By September 19, 2011 0 Comments Read More →

Do You Really Know What Motivates People? Debunking The Myth

Do You Really Know What Motivates People? Debunking The Myth

Many managers rely on what appear to be generally accepted principles for managing results and motivating success with their staff and their suppliers and subcontractors. Unfortunately, how we motivate is one principle that needs to be re-thought based on real-life research. Quite simply, we aren't doing it right.

There's a lot of evidence that the typical measurement and reward / penalty methods of trying to ensure you get performance from staff, an outsourced or subcontracted service provider don't work the way you think. In the Video further below, Daniel Pink, author of "Drive : The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us" presents research that tells you why. I suggest you also read his book and another one called "Intrinsic Motivation at Work" by Kenneth W. Thomas.

This research echos my own personal experience as a manager of staff and from being on both sides of the fence as both a buyer of services and as a subcontracted service provider.

My belief that measurement is good, and provides information you can make decisions with, improve services and results, and use to manage and change both processes and employees / subcontractors activities so they are better able to achieve the results required. I find penalties and rewards are not effective in the medium or long term to get results from your employees or subcontractors. Some of the research touches on the issues of bonuses as rewards and why they aren't effective in most cases.

You also need to use Key Performance Indicators (KPI's) with extreme care - it's better to put a measurement and management system in place to get the results you need, not a 'set it and forget it' KPI system where you simply measure success or failure after the fact and award a penalty or bonus accordingly.

The message from this book and others based on research are that incentives work well for mechanical activity (think piecework) but not so much with more cognitive activity that most managers are responsible for, particularly when working with staff who are professional and self-motivated in their particular field or expertise. They usually truly want to do a good job and make a difference, and if they don't you need to reconsider whether they belong on your team, not simply put measuremnts in place to make sure they do what you want them to. Of course, there are other things at work, and Daniel Pink highlights those other issues in this presentation.

This Video, a presentation by Daniel Pink, is enlightening. It's also done in a very entertaining and engaging format. You may want to read his book as well.


As a Manager and Leader, don't just continue with the practices others around you have been using for years. Question the status quo and dig into the real issues. Often the measurement and penalty/reward systems used by managers are there because they are easier than managing results and demonstrate due-dilligence. The problem is that the research doesn't always back up these approaches. Take a few steps beyond your colleagues and learn about what really motivates people, change the way you manage results and get better results at the same time.


Here is another opportunity to hear from Daniel Pink, this time on TED:

About Michel Theriault

Michel is the founder of Success Fuel for Managers. He is an author, speaker and consultant focusing on topics relevant to Managers and aspiring Managers in businesses of all sizes who want to get results, get attention, and get ahead. He is also a contributor to Forbes and AllBusiness Experts . Michel is available for speaking engagements, training and consulting. Connect with him or send an email.

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