MOTIVATION AND PERFROMANCE
What is motivation?
Motivation simplified: A person’s willingness to engage in a certain activity or to expend energy in order to achieve a desired goal.
When we examine the source(s) of a person’s “willingness,” we explore the concepts of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation is defined as an interest in an activity for its own, or one’s own sake. Extrinsic motivation is based on factors that are external to the task at hand, or the person.
Among the many ways motivation can be measured, is a person’s observable or self-described level of arousal or interest in performing an activity, their level of persistence when faced with obstacles, and their level of effort when performing an activity.
Because motivation is both intrinsic and extrinsic, and difficult to measure by a single metric, “the primary, and most general, characteristic of the successful application of an incentive system is improvement, measured qualitatively or quantitatively” (Condly, 2009, p. 447).
Motivation is not a constant. It changes over time. Its changes are rarely linear, and not necessarily progressive. Increases and decreases in motivation can occur for any number of reasons. Some reasons are predictable. Others are unforeseen, and only become known after a change in morale or performance becomes noticeable. A leader’s best strategy is to remain aware of their organization’s culture and develop systems and processes which tend to support employee motivation, and a high-performing workplace.
Considerations for Incentives & Rewards
“Incentive systems are motivation-focused structures…” (Condly, 2009, p. 445). When the goal is to provide an attractive inducement to persuade employees to perform in ways which benefit the organization, the system designed to measure the performance and deliver the reward is an “incentive system.”
Similar to incentives, a reward system is generally defined as “an arrangement [where] a gift is promised in return for the proper execution of a behavior and, if a behavior is performed properly, the gift will be presented” (Frumkin, 2009, p. 467). For the purpose of this blog post, I will focus on rewards and positive incentives. I will explain the punitive aspects of motivation through consequences in Part 2 of this two-part blog series.
Incentives can be positive (providing a promised reward) or negative (removing a perceived punishment). A positive incentive adds something to the workplace in order to strengthen a particular behavior, such as providing child day care for employees with a perfect attendance record. A negative incentive removes something from the workplace in order to strengthen a behavior, such as allowing employees with perfect attendance to avoid the hassle of logging in and out of the office for lunch (Frumkin, 2009, p. 469).
Incentive systems are designed to increase the motivation of employees to behave in ways which benefit of the organization. Organizational benefits are usually tied to “particular goals or outcomes and thus [incentives] are distinguished from the more general compensation systems” (Condly, 2009, p. 445). And, as a matter of fairness and fiscal responsibility, when performance improvement is not at issue, raises, bonuses, perks, and other employee decisions should be left to the established compensation system. This makes the motivational incentive something special and out of the norm, which is attractive in itself.
When should an incentive system be considered?
First, a question you should answer before you begin: Is it the employer’s responsibility to entice, cajole, or even bribe, their employees to do the work they are already paid to do? Following, Mager and Pipe (1997, Part III) analyzing rewards and punishments in general is a good idea, but how far should an organization consider going with rewarding expected behavior before they look elsewhere for new employee(s)? (Assuming a non-union work environment allows).
Care should be taken when considering an incentive system designed to address deficient performance, or to close a gap between the current level and desired level of performance.
- Is the incentive needed? Why?
- Will the incentive increase motivation?
- Will increased motivation yield the desired performance?
“Before any incentive system is adopted, designed, borrowed, or utilized, it is incumbent upon management to ensure that employee productivity is at less than desired levels for reasons of poor motivation” (Condly, 2009, p. 446). Fixing a motivational deficit may not necessarily fix a knowledge, skill ability, or work environment deficits, each of which should be addressed first if incentives are to be effective (if they are even still needed).
“A common response to performance problems within the workplace is often to blame individual motivation rather than look at the motivation systems within the organization. It is easier to say, ‘John is lazy’ than it is to conduct an assessment to find out what barriers exist to John’s optimal performance and how organizational motivation programs may be affecting performance” (Frumkin, 2009, p. 473).
The value of an incentive lies with those being rewarded
“Positive reinforcement” considers the needs of the performers “when choosing what stimulus to present to the participant,” so incentives may be customized or individualized for particular employees or workgroups (Frumkin, 2009, p. 468).
Effective incentives cultivate motivation to perform
Incentive programs tend to be popular. Positive reinforcement has that effect. And if performance improves as predicted, all the better. But what if motivation to attain the incentive does not result in better performance, or the effect is temporary? “There’s no sense in maintaining a popular incentive system that rewards employees for performance but doesn’t actually contribute to the bottom line” (Condly, 2009, p. 460).
Money isn't everything, but it's effective
In his book DRiVE, Daniel Pink (2009) suggests that three factors strongly influence motivation: Autonomy, Mastery, & Purpose. Somewhat contradictory to a few of Pink’s (2009) observations, “monetary incentives had twice the positive effect on performance as did non-monetary tangible incentives (27 percent vs. 13 percent). This implies that there is something inherently more powerful in monetary incentives (Condly, 2009, p. 449).
Confidence is key
If employees are confident in their abilities to perform at a level which will earn them incentives that they actually value (Condly, 2009, p. 451, 455), then the incentive program is likely to be successful from an expectancy theory point of view. I will explain the expectancy theory of motivation in Part 2 of this two-part blog series.
Motivational concepts are simple, once explained, but the evidence-based practices are difficult to implement and manage. The best leaders devote significant time and effort in learning more about motivation and how it affects their workplace, employees, stakeholders, and performance.
Get it right, and yield the benefits. Get it wrong, however, “and while incentives can play an important role in accomplishing desired results, unmanaged or mismanaged incentives can also hinder your efforts to improve performance” (Watkins & Leigh, 2009, p. 462).
Willing to assess and explore your motivational strategies for your organization? I can help. Feel free to contact me to discuss your goals or concerns regarding your organization’s motivational landscape. If I am unavailable to assist, I’ll help you find a Human Performance Improvement (HPI) professional who can.
My tagline: Surpass Standards. Exceed Expectations.
My motto: Train with purpose. Lead with vision. Perform with excellence.
Works Cited or Consulted
Addison, R., Haig, C., & Kearny, L. (2009). Performance architecture: The art and science of improving organizations. ProQuest Ebook Central. https://ebookcentral.proquest.com
Condly, S. J. (2009). Incentive systems. In R. Watkins & D. Leigh (Eds.), Handbook of improving performance in the workplace: The handbook of selecting and implementing performance interventions (pp. 445–464). ProQuest Ebook Central. http://ebookcentral.proquest.com
Frumkin, J. J. (2009). Rewards, positive reinforcement, and incentive systems. In R. Watkins & D. Leigh (Eds.), Handbook of improving performance in the workplace: The handbook of selecting and implementing performance interventions (pp. 465–481). ProQuest Ebook Central . http://ebookcentral.proquest.com
Mager, R. F., & Pipe, P. (1997). Analyzing performance problems, or, you really oughta wanna: How to figure out why people aren’t doing what they should be, and what to do about it (3rd ed.). Center for Effective Performance.
McCraw, V. (2020, January 1). Green Knight Consulting. Green Knight Consulting. Retrieved February 6, 2021, from https://greenknight.llc/