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The Truth About Motivation


The BelleWether Group  

In our last article, we discussed making customer service part of your business plan and strategy. In wrapping up, we touched briefly on rewards and recognition for your staff and customers who display the desired behaviors and attitudes, which is where we would like to continue.

Many of our clients have found it difficult to continually motivate their employees. Rewards that they typically provide their employees are often cash bonuses, gift cards, or prizes

of some sort. It works for a while, but their employees tire or become complacent to the “campaign,” so to speak, and they have to continually come up with new ideas to keep their employees motivated. Here’s our answer to this dilemma.

Before you can determine what strategy to use for rewards and recognition, you need to have an understanding of motivators. One way to understand what motivates an employee is through use of a behavior and values assessment. We use the DISC/Values assessment. Through this tool, we can determine the intrinsic motivators of the employee. Someone’s intrinsic motivators might be:

Human interests

– Utility and money

 Power and influence

Unity, order and tradition

 Form and harmony

 Discovery of truth

In Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, former U.S. Department of Labor aide Daniel H. Pink says businesses commit “seven deadly flaws”:

 Extinguishing motivation

Crushing creativity

Crowding out good behavior

Encouraging cheating, shortcuts and unethical behavior 

Becoming addictive, obsessive 

– Fostering short-term thinking 


So, how can you boost the number of actively engaged employees from the paltry 33 percent reported by the Gallup Organization? First of all, let’s throw out the draconian management practices of the behavioralists Maslow and McGregor and look at what might be some new ways of thinking.


The Third Drive

In 1949, psychologist Harry Harlow placed puzzles in monkeys’ cages and was surprised to find that the primates successfully solved them. Harlow saw no logical reason for their motivation. The monkeys’ survival didn’t depend on it, and they didn’t receive any rewards or avoid any punishments. Harlow offered a novel theory: “The performance of the task provided intrinsic reward.” The monkeys performed because they found it gratifying to solve puzzles. Further experiments found that offering external rewards to solve these puzzles didn’t improve performance. In fact, rewards disrupted task completion. This led Harlow to identify a third drive in human motivation:

The first drive for behaviors is survival. We drink and eat to ensure our survival.

The second drive is to seek rewards and avoid punishment.

The third drive is intrinsic: to achieve internal satisfaction.

But Harlow’s theory was met with disdain from the behavioral scientists that dominated motivational theory at the time. It took almost two decades for scientists to return their attention to intrinsic drives.

Negative Impact of Rewards

In 1969, psychologist Edward Deci ran a series of experiments that showed students lost intrinsic interest in an activity when money was offered as an external reward. The results surprised many behavioral scientists. Although rewards can deliver a short-term boost, the effect wears off. Even worse, rewards can reduce a person’s longer-term motivation to continue a project.

Deci proposed that human beings have an inherent tendency to seek out novelty and challenges, to extend and exercise their capacities, to explore, and to learn.

Open Source Innovations

The third drive has become more important as our society moves from a manufacturing-based economy to one of knowledge and services. As proof, examine the case of two companies that set out to publish online encyclopedias:

Microsoft hired the best people and devoted considerable funds to achieve Encarta.

A global force of volunteers created Wikipedia with no budget or salaries.

Encarta no longer exists, while Wikipedia thrives as a fully functional volunteer project. Still, most businesses continue to pursue short-term incentive plans and pay-for-performance schemes in the face of evidence against them.

Unleashing Motivation

Pink (author of Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us) describes three critical conditions for an intrinsic motivational environment:

Autonomy: Give people autonomy over what they’re doing and how they do it, including choosing their time, tasks, team and techniques. Mastery: Give them an opportunity to

master their work and make progress through deliberate practice.

Purpose: Make sure people have a sense of purpose in their work – preferably to something higher and beyond their job, salary and company.

People are most productive when their work puts them in what psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls a state of “flow” – more commonly recognized as being “in the zone.” Flow can be achieved only when leaders provide autonomy, time to practice and improve mastery, and a sense of higher purpose.

Sadly, intrinsic motivation theories aren’t palatable to everyone. Our notions of what constitutes proper motivation are often too entrenched to be flexible. Some companies have given lip service to worker “empowerment,” without actually letting go of control.

Many leaders will resist giving up their carrots, and many workers will find it hard to imagine a world without incentives. But lead- ers who can implement intrinsic motivation can expect a whole new workplace – and an entirely new definition of work. FBN

Trish Rensink and Jamey Hasapis are owner partners of BelleWether Group, an organizational development company. They can be reached at 928-853-8206. Contributions by Chip Scholz of Scholz & Associates, NC.




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