Category Archives: Management

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?


Amtrak series: Pick good metrics and stay on track, if it matters

As I mentioned, this weekend I came from Sacramento to Provo by Amtrak train. I flew to Sacramento on Southwest Airlines, buying a one-way ticket so I could decide later whether to depart from SAC or San Francisco. But at the last minute I instead decided to indulge my long time desire to ride a train. (I had long talked of hopping a train with my college roommate, but we never learned if it’s a misdemeanor or a felony and I didn’t think want to risk the latter.)

The ride took 21 hours, which afforded lots of time for reading, listening to music and talks, and taking pictures. I also met several people: a guy moving with everything he owned to start a new life in Denver, an artist-musician couple vacationing (the wife said Steve Case, founder of AOL, asked her to high school prom but she turned him down), and a guy from Wisconsin who’s been in the military for 24 years and thinks we should have gone to Darfur long ago. All very different and interesting stories.

The price for this trip, not including dinner in the dining car, was $74.00 or $3.52/hour. Compare that with my Southwest flight which cost a whopping $37.92/hour.

But when did the price per hour of a trip ever matter?

If you want to accomplish something, you must measure it:

If you don’t measure something, you can’t change it. The process of leadership is one of painting a vision, then saying how you’re going to get there, and then measuring whether you’re actually getting there. Otherwise, you risk only talking about great things but not accomplishing them. (Source: Mitt Romney)

I like the idea of using metrics to incent the right behavior. For example, “cars with realtime MPG usage displays tend to make people more efficient drivers.” (source, also) If you keep track of how often you read important books or go to the gym, or how meaningful your time is with your family (even in a subjective sense), those things are sure to improve over time. Pick your own metrics and stick to them.

More on metrics: High resolution mistakes by Seth Godin and Domino Rally business models by Paul Allen

So what could possible be meaningful about a trip with a low price per hour? That metric could only incentivize inefficient, slow-paced trips with no regard for urgency or schedule. Or in other words, I was just in this one for the ride.