Why is it that in spite of knowing money is the most expensive way to motivate employees, it still remains the first choice of many leaders?
And why is it that in spite of knowing the futility of driving any initiative with punitive consequences, it still continues as an organizational choice?
This is a paradox the strategist in a leader seems to understand, but the executor in him invariably stumbles on. Have organizations stuck a label that refuses to peel, or is there an obstinate denial to surgically make a change? Most managements still spend disproportionate time and effort to find the Utopian balance between fear and reward in driving employee engagement.
The truth is, neither is there an elusive balance to be discovered, nor are fear and reward the two key players in the game. (Let us run with the average assumption that people are compensated well enough to meet their needs and that the basic discipline of workplace behavior and ethics are understood as non-negotiable)
There are enough surveys and credible analyses to show that employees do not rank salary as the top factor in determining whether they like their jobs or not. Enter quality of work life, as a key player in workforce engagement. This is about employees saying “Treat me the way I am, not the way you believe me to be”
In real terms, this means rewriting the basic hygiene factors of fulfillment. And listening hard when employees say
- I need opportunities to do and get better at what really matters
- I need the elbow space to direct and control my work life, not merely be on autopilot
- I need to fulfill my desire to do something larger than just myself
I can be made to do anything if I am appropriately threatened or bribed. The question is, in so doing, can I be made to want to do something? No sir, not with your threats or bribes. But give me the freedom and empowerment to feel so – and I can, and I will. Throw in with it the responsibility for checking my own quality, and chances are I will exceed expectations almost all the time.
The truth is, there is a driver of motivation that many do not pay attention to – maybe because no one has found a tangible equation to link it to the critical balance sheet parameters. Call it “the-act-is-its-own-reward”, or what you will, it is very real and organizations may ignore it at their own peril.
Besides, robotically consistent rewards just for the sake of executing excellence can reduce the joy of achieving excellence to drudgery – I lose the freedom of doing something for the sheer joy of doing it! No kidding, that is why hobbies are so joyfully addictive. And, hmmm… let me see, can it also evoke lower performance arising out of stressful apprehension of losing the reward?
If we can raise so many doubts on the generous act of rewards as it is traditionally practiced, what can we say of the “stick”? Discounting the well-etched commandments of ethical code of conduct, the less said the better, I would think!
Look at Wikipedia, Firefox and countless other stories of hobbyists creating works of common joy without being paid, let alone being motivated by incentives. Certainly this cannot apply everywhere, but unless we are willing to think differently, we cannot achieve anything different. As managers and leaders let us stop worrying about controlling employees to do what they need to today, and about them not doing so tomorrow! Instead, let us hold people accountable for results, shed our roles as good referees to become better coaches.