Welcome to Business Leadership

You’ll find the 20% of leadership information that produces 80% of leadership results in this newsletter. This is well-researched leadership information that, when consistently implemented, will produce bottom-line results.

Drive and Discretionary Effort

Daniel Pink’s new book Drive offers an interesting look into what motivates workers and what demotivates them. And it might not be what you think! Imagine that you’re a kid again. You like to draw and are sitting in a room full of paper and crayons. Drawing is fun so you just sit and draw. While you’re doing that, it’s all you’re doing and you're concentrating on it completely. Chances are you’ll draw for a long time and/or make a lot of drawings.

Now a grown up comes in and decides to do an experiment on you and a bunch of other kids who like to draw. One group of kids is in a room with paper and crayons and is left alone. The second group is in a similar room with paper and crayons. At the end of a specified time they get a fancy certificate for their drawings. The third group is told they will receive a reward for drawing. All three groups have the amount of time they spend drawing recorded. Which group spends the least time drawing?

The group that knows they'll be rewarded spends the least time drawing. That’s right, dangling carrots decreases productivity. Why? Drawing and other creative activities: inventing, improving processes, leading, problem solving are most engaging when the person chooses to do them—intrinsic motivation. The carrot—extrinsic motivation—turns the activity into work, hence something people do less of because it's not fun anymore. (Caveat: Money is a motivator up to the point where people make a living wage. Once they have a living wage the value of money as a motivator drops off)

A second effect of extrinsic motivation is that it decreases problem solving ability. In a different experiment, the group of people who were told that the person solving the problem in the fastest time would be rewarded took longer to solve the problem than people who were not offered the possibility of a reward. People offered a reward focused on the reward rather than the problem.

Pink does point out that carrot and stick rewards are more effective in routine jobs, which is why performance reviews and performance incentives have become a staple in the corporate world.

Let’s go back to our kids. What about the middle group? The one who got a certificate after the fact? Their productivity was as good as the no reward group. The lessons Pink would have us learn are these:

  • Carrot and stick incentives work only with routine work
  • Knowledge, creative, leader, etc. workers produce more and better when intrinsically motivated
  • Recognition, saying “thank you” does increase future productivity if the recognition is perceived to be genuine. Take care that “thank yous” don’t become contingent--“If you do this then I will say thank you.” Contingent recognition is just a carrot in disguise.
  • Rewards (things or money) are best used after the desired behavior and best used spontaneously rather than in fixed patterns.

Leaders and policy makers in organizations would do well to take a look at Pink’s work and begin to align rewards and recognition with how people really tick.

Join the dialogue on leadership

Expanded information, case studies, business applications and missed opportunities from the real world that you can use to further leadership development in your organization, is in our quarterly journal Leaders’ Work. For a sample issue, click here