative solutions to existing problems. They do these 24 hour cases few times a year. Carving out small amount of freedom and flexibility can spark surprising amount of drive and creativity. Autonomy is the urge to direct our own lives. What motivates people beyond equal pay is work autonomy. I can relate to this, if not I would not have studied in Proakatemia. Here no one tells us what to do or how to do it. This creates a space for freedom and for creativity to achieve things and solve problems. The four T’s of autonomy according to Pink are: freedom to pick the task, the time, the technique and the team. These are what we use in Proakatemia and quoting Pink ‘Control leads to compliance; autonomy leads to engagement.
Most companies do terrible job when conducting performance reviews. Green cargo is a huge Swedish shipping company that decided to change their performance reviews. Instead of meeting yearly with managers, employees have one hour-long one on one coaching sessions monthly. During the session manager must find out if the employee is overwhelmed or underwhelmed with their work. Then they give them an assignment that is not too hard or easy but just right above their current skill level. These goldilocks assignments are between boredom and anxiety. This way the employee is more likely to be engaged with the task on hand and feel sense of mastery. Mastery is the desire to get better on what matters. If I would be only given tasks that were too hard I would feel disappointed on myself for not being able to do so, or stressed and in worst case I would just give up because the task is too hard. If I am given too easy task I would not feel I learned or achieved much, I would not be moving forward and I would get bored. I believe that in Proakatemia coach’s role is not only to guide us but also to challenge us. When our coach challenges us it means he believes in us that we have the potential to do the assignment. When we are challenged we want to live up to the expectation.
When Sheryl Sandburg starts her meetings at Facebook by stating the mission, she is sparking the third intrinsic driver: a purpose. Sandburg believes that even everyone knows the mission of Facebook, the mission of Instagram and the reason why WhatsApp exists you still have to repeat your mission and your purpose over and over again because it is critical. Sparking the third driver sense of purpose. Purpose is why organizations such as ‘Doctors Without Borders’ can get doctors to travel around the world willingly with low pay and living in harsh conditions. They do it because they feel them with the sense of purpose that comes from helping others. Purpose is the reason why we do what we do in a service larger than our self. From all these three this is the one that personally motivates me the most. I need to feel what I do has a purpose and I do it for a good cause. Also it is easier for me to learn new things if I know the benefit behind it, if I am just told you must learn this period I lose my motivation. I want to feel that I am part of something important. I love helping people and therefor for me that is a bigger purpose than money could ever be.
These three intrinsic drivers are a way of building a new operation system. If we want our teams to be more engaged, we need to stop with sentences if and giving bonuses or threatening with punishments. And start creating a sense of autonomy, mastery and purpose. Science knows this work, in our hearts we know this motivates us but the question is how to shake those out dated assumptions businesses have of carrot and stick incentive. I believe this is the purpose why Prokatemia exists; we are using these new ways to motivate ourselves and others and shaking the current learning environments and current business cultures. It is just a matter of time when all the business realize that following the three intrinsic drives they can achieve greater results.