Giving employees rewards for doing simple and short-term tasks is an effective management strategy. But rewards do not work so well when the job is complex and long-term.
This was one of the insights offered by business consultant Daniel Pink, the feature speaker at the Distinguished Leadership and Innovation Conference, put on by the Arthur Lok Jack Graduate School of Business yesterday.
“This is what 50 years of science tells us very clearly,” Pink said to the attentive audience at the Hyatt Regency (Trinidad) hotel in Port of Spain. “And yet it hasn’t made its way into our institutions.”
He added, “There’s something of a motivational problem here in Trinidad. There’s the feeling that good enough is good enough. This is one of the happiest countries in the world. Very low unemployment, very low growth, very high happiness. So the leaders in business and politics say we have to get people to do more.”
The solution, he said, was to get employees engaged.
Pink emphasised that his recommendations did not mean that employers could pay their workers less and instead substitute motivational techniques.
“People care about money, but in a slightly peculiar way,” he explained. “Humans are very sensitive to the norm of fairness.”
This meant that paying someone less for doing the same work as another person was de-motivating.
“If people feel that they are not getting paid fairly, they will do just enough to avoid getting fired,” Punk said. “But, in Trinidad I’ve heard, you can’t fire people.”
He revealed that the three biggest motivators for people were autonomy, mastery, and purpose.
Giving people more control over their time, their tasks, and the strategies they used to do their work made employees more engaged and therefore more productive.
But, Pink warned, “This is difficult to do in an environment where it’s hard to fire people, where there’s no downside to not performing.”
Even so, he advised that managers should start with the premise that employees can be trusted, and devise strategies based on that.