I think the biggest mistake we make is in thinking that you can add THINGS to motivate people. Yes, there are basic needs and all those requirements. But so many people think that motivation is driven extrinsically.

Yeah, maybe, but we sure better be careful. Extrinsic rewards are what Managers like to think motivates people. The irony is that these people ARE motivated by extrinsic rewards in many cases — they LIKE those incentives and thus respond well to them, for the most part. SO, that should mean that everyone wants rewards, right?

Well, maybe. Tell you what. I like dogs, so I promise to give a St. Bernard / Labrador mixed breed puppy to everyone who responds to this post. That work for you?

Ya think? Isn’t a puppy an absolutely great reward? Don’t you like dogs? Rather have a cat? How about a small child – there are lots of them looking for a good home these days…

Dan Pink has gotten a great deal of publicity for coming out against extrinsic reward systems. Good book, his Drive. Great Video (google or bing “Dan Pink RSA” – over 7 million views!!). I think Dan gave short shrift to Alfie Kohn’s classic books like, “Punished by Rewards” — he shared lots of research on how rewards do not drive expected behaviors.

What we need is more self-directed positive feedback.

LONG ago (1979?), I came to the conclusion that most corporate feedback programs were awful when it came to supporting performance improvement.

Here are 5 of my 14-point checklist. Most people report systems that support less than half of these kinds of features:

1. Information on performance is based on actual measured accomplishment and not on estimates or opinions about how results were accomplished.

2. Information highlights areas of performance that have quantifiable value to the organization rather than more general areas of preference

3. Performance information routinely goes to the people who do the work, rather than mostly to management.
People see summarized results.

4. Information shows current levels of performance rather than being delayed by a period of time; it is timely enough to provide for self-correcting actions

5. Results are reported regularly and systematically and not on a haphazard or occasional basis.

We do NOT need to focus on adding extrinsic motivators to the workplace.

What we need to do is focus on involving and engaging people in workplace improvement, giving them a sense of ownership involvement and getting the recognition that they deserve for the jobs that they do. They need good feedback systems that direct their behavior as well as positive support from their peers and managers.

For the FUN of It!

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Dr. Scott Simmerman is a designer of team building games and organization improvement tools. Managing Partner of Performance Management Company since 1984, he is an experienced presenter and consultant. 
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