Motivation

One of the key skills required by project managers, in fact all managers, is the ability to motivate team members and the wider stakeholder community.

Most business approaches to motivation are based on extrinsic motivators – if you achieve ‘A’ we will reward you with ‘B’ and if you are really good and make ‘2A’ we will give you ‘2B’. The theory used by business is based on the assumption the larger the reward the greater the motivation; provided basic principles such as fairness are applied and the reward is commensurate with the effort needed and expectations of the person being motivated. It is assume the increase in motivation will flow through to increased performance.

Management scientists way back to Henry Gantt had established that in the ‘carrot-and-stick’ approach to motivation, fear and the ‘stick’ had little effect, the ‘carrot’ and reward had measureable effect. However, these studies were applied to manual workers.

More recent work by researchers such as Hertzberg in his ‘Hygiene Theory’ (1959) and Maslow’s pyramid of need (1943) placed salary (wages/reward/income) relatively low down the list of motivators. As long as the ‘pay’ was what was expected it had little extra value; inadequate rewards could quickly de-motivate, but once adequate levels were reached ‘pay’ simply came off of the table. This is a basic part of our PMP courses, hardly new or exciting….

However, I have just watched a fascinating video on TED, by Dan Pink, on the surprising science of motivation: starting with a fact that social scientists know but most managers don’t: Traditional rewards aren’t always as effective as we think.

A brief summary of the presentation is that traditional rewards do work for simple manual tasks. However, as soon as creative thinking is needed extrinsic rewards have the opposite effect by focusing effort in a narrow band and stopping the more creative thinking needed to solve the problem. The results are measurable negative performance, increasing as the reward increases.

According to Pink, the motivators that do work are intrinsic:

  • Autonomy: control and self-direction over the work.
  • Mastery: the ability to excel at the work by getting better and better at difficult tasks.
  • Purpose: the work contributes value to the organisation and others (in the service of something larger).

These motivators are very similar to the ideas of Maslow and Hertzberg briefly discussed above, and McGregor (Theory X, Theory Y – 1960). What’s fascinating in Pink’s presentation is the fact most organisations reward their senior decision makers with huge pay bonuses to solve some of society’s most difficult problems (and wonder why they fail so often…).

To see the presentation, go to the TED website at: http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/dan_pink_on_motivation.html – whilst there it is well worth browsing, there are dozens of other fascinating presentations.

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