The old carrot-and-stick form of motivation doesn't work for today's self-actualized workforce, says the author of the new book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. So what does that mean for incentives?
The timing of Daniel Pink's new book, Drive, seems curious at first. A book about intrinsic motivation—about putting your heart and soul into work because you're treated with respect and autonomy—at a time like this? At a time when employees are stretched to their limits and the prevalent form of motivation in many companies is reminding people they should be happy they have jobs?
But if you think about it, the old form of motivation—what Pink refers to as Motivation 2.0—is what got this country into its present mess. Carrot-and-stick motivators, or the "if-then" model—incentive trips are a good example, but Pink's greatest disdain is for cash bonuses—often don't work for the long term, he says. They narrow people's focus, stifle creativity, and can actually cause people to cut corners in a way that hinders the success of a company rather than enhances it. In the end, this is what led to the catastrophe on Wall Street.
Pink envisions a working world where managers (he questions those, too) tap into the inherent desire of employees to do good work and create an environment for that to happen. He praises the pioneering concept of the ROWE (results-only work environment), begun by two former human resources execs at Best Buy, where the focus is not on when people work, how they work, or where they work—just that they get their work done. He discusses the practice of 20 Percent Time, used by Google and other forward-thinking companies, where employees spend one-fifth of their time at work on any project they want. These environments require that companies surrender their sense of control and focus their efforts instead on encouraging autonomy. That, says Pink, will be the new form of motivation—Motivation 3.0—tapping into people's innate desire for self-direction.
Pink spoke with Editor Barbara Scofidio from his Washington, D.C., office about how the theories and models he lays out in Drive apply to incentives for both sales and nonsales employees.
& Incentives: Let's start by talking about salespeople, who are the perfect example of extrinsically motivated employees (what you call Type X's). Companies have been using the carrot and stick to motivate them … forever now.
Pink: I haven't quite figured salespeople out. I think we've overstated how much money motivates them, but that's not really the case. It's not that big wad of cash they're looking for as much as some feedback as to how they're doing. And recognition and rewards—incentives—are a form of feedback.
Many people have found that incentives actually diminish teamwork and collaboration and foster short-term thinking. They can create a situation where salespeople make choices that aren't good for the customer or the company.
I'm not saying to do away with them altogether, just that making your numbers needs to become a little less central. You need to include things like customer satisfaction, teamwork, innovation—three or four other metrics—into the mix.
CMI: Our readers who plan incentive trips struggle with having to create a more exciting trip year after year on a lower budget. And now there's research to prove that lowering the quality of an incentive trip can actually lead to lower sales, morale, and over time, retention. What do you think of that?
Pink: I think if people have gotten used to these trips year after year, and that's what motivates them, there's a serious issue. If that's the reason the reps are selling—to go to Tahiti instead of Hawaii—that's not the recipe for an effective sales force. It's a short-term thing, like eating a Snickers bar for the sugar and mistaking it as nutrition.
CMI: So what do you suggest companies do that are on this track with their incentive trips?
Pink: It's a dangerous track to be on. One of the problems is that people start to consider the trips as an entitlement. Companies need to stop the ratcheting up. Instead of management coming up with the trips, maybe they should include salespeople in deciding what their rewards should be.
CMI: So what are some ways, then, that companies can make their incentive contests and trips more "evolved" so that they fit your description of "Motivation 3.0"? Add a learning component? Visit another company office in Europe? That kind of thing? Add a charitable element?
Pink: There are lots of possibilities. One is to make the trips more meaningful. You could do that by turning the trip into a mobile classroom and making the experience about learning as much as about passive leisure. I also like the idea of infusing these trips with a greater purpose, including a work or service element.
CMI: I've heard salespeople say it's not as much the trip that matters to them as being able to mingle with the top execs in the company and be recognized on stage in front of their peers.
Pink: Yes, recognition is important. One of people's deepest motivators is the desire to get better at things—think of athletics, or music. And when they succeed, they want data and feedback, which is what recognition is. They're more interested in that than in glittery things that are ephemeral.
CMI: In addition to incentives, we also write about meetings and conventions, which, in my opinion also could use an overhaul if they're to appeal to employees' sense of autonomy, mastery, and purpose. ... How do we rethink the average meeting with the talking head to focus more on the brilliance of the people in the room?
Pink: I think it's great to involve the attendees in the planning. For instance, some conferences now will "crowdsource" the speakers—that is, let the participants nominate and then vote on the speakers they'd like to hear. I also like the idea of attendees actually doing something. Instead of sitting and passively taking in information, why couldn't they build or invent a product, a Web site, or anything else that will actually live beyond the life of the meeting? For corporate gatherings, I love the idea of turning an off-site into a FedEx Day. Along with the requisite meetings, set aside an entire day during the off-site when employees can work on anything they choose, however they want, with whomever they'd like. Impose just one rule: People must deliver something—a prototype of a product, a better internal process, whatever—the following day. Those participating will be engaged in a way they're often not during these gatherings.
CMI: Let's talk about recognition for the average employee. Why do so few companies have formal programs in place?
Pink: It's essential. Employees crave feedback but it's often too infrequent, too distant. It needs to be regular and robust, And it helps when it is a culture where that starts from the top. Many of the examples in my book, however, are actually started by renegade managers who did things to carve out some autonomy for their employees and themselves, like the ROWE example.
CMI: Are examples like ROWE really meant for smaller companies, not those that are bogged down in layers of management?
Pink: Anything like that is harder to do if it's a larger company and publicly held vs. a smaller, entrepreneurial company. One of the reasons Google is so innovative is that the founders are still around.
CMI: Do you think this is a tough time—the midst of an economic crisis—to introduce such idealistic theories? You have to admit, the timing is interesting.
Pink: Actually I think this economic crisis is an opportunity to understand why Wall Street went awry. Companies need to consider the role that misguided motivations played.
The fact is that as companies cut back, they are running out of carrots and are going to have to start treating their people better. Those that don't will deepen their employees' cynicism and resentment, people will do the absolute minimum to get by, and when the economy improves, they'll leave. We've seen it happen before in the bad economy of the late 1990s and early 2000s, and it will happen again.