How to motivate workers

Not everyone agrees on how to motivate workers. I’m still trying to decide which of these ideas sounds most correct:

  1. Charles Coonradt, author of The Game of Work, gives five reasons why games are better than jobs:

    1. Feedback is much more frequent in games, 2. there’s always a score to “reinforce the behavior you want repeated,” 3. consistent coaching, 4. goals are more clearly defined, and 5. more personal choice. (source)

    For example, in a game of soccer, imagine how easy it is to know which goal is yours, who your teammates are, who your competitors are, how to get feedback from your coach, and how much time you have left to score.

    See also “Make Life More Like Games” by Sarah Milstein.

  2. In Managing the Nonprofit Organization, Peter Drucker says:

    People need to know how they do–and volunteers more than anyone else. For if there is no paycheck, achievement is the sole reward. Once goals and standards are clearly established, appraisal becomes possible. …with clear goals and standards, the people who do the work appraise themselves.

    In all human affairs there is a constant relationship between the performance and achievement of the leaders, the record setters, and the rest….If one member of an organization does a markedly better job, others challenge themselves.

  3. However, Joel Spolsky, quoting a Harvard Business Review article, says Incentive Pay [Is] Considered Harmful:

    … at least two dozen studies over the last three decades have conclusively shown that people who expect to receive a reward for completing a task or for doing that task successfully simply do not perform as well as those who expect no reward at all. [HBR Sept/Oct 93]

    …any kind of workplace competition, any scheme of rewards and punishments, and even the old fashion trick of “catching people doing something right and rewarding them,” all do more harm than good. Giving somebody positive reinforcement (such as stupid company ceremonies where people get plaques) implies that they only did it for the lucite plaque; it implies that they are not independent enough to work unless they are going to get a cookie; and it’s insulting and demeaning.

  4. A colleague of mine received the MVP Award from Microsoft. He said it’s peer selected, hard to get, and hard to keep. (You have to maintain annual certifications.) The award is given for past accomplishments, but he thinks it has the effect of motivating many people to do more.

Which one is it?

Do the same rules apply to volunteers at a nonprofit as employees at a company?

Thinking…

11 thoughts on “How to motivate workers

  1. Mike Berry
    Richard,

    This is an interesting point of view about the mis-intentions of rewarding employees. Studies such as the
    American Management Associations poll ( http://membersonly.amamember.org/hr/2005/july_02.cfm ), show that salary and bonus are not at the top of the list of what motivates employees, yet so many companies in America are structured this way to provide bonuses, plaques, and cookies.

    Ironically, studies like this, and your references don’t support this conventional, large-scale behavior. It makes us wonder what then really drives motivation?

    In Jack Welch’s book, Winning, he talks about motivating employees in terms of focusing on differentiation, not incentives.

    As former CEO of General Electric, Jack Welch established a goal-based feedback system where every employee knew if they were an A, B, or C employee. The A employees represented the top 20% of the producers, the B’s were the middle 70%, and the C’s were the lower 10%. (This reminds me of Paredo’s 80-20 rule, where 20% of your investments deliver 80% of your yield!)

    In Jim Collin’s book, Good to Great, he concludes that people are not your biggest asset, but rather, the RIGHT people are you biggest asset. His team, after studying top performing companies for 15,000 hours, found no correlation between financial incentives and high-performance teamwork.

    He suggests that the high-performance companies find the right people, put them in the right positions, and get rid of the wrong ones. Under the right conditions the problems of commitment, goal-alignment, and motivations largely melt away.

    For example, he says, the Marine Corps get credited for building values in people. In reality, however, people with values are attracted to the Marine Corps. If your organization establishes the right values, and you build your culture around them, this will help in bringing and keeping motivated people.

    So, my conclusion would be that differentiation is really what employees seek. A rewards system of bonus’s and plaques are one form of that, but other forms exist and can be more effective.

    I think a reward system of bonus’s and plaques is, at least, something. Many companies do nothing. Effective companies create a culture of goal-setting, feedback, and transparency.

    One simple and great reward system in place at RxAmerica is their corporate value-challenge. When an employee does something visible to underscore one of the corporate values, they get mentioned, and their name goes into a box. At the end of the next time-frame, a drawing is had for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place winners. $1000 goes to the first place winner. Second and third place winners get an iPod, or gift certificate. A variation on this theme could be two second place, and three third place winners, etc.

    Mike Berry
    http://www.RedRockResearch.com

  2. Richard K Miller Post author
    Mike, thanks for your comment. The idea from Good to Great of getting the right people on the bus sticks out. I probably should have mentioned in my post that my current interest is in motivating volunteers at a nonprofit organization. Most of the work is done by a small percentage of the volunteers. I’d like to learn how to motivate more of them to get involved more thoroughly. But if I apply Jim Collins’s ideas, then maybe it’s not a matter of finding more volunteers (per se) but finding the RIGHT volunteers.
  3. Erik Peterson
    I think the catch is that it doesn’t matter so much what you DO as how the employees feel about what you’re doing.

    In Leadership and Self-Deception, the analogy is made of a father who hears his baby crying in the next room.

    If he feels his wife is lazy and that she shouldn’t have to help with the baby, it doesn’t matter which one he does–his attitude, words, and body language will carry through, and his wife will still get the impression he doesn’t think he should have to do it.

    It’s not which choice he makes, but what his attitude is towards his wife that makes the difference.

    I think the same thing applies here. You can have a goals system in place or a rewards system in place, but whether or not it motivates employees is more based on the attitude your employees feel you have about both them and the program than it is about the inherent effectiveness of the system.

    The Game Of Work-style system gives two advantages:

    1. It creates a point where accomplishement is rewarded. Too often management is simply done by standing around waiting for something to go wrong and then pointing it out. A system like the one described in the game of work institutionalized the recognition of accomplishment.

    2. It creates a clear system of expectations. It takes away the manager’s ability to be arbitrary about performance. If I say “X is the goal,” and X is accomplished, there’s not as much room for me to be disstisfied with the employee. When there’s that type of objective measurement, there’s more trust, because employees don’t just feel they’re being “picked on.”

  4. Mariechen Richardson
    I wondered if anyone had any ideas on what really goes on in non-profit organisations and whether employees really are more motivated and satisfied in non-profit organisations? there are arguments for and against saying that it is actually harder to motivate employees in non-profit organisations and others that say they are more motivated than those in for profit organisations?

    If you could recommend any books or writers on motivating employees in non-profit organisations that would be great.

    Thanks

  5. Sushil
    As i want how we can motivate the old employees who’s age is more than 40 and service in an organization is 15 yrs or more than that
  6. Angela
    Dealing again with non-profit organizations, how does one empower and encourage people to work together as a team, when it seems that upper management is set on only pointing out people’s faults – good workers are grossly overworked, and upper management does not readily let middle management make the important decisions necessary for worker motivation…ie – get rid of the “wrong people on the bus”….not to mention, the upper echelon, often physicians, do not treat their employees with much dignity or respect.

    Any advice? How do you prevent your employees from viewing you as powerless, and how do you evoke the changes necessary in upper management — encourage them to get away from the idea of only “policing what is wrong”?

    Any reading material – or advice – that would help? Or is all lost without the support of the top?

  7. Richard K Miller Post author
    @Angela: I have not read it, but the book “Getting it Done: How to Lead When You’re Not in Charge” by Fisher & Sharp might be interesting in your case.

    Seth Godin’s book Linchpin, which I have read, may also be helpful. In addition to suggestions for leading even when you’re not the figurehead, it suggests that sometimes you may have to walk away.

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