April 15, 2013

If you think your people are motivated by money, you are wrong!

What really motivates us in life and work?  Most companies and leaders seem to believe that money is the main thing that motivates people to give their best.  Research is proving that assumption to be incorrect.

In a recent HBR post, Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic cites several research studies that proved that there is a very low correlation between salary and job satisfaction. Similarly, Gallup's engagement research, which is based on 1.4 million employees from 192 organisations across 49 industries and 34 nations, found no which reports no significant difference in employee engagement by pay level.

Dan Ariely, professor of psychology and behavioral economics at Duke University and one of my favorite authors, shares some insights from his own research in this TED talk: [ted id=1706].  When he relates some of their experiments they sound pretty cruel, imagine having your work shredded or taken apart right before your eyes, but this is what happens every day,  in many different ways in our organisations.

Rosabeth Moss Kanter, in her book Evolve! identifies 3 primary sources of motivation in high-innovation companies. These are:

  • Mastery - challenging jobs where people have a chance to grow
  • Membership - a sense of belonging to a community and of being treated as a whole person
  • Meaning - a feeling of making a meaningful difference in the world

She found that Money acted as a scorecard, but that it didn't lead to motivation, nor fulfillment

She relates this wonderful anecdote:

"People can be inspired to meet stretch goals and tackle impossible challenges if they care about the outcome. I'll never forget the story of how a new general manager of the Daimler Benz operations in South Africa raised productivity and quality at the end of the apartheid era by giving the workers something to do that they valued: make a car for Nelson Mandela, just released from prison. A plant plagued by lost days, sluggish workers, and high rates of defects produced the car in record time with close to zero defects. The pride in giving Mandela the Mercedes, plus the feeling of achievement, helped the workers maintain a new level of performance. People stuck in boring, rote jobs will spring into action for causes they care about."

Research seems to prove overwhelmingly, that meaningful and challenging work is much more of a motivator than money. Which begs the question ... why do so many companies focus on financial reward as a primary form of motivation?  In many of the projects I've done across most industries, people's main complaint was a lack of recognition, not too little remuneration.  People want to feel that what they do matters: if I write something, I want to know that someone will read it, and hopefully be impacted.  If I build something, I want to know that someone will admire it, or use it.  Personally there is nothing as demotivating as working on something that I know probably won't be used in a meaningful way.  Leaders need to rethink their incentive programmes and tap into the basic human need for significance and meaning.  When it comes to engagement, money really isn't everything.

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