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What Rewards Most Matter to You?

sellwnI heartily agree with Daniel Pink’s timeless ABCs for persuasion, cited in his book To Sell is Human: Attunement, Buoyancy and Clarity:

Attunement: Listen to understand the other person.

Buoyancy: Be an “ambivert” – mid-way between an extrovert and an introvert, in your expression of optimism and resiliency.

Clarity: Be a succinct apt curator of relevant content for the person you seek to persuade. That complements the A.I.R. formula for influential messages.

Where we differ is the overwhelming value Pink places on intrinsic versus extrinsic rewards. I believe both are valued and motivating, especially by those who need the extrinsic reward of money, perks or other work benefits.  Money is, after all,  one signal of how an organization values it’s employees. In this disruptive economy even resourceful, upbeat people know that circumstances can shift quickly.  It is sane seek both financial rewards and meaningful work. My apologies, in advance, to Daniel Pink whom I deeply admire, and to Malcolm Gladwell and many researchers yet I have a different take, in part, on how we are motivated.

The proportion of intrinsic and extrinsic motivations that most nudge us  varies with circumstances. Rather than intrinsic rewards having a stronger and more beneficial effect on us than extrinsic benefits I believe that there is a deeper interplay between these two drives, depending on the situation, what else is going on in our lives at time, and other factors.  School grades are cited, for example, as a form of extrinsic recognition if students see them as a reflection of their ability yet they fall in the intrinsic bucket of motivation if they are seen as what is accomplished in class.

Often, there’s a blurry line of beliefs about what most nudges students – or any of us – to perform well.  Also, as Santa Clara University professor Tim Urdan suggests, there are divergent views about the two motivations: “The realists argue that in the ‘real world’ extrinsic rewards are common, expected, and needed to enhance or maintain motivation. Idealists, on the other hand, suggest that the ‘real world’ is merely a human construction, one that might be reconstructed to de-emphacize extrinsic rewards.”

In some situations, I believe that our desire or need for extrinsic rewards does not dissipate as we become more inner-directed or accomplished.

In fact, other factors come into play, and they are changeable too. For example, what financial and other life factors are uppermost in our minds at the time? Plus our mindset, and temperament affect our view of the situation.

I believe that the value of both kind of rewards varies, by situation and individual involved. That’s why lattice career options are becoming increasingly popular. I also believe that smartly-managed organizations will spur high performance by providing a varying mix of both incentives, and that employees should be involved in choosing the mix that best suits them.

This is especially vital for businesses that require complex work, where there’s a continuing war for top talent and people who can pick and choose where they want to work.

It behooves leaders to involve workers in choosing options for the design of their work, in support of what most drives each of them to perform well.

Rather than worrying about what kind of motivation most drives peak performance and happy workers, focus on creating organizational systems that enable workers thrive as they work in ways that most motivate them.

That would seem to be the surest way for any organization to understand, motivate, optimize and retain their top talent.

Money and other material advantages often do matter, especially in this wobbly economy that is still dire for many people we know. College athletes on scholarship, for example, may actually have a vital need for both so those twin desires can spur rather than hinder their increased mastery.

Situations-Matter-200x300-1Our choices are sometimes deeply situational.

And context matters too. A lot. Here is just one example. Many are discontented with the extreme extrinsic example of company values: the increasingly wide gap between some CEOs’ compensation and what most of us take home. That feeling is exacerbated when we keep hearing how the top one percent has managed to do increasingly well, with special tax breaks and special investment opportunities while many of us are experiencing flattened incomes or worse. The inherent unfairness and the uncertainty we feel about the economy, driven home by what we and/or friends are experiencing, moves money and other extrinsic rewards closer to the top of our minds.

For example, three talented friends of mine remain in their corporate jobs, despite feeling thwarted by supervisors, because they are afraid of losing the medical coverage that their spouses badly need.

Many others I know value both the opportunity to do meaningful work with people they respect, and be rewarded by recognition and salary increases and bonuses. Financial acknowledgement of one’s value at work will remain closely intertwined with the chance to use one’s best talents on meaningful work.

Self-aware leaders expect their colleagues to also know their strengths and motivations. They are adept at setting an “us” approach to seizing opportunities and solving problems. They are more likely to understand that, to optimize their organization’s talent, they shouldn’t presume to know what’s best for each colleague. Just as you must encourage other’s self-organizing skills in this increasingly flattened, less hierarchical and more connected world, you win when you involve those you lead in choosing the mix of what most motivates for them to perform at their peak – for your organization and for their benefit.

Perceived unfairness can cause us to act irrationally

All participants in a situation are often more satisfied when they have some freedom to choose the kind of rewards that most matter to them.  This proves true at work and elsewhere, as the Ultimatum Game shows.

Let’s say, for example that you are handed $10 and told that you can split it any way you like between you and a colleague. You may value the friendship and/or feel the pressure of observing peers and split the money in half. Both of you will probably feel that’s intrinsically fair.

Alternatively, as you and a friend are walking down the street, a stranger approaches and hands you a ten- dollar bill. You may feel ok giving your friend a dollar or two of it. It’s found money, given to you, after all.

Here’s where we tend to act irrationally, focused on the extrinsic action. About half of those who received money from the one who was given it, turned down any offer of a share under 30 percent even though they knew that meant that the giver could keep all the money and they would get nothing rather than something. And men with high testosterone were more likely to reject a low share when it was offered.

Benefit from both kinds of motivation

To incorporate the most beneficial mix intrinsic and extrinsic motivation in decision making with others here are four suggestions:

1.  As you learned, in the Ultimatum Game, test subjects on the receiving end often reject offers they find too low – even though, in so doing, they may get nothing.  That means you should guard yourself against your instinctive resentment of unfair offers, recognizing that getting something is usually better than getting nothing.

2.  In another kind of Ultimatum Game, subjects who must choose how much to give often offer more than the lowest amount. That means that asking someone to suggest how much he would charge for his product or work means you may have better chance of get a deal, as you see it, than suggesting the price.

3.  Let your sales folks decide how they’ll be paid, choosing a personal balance of fixed and variable compensation. Try this approach on your children. Let them choose how to they can earn their allowance.  Then they can make decisions based on their mix of motivations.  You may be surprised.

4. Suggest a variety of benefits, including payment plans, when selling to prospective clients or hiring employees or contractors or reaching agreement with a possible partner to see what most matters to them. Besides discovering the most mutually beneficial approach, you will learn about the relative value that they place on intrinsic and extrinsic rewards.

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