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Decision-making (part 3): a better way to motivate(?)


Would you say the inclination, and quality of decision-making is closely linked to motivation?

Would you also say motivation is closely linked to rewards – the conventional reward methodology typically being the better you do, the higher the reward?

But what if the ‘do this, get that’ reward/motivation connection is actually wrong, or at least out of step with what really motivates people?

It is clearly understood that people who are well, and appropriately motivated, make better decisions.

Well, surprise, surprise, there has been a vast amount of research carried out over the last 40 years that clearly shows how the perceived ‘normal’ way businesses try to motivate their people – “do this, get that, do better, get more” – is not as effective as we think it is.

If ever you have heard me speak at business events, you might have heard me point out that what science knows, and what business does, are not the same thing…and the rewards-motivation-decision-making connection definitely falls in to that.

So, here’s some research:

In simple terms, groups were given the same simple task, with different levels of rewards (low, medium, high) for completing it in or better than a certain time. Obviously, the expectation is that the higher the reward, the better/faster the group will perform.

The results, over the last 40 years, have been remarkably consistent:

For simple, mechanical tasks, rewards acted as they would be expected to – the higher the reward, the better the performance.

Here’s a quote from one of the research papers:

However, once the tasks required some level of cognitive input, the results were rather different, and here’s another quote from the same research paper:

This 40+ years of research, carried out all over the world in widely differing communities and scenarios, is succinctly summed up with this quote:

But, as this makes no sense, what are the views of world-leading business schools?

The London School of Economics undertook a large piece of research in 2009, looking at the effect of incentives on motivation and performance, and summed it up in the following way:

So, what can we do about it?

Well, 100 years ago, most jobs required predominantly mechanical skills. But in the 21st century, most jobs require at least some level of cognitive skills, with the impact on how incentives work, how motivated we are, and how well we end up making decisions (as described above).

So, we need to look at incentives and motivation in a different way, especially if we are to support decision-making of the highest quality.

Basically, the research shows performance for tasks that include elements of cognitive skill work better when they are based around the following, non-monetary incentives:

Autonomy – the urge to direct our own lives

Mastery – the desire to get better and better at something that matters

Purpose – the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves

These are self-explanatory, and, of course, can be applied in endless ways in the differing business environments.

If you are interested in giving them a try in your business, please get in touch.

(Main references: Ariely et al at MIT and Duke University, London School of Economics, Daniel Pink, and others)

To find out more about how I work with business executives, leaders and owners to maximise their potential and success, and the benefits of professional executive coaching and mentoring, particularly in developing leadership, strategy and growing a successful business, please contact me:

t: 01242-672440

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