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Julia Bernert

Published on 27.01.2020

Dan Pink in his book ‘Drive’ conducted research into what motivates and improves people performance. Pink discovered that the traditional model of carrot and stick (rewarding success and punishing failure) fails to actually motivate people. It has some effectiveness if all you require is command and control, but to generate true performance and leadership it simply is not the most effective method.

Pink discovered that people who are already self-motivated, are not inspired by reward or punishment. Pink discovered that this approach stifles motivation. The impact of the carrot and stick is in actual fact a suppressant. It does not inspire.

Motivated people make considerable contributions to a business when they are fully invested in the vision, philosophy and/or goal of a business. They have become motivated because they are making a contribution to something that is greater than themselves.

Pink’s research proved that when cash incentives were given to a team of university students to perform a particular task, their motivation and performance actually declined. When an individual was empowered and given permission to make a contribution to a goal, motivation increased, along with performance.

The surprising discovery that the traditional motivational techniques of a century of business no longer work, shouldn’t be regarded as that surprising I suppose, when the paradigm shifts to the extent to which it has, everything changes, including how best to motivate people.

So What?

It is somehow easier for leaders, then managers, to put in place an incentive programme that is designed to encourage people to reach a target – then do not a lot more about it apart from rewarding them for achieving the target, and blaming them if the target is not. It’s like relinquishing responsibility as opposed to effective delegation. Evidence suggests that the best method is to actually inspire people with a vision. Then their role in the business takes on an entirely different meaning.

Committed, driven and inspired people do not require targets and rewards. To simply put in place a reward programme or put in place some kind of punishment if a goal is not reached is outdated. It is a ‘cop-out’ by the leadership team. It is slovenly. It does not motivate already motivated people.

Give people bonuses when you think they have done a great job. This is fine, but linking it directly to a target then runs the risk of them not reaching this target no matter how hard they work! And this may lead them into thinking that you have duped them by setting unrealistic targets.

Buying into a vision is really important, but your vision has to mean something other than merely reaching a target set by senior management. It has to mean something to everyone in the team, something that resonates with their own DNA. Goal setting is a left-brain activity and something that is required once you have a full understanding of your particular vision and mission for your business.

It is inevitable that some companies may well have strayed from their initial ‘Why’, which we have covered in an earlier blog. At the very beginning, it is the founders who give the organisation fuel and passion. Although launching any startup is incredibly challenging, inspiring people with your ‘why’ is somehow easier, not least because there are fewer people with which to communicate with and it is easier to instil belief through your own individual energy, passion and vision.

Through the generations in business, as time progresses and companies mature, the ‘why ‘ can be forgotten – and this frequently occurs. The group of founders who inspire their people at the beginning either retire or move on and the company begins to mature. At this point it is quite common that the ‘why’ begins to deflate in its relevance. The innovative and entrepreneurial spirit that enthuses the company at the start changes because inevitably a different culture begins to take root. This is almost guaranteed to be a more conservative, logical and risk averse one. If there is no continual focus and investment on the ‘why’ then it diminishes in its importance.

In a more conservative culture, the ‘what’ takes over and as this is easier to manage and to measure. Then the split occurs between vision and management. The unwanted side effects of this malaise are that stress and discord increases, and politics can become more important than passion. In so doing making the organisation a less motivating place to work.

The best businesses that are future-proofing their position in their markets and the hearts and minds of their people are focusing on defining and delivering against a purpose bigger than their balance sheet.

And these kind of businesses just don’t require a carrot or a stick.

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