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Blog : Something other than carrots


Something other than carrots

By Sally Brand, Business Development Manager,  learnpurple 


I’ve been recently introduced to the fascinating works and ideas of Daniel Pink.  If his name seems familiar you have probably been one of the seven million hits on ‘you tube’ to his recent animation which totally challenges conventional thinking about what makes us tick at work. If you haven’t clicked onto ‘'Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us'– you will instantly understand why it has caused such a phenomena when you do.

Pink is also a best-selling author and speaker who suggests that the science behind human motivation is freaky and that we're not as predictable or manipulatable as we would often automatically assume. He presents us with two powerful questions:

  • 'If you reward something do you get more of the behaviour you want?'
  • 'If you punish something do you get less of the behaviour that you want?'

To find the answers, a series of experiments were carried out at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT):

Students were given an array of different intellectual and physical challenges and to incentivise performance were offered three levels of monetary reward. The results revealed that this method of rewarding performance worked as expected when involving a purely mechanical skill. However, perhaps surprisingly, when the tasks involved even basic cognitive skills, a larger reward lead to poorer performance.  The experiment has been replicated again and again, on a variety of different groups of people to see if culture, nationality, levels of education and other factors influence outcomes but ultimately the overall result is the same; for creative, cognitive tasks, higher incentives lead to worse performance.

The research at M.I.T substantiates conclusively that whilst ‘carrots and sticks' are great for simple and straightforward tasks, they simply don't produce results with more mentally challenging or creative tasks. In fact better performance was achieved not by financial reward but by the addition of three factors to the work:

  • autonomy  (self direction)
  • mastery
  • purpose

Traditional management theory has generally been focused around compliance and financial reward. This alternative thinking is not to say that money is not a motivator, it is however, not a stimulant for performance. In today's world where organisations  need their  workforces to be creative, innovative and solve problems, self-direction is the key.

Pink gives a great example of Atlassian, an international company who once a quarter have 'Independence day' where for 24 hours their people can work on whatever they wish, as long as it is aligned to the business and its products. This one day generates a whole of raft of ideas and solutions (and makes lots of cash!), which otherwise would never have emerged. The incentive for employees is not money either; they are naturally motivated to contribute, find solutions and do a good job (i.e. mastery).

Ultimately, humans are motivated by purpose. Our relationships with our interests is a great example of this: learning an instrument without any desire of financial reward for the skill involves hours and hours of precious free time but is done willingly. Why? What is to gain? Personal satisfaction.  In the UK where (according to Eurostat) over 75% of the population use their free time in pursuit of mastering a skill without any desire for fiscal reward, this is an important indicator of motivation.

This is something more and more savvy organisations are tuning into and something we certainly advocate with our clients. Creating a clear vision and culture, which is geared towards fulfilling people's individual purpose in alignment with the business's profit motive is reaping those companies’ rewards. They have seen that if the purpose motive becomes removed from the profit it is detrimental and can lead to bad service, poor products and their companies becoming uninspiring places to work. Pink gives examples of organisations, such as Skype and Apple, who are flourishing by applying these principles. Not only does it allow them to create a better place to work but it also attracts the right people who fit their culture and so who are more likely to do a great job and benefit the bottom line.

There are many more organisations out there, of all types and sizes, which are doing similar. learnpurple works with a great example of this: The Hoxton Hotel. Their purpose is to redefine the urban hotel experience and provide 'Luxury where it matters, Budget where it counts'. This is clear in everything they do and they attract and hire people who are passionate about this type of hospitality and can live and breathe this every day. The results show – not only are team members engaged but the hotel has won numerous awards, customers spread the word and more importantly return again and again, bringing new clientèle with them.

Being introduced to Daniel Pink has backed up my belief that we can build organisations that are rewarding on many levels, financially and personally. And perhaps, he suggests, even make the world that little bit better. Now, that's a purpose, don't you think?!

Does your company reward people on levels other than financially? What makes your company a great place to work?

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