I think the biggest opportunity to improve performance is through good, positive, immediate Performance Feedback, and that we can decrease all the focus on the addition of extrinsic rewards. I think the biggest mistake we make is in thinking that you can simply ADD THINGS to motivate people to do better work.

Dan Pink has gotten a great deal of publicity for coming out against extrinsic reward systems and exposing some of the shortcoming of how we normally support performance in the workplace, building on the older work of Alfie Kohn. Good book, though, his “Drive.” And there is a great video presentation (search for “Dan Pink RSA – millions of views!!) that was published based on his TED presentation.

Basically, Dan gives exposure to the reality that these added rewards often get in the way of supporting the behaviors they are supposed to support. At the same time, people in the workplace are USED to having them around, thus there is sometimes a short-term, “Where is my reward?” that occurs. Generally, rewards causes more problems, in my opinion and experience.

But I do think that he gave short shrift to Alfie Kohn’s classic books like, “Punished by Rewards” — Kohn shared lots of research on how rewards do not drive expected behaviors and why extrinsic rewards seldom work as desired. There are LOTS of unanticipated and often negative consequences (Think Wells Fargo Bank and the scandal about the unauthorized opening of customer accounts).

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.

4. People see summarized results

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 say 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 might promise to give a St. Bernard / Labrador mixed breed puppy to everyone and their two neighbors who respond to this post.

Ya think?

And how, precisely, is that going to support teamwork and improvement or improve my leadership?

Have fun out there, but please consider looking at your performance feedback systems and processes. Or write to me and I can share more about my Feedback Analysis checklist.
Page one of a Feedback Analysis Worksheet for Performance Improvement

You can download a 3-page pdf file of the Feedback Analysis checklist
and notes by clicking on this sentence.

Hope you find this useful and comments and suggestions are most appreciated.


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.

You can see his new training materials at www.TheSquareWheelsProject.com
Connect with Scott on Google+ – you can reach Scott at scott@squarewheels.com


Also published on Medium.