"I'm writing to caution readers not to drink the Kool-Aid in abandoning effective rewards and incentives that have served them well over the years." Those were the words of Bob Nelson, Ph.D., one of the leading authorities on employee motivation and author of 1001 Ways to Reward Employees, in regard to the March cover story interview with Daniel Pink, author of Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us.

"The interview included some advice that I consider to be misinformed and misleading," he continued. "Pink advocates that ‘20th century' rewards and punishments—which he terms ‘Motivation 2.0'—don't work very well any more and, in fact, might undermine employee motivation, creativity, and the achievement of desired goals.

"For example, Pink says that ‘Rewards can extinguish intrinsic motivation.' That's only true if a manager uses extrinsic rewards with employees in a vacuum, regardless of the individuals' own motivations. If a manager or organization starts by determining what truly motivates their employees and then uses those findings to systematically reinforce and reward desired behaviors and results, that serves to reinforce their intrinsic motivation, not extinguish it. In fact, if done well, any manager or organization can fan the spark of intrinsic motivation that every employee has to create a flame and passion for mutual success (which is a good thing, I believe).

"Pink primarily addresses rewards as financial incentives (i.e., cash). There is abundant evidence that the most motivational forms of rewards and recognition tend to be non-financial. These findings date back to some of the classic studies of what workers want from their jobs done by Lawrence Lindahl in the late 1940s and repeated with similar results in the early 1980s and again in my doctoral studies conducted in the 1990s. In the initial studies, managers identified the primary motivators for employees to be ‘good wages,' ‘job security,' and ‘promotion/growth opportunities.' Instead, their employees cited such intangibles as ‘full appreciation for work done' and ‘feeling 'in' on things.'

"'The National Study of the Changing Workforce' has shown similar findings. When people were asked for the ‘most important' reasons why they accepted their current jobs, the top variable listed by 65 percent of respondents was ‘open communication,' followed by ‘effect on personal/family life,' ‘nature of work,' and ‘management quality.' ‘Wages' were 16th on the list—just two places ahead of ‘didn't receive any other job offers.'

"Clearly, money doesn't do much to create or sustain high motivation in workers—yesterday or today. Please note that these studies were done with working adults in workplace environments, not with college students in contrived experiments—the type of research Pink prefers to cite."

Want to hear more from Bob, and Daniel Pink's rebuttal? Stay tuned for the July issue of Corporate Meetings & Incentives.

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