It is time for me to open a can of worms. I can´t help myself. I was reading a thought provoking column in the latest issue of Workforce Performance Solutions by Harold Stolovitch, Ph.D called, Incentives and Workplace Performance.
Stolovitch organized a research team to look at the effect that incentives have on performance and motivation. Here´s how he teed up the research:
"??Two years ago, I organized a research team to cut through the confusion and derive clear conclusions about incentives. The purpose was to help senior HR managers make more informed decisions."??
Stolovitch says his research disproved two myths:
"??Myth: Incentives destroy personal, intrinsic interest in work. To the contrary, rewarding people for exceeding targets causes them to value work more and even heightens self-confidence and employee loyalty.
Myth: Incentives only lead the business to pay for results it would have gotten anyway. To the contrary, only 8 percent of the workers surveyed said they would have achieved the same results without incentives."
I´ll buy the second myth – good and well executed incentive programs probably do produce results that would not have occurred otherwise.
But I do not buy the first statement that it is a myth that incentives destroy personal, intrinsic interest in work. It´s vague and will likely lead some readers to the wrong conclusions.
First, I want to be clear about terms:
Intrinsic motivation: Intrinsic motivation causes people to engage in an activity for its own sake. It is motivation that comes from within.
Now is that the same thing as "personal, intrinsic interest in work?"?? I don´t think so. I can see that someone could be personally interested in their work as a result of an exciting incentive, but this is not necessarily intrinsic motivation. By definition, intrinsic motivation is not produced by external stimuli.
Ok, so the next logical question is, well can’t there be both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation at the same time? Yes, of course, most of us are likely motivated by some balance of both. Here’s the rub – when incentive systems are used, they often crowd out or replace other efforts to create an envionment that enlivens intrinsic motivation.
Conversations = Reality
We are what we talk about.
Talk about intrinsic rewards and structure the environement based on incentives, and that’s the reality of what will predominate many people’s motivations.
And yes, incentives will reduce my intrinsic motivation for certain tasks. Can I still be a loyal and happy employee? Yes! But you will not me getting my best work.
Are extrinsic rewards, like incentives evil? Perhaps, but they are a fact of life and utilized of the vast majority of businesses.
But let´s not get our ideas confused here and lead people to believe that they can improve intrinsic motivation by using incentives. This would not serve managers, leaders, or HR professionals.
We need managers to create environments where people can and want to do their best work. An understanding and appreciation for intrinsic motivation is critical. And let´s face it, most work environments do not get it at all. It is not like there was a control group of environments were intrinsic motivation was high. Compared to the majority of messed up workplaces, the results using incentives are likely pretty impressive.
But we should not settle for this and ignore the need to tap into employees´ hearts and minds that help drive intrinsic motivation.
Perhaps there is a place for incentives, and Stolovitch does a good job of suggesting when incentives might be most appropriate. That said, incentives should play only a small part in how we shape our work environments and lead our companies.
OK, I feel better now.