Backfiring Carrots

That’s actually the title of the lead story in The American Society for Training and Development’s (ASTD) 2010 daily conference news; a news flyer that is released during its International Conference. The writer was covering the keynote speaker, Daniel Pink’s message.

According to Pink, author of Drive: What the Science of Motivation Can Teach You About Performance, it isn’t about the ole “carrot and stick.” We don’t need sweeter carrots or sharper sticks. We need a whole new approach that puts stock in intrinsic motivation. Pink identified three elements that comprise a new way of thinking about motivation:

  1. Autonomy – the urge to direct our own lives
  2. Mastery – the desire to get better at something that matters
  3. Purpose – The yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves

According to Daniel Pink: traditional ideas about management are great if you want compliance; but to drive innovation: engagement through self-direction works best. Put another way, incentives work for tasks that don’t require lots of thought. But incentives are counter productive when the work requires creative thought. Intuitively, this makes sense.  If I am working against the clock, I won’t likely take time to ponder different approaches. Google calls this 20% time. 20% of every Google employee’s week is dedicated to thinking creatively. And according to Daniel Pink, Google credits much of the breakthrough innovation that the company is renown for, to this practice.

Further, Daniel talked about people’s need for feedback — citing that most performance reviews are flawed – they are given annually and the conversations are not authentic. This really hit home for me having done so many performance reviews in my career. Imagine a tennis player or musician getting feedback only once a year!

Feedback and open authentic conversations are key ingredients if you want to get better. Of course this led me also to think about Stephen M.R. Covey’s Trust Talk Processes. One of Stephen’s 13 behaviors common to high trust is “Get Better.” Getting better requires regular feedback. Stephen encourages open and authentic dialogs (trust talks) as a means for restoring or extending trust, and, in his best selling book: The Speed of Trust, he offers a structure for having these trust talks.

Perhaps we all need to examine our reward structures and feedback systems. When was the last time you encouraged your employees to quietly ponder new ways of doing things or gave them regular and authentic feedback?

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