It all began with our cover story in the March 2010 issue of Corporate Meetings & Incentives. Editor Barbara Scofidio interviewed Daniel Pink, author of Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, about his philosophies around employee engagement and motivation. Not long after the article was published, we heard from Bob Nelson, PhD, author of 1001 Ways to Reward Employees and a longtime columnist and adviser to the magazine, who strongly disagreed with some of what he read. Below, Pink gets the last word.
Individualized Awards Spark Intrinsic Motivation
Nelson: The March 2010 interview with Daniel Pink included some advice that I consider to be misinformed and misleading. Mr. 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, Mr. 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 individuals’ own motivations. If a manager or organization starts by determining what truly motivates 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.
Carrots and Sticks Sometimes Don’t Work
Pink: My argument in Drive is not a broadside against all rewards. My book says explicitly that carrots and sticks sometimes don’t work. And that’s not just my cooked-up conclusion. It’s what 50 years of behavioral science tells us. If/then rewards—‘If you do this, then you get that’—can go awry and produce a cascade of consequences that are precisely the opposite of what the initiators intend. My book clearly states that this doesn’t hold in all circumstances; I devote 10 pages to describing conditions when even these contingent, if/then rewards can be effective.
In his comments, Mr. Nelson ignores areas on which we agree. In several places in the book I sing the praises of now/that rewards—noncontingent, after-the-fact praise and feedback. I’m a fan of some forms of recognition because they provide people with information on their performance, which is essential to their achieving mastery.
Nonfinancial Rewards Are Key
Nelson: Mr. 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 nonfinancial. 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.”
Clearly, money doesn’t do much to create or sustain high motivation in workers—yesterday or today.
Fair Pay Is the Baseline
Pink: Mr. Nelson ignores my emphasis on paying people enough. To hear him tell it, you’d think I was urging everybody to work for free. Far from it. Money is a reward—and an important one—and I say that many times in Drive. The starting point for any discussion of motivation in the workplace is a simple fact of life: People have to earn a living, which I call their “baseline reward.” If someone’s baseline reward isn’t adequate or equitable, her focus will be on the unfairness of her situation and the anxiety of her circumstance. You’ll get neither the predictability of extrinsic motivation nor the weirdness of intrinsic motivation. You’ll get very little motivation at all.
Nelson: Mr. Pink discusses the much talked about concept of ROWE, or “Results Only Work Environment,” a business model practiced by an ever-increasing number of North American organizations, including Best Buy. The concept works like this: All that matters is results. Do your work whenever and wherever you want, just as long as you get it done. While I’m happy to see organizations adopt this model, the examples Pink cites are all in the tech industry, an industry where set schedules are clearly not as important as they are for, say, hospitals or manufacturing firms.
Pink: Mr. Nelson falsely claims that I believe autonomous workplaces are only for the technical elite. While many high-tech companies are blazing the way, the principles I describe have a wider application. I write about how they apply to hospital janitors and call center representatives, positions that hardly represent the white-collar workforce.
What Counts Is What Works
Nelson: Mr. Pink’s complaints about the use of rewards and incentive programs are more fiction that fact. The shortcomings he cites are due less to motivation theory being wrong and outdated and more to his lack of understanding about the principles and practice of good management to begin with. “More folklore than science”? I’ll take what works over contrived science that doesn’t any day of the week. “A lazy, dangerous ideology”? I don’t think so. As for everybody else: Don’t scrap your incentive programs yet!”
I’m No Crusader!
Pink: Drive is neither an angry polemic nor an attack on an industry. I’ve got nothing against the rewards and recognition industry. Nor am I on some bizarre crusade to put it out of business. Alas, I’m not a crusader—I’m just a writer. I wanted to examine the science to see what it told us and then report those findings to readers who might not be willing to slog through 800 papers in social psychology and economics. That was my goal.”
Editor’s Note: Why not read more from each author and decide where you stand? When you do, share your comments at the bottom of this story.
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