The answer is NOTHING!

Let me explain … What motivates you? What makes you work harder? Traditional management methods talk about bonuses and rewards, in fact, most of our pay systems are based on that pretext. Hands up if you are on a bonus if you achieve certain targets?

What if that pretext was wrong?

I am currently writing some content for an online training provider. The subject I am writing about is motivation in the workplace and, as part of my research, I came across this fabulous video of Dan Pink (Dan Pink is a leading business thinker and author) addressing an audience in the UK about what motivates people.

In the video, he talks about studies and research that prove that incentives lower performance. Yes, you read that right: Incentives LOWER performance for all but the most menial of tasks.

But, if that is the case, why do so many companies have bonus schemes I hear you cry? Why are sales men rewarded on commission basis? Is selling a straight-forward and menial task? No.

Most managers are not trained in how to manage, they learn how to manage from their managers. Most companies are run by people who have picked it up as they have gone along. So it is no wonder that they do what their bosses used to do. It is no wonder that they follow the path well worn by thousands of others. ENOUGH! It’s time to be smarter.

Incentives lower performance because, if you give someone a task to do and you incentivise it, you create a goal. That goal narrows focus and stymies innovation or creativity.

The three things that motivate people are:

    • Autonomy
    • Mastery
    • Purpose

Now look around at your teams and ask yourself these three questions:

a) What levels of autonomy do I give my staff?

Do I provide them with the goals and targets? Do I have countless procedures and regulations? Do I have dozens of monitoring and control mechanisms in place to make sure that people are doing things right? Or do I let them make their own decisions on what needs to be done and develop new systems to achieve success?

I loved the example of Google letting people spend 20% of their time doing whatever they want to. Or Alisia giving employees FEDEX Days to work on non-work projects. The results are innovations that have driven those companies forward massively.

So my challenge to you is to pick one day a month and say to staff “Work on whatever you want to. Come up with an idea and show us at the end of the day.” Let them be creative.

b) How do you let your people develop mastery in what they do?

Do your staff have the skills to be brilliant at what they do? Do you ration training? Do you, because of fears of a future economic slow down, hand people an instruction manual and tell them to get on with it?

I used to be fascinated by companies who would pay for whatever training their staff wanted, whether it was work related or not. Just imagine sponsoring your staff to do any training they wanted .. with no strings or golden handcuffs attached. Why would you do that? Well, by studying interior decoration or learning to speak French or learning yoga, that person may just be learning a new skill that can spark an idea in work. At the very least those members of staff feel valued and are much more likely to be engaged in their work.

c) Do your staff understand the “why” behind what they do?

Do you tell your staff what to do, or do you link it to strategic goals? Do people even understand what the goals are and why they exist? Why should someone work harder when they have no attachment to the goals?

How about letting your teams set their own goals, letting the employees decide what it is they want to achieve? Explain the purpose of the business, explain the constraints and consequences for failure and then let them decide how best to achieve that purpose.

I am pretty sure there will be one or two of you out there that will be saying that they could not trust their staff that much. Giving them that much leeway would just lead them to swing the lead even more. My reply would be that your lack of trust may well be driving that behaviour.

Get your minds out of the 19th Century and start to think and act as a 21st Century manager. It is time that managers ditch ideas of compliance and control and embrace engagement and empowerment. People want to be inspired not down-trodden and that is the job of managers nowadays.