When kids don’t comply to your instructions, you tell them, “Do it and you will get a surprise gift.” Some parents I know use scoring system (with negative marking) to keep kids focused on living within the rules. Each time they comply, they get certain points. Once these points total up to a certain agreed threshold, they get a surprise gift.
This theory gets extended in organizations and teams. Managers and HR set up KRA’s for each employee and some part pay is attached to achievement of these KRA’s. Like kids, people are driven by all rewards that are external in nature.
Do such reward systems really result in a lasting change in anyone’s behavior or habits? Do they help people in delivering better outcomes?
Every approach to motivate people will have downsides – and the downside of “performance based rewards OR rewards based performance” is that it only generates dispassionate compliance to established performance standards. It seldom is the reason why an employee would exercise her discretionary effort to innovate and walk that extra mile to deliver superior outcomes.
I was wondering about it when I read about the work of Alfie Kohn – one of the America’s leading thinkers on the subject of motivation and rewards. He wrote a book titled “Punished by Rewards” and in his 1993 article in New York Times, he suggests:
If rewards do not work, what does? I recommend that employers pay workers well and fairly and then do everything possible to help them forget about money. A preoccupation with money distracts everyone — employers and employees — from the issues that really matter.
Those issues might be abbreviated as the three C’s of quality: choice, collaboration and content. Choice means workers should participate in making decisions about what they do. Collaboration means they should be able to work together in effective teams. Content refers to the job’s tasks. To do a good job, people need a good job to do.
Doing these things is much more difficult than dangling goodies in front of workers. But manipulating behavior by offering rewards, while a sound approach for training the family pet, can never bring quality to the workplace.
On the other hand, completely eliminating external rewards may also not guarantee quality. Yes, people work for money and that is the starting point of engagement. They exercise their discretionary effort only when they are provided autonomy, community/collaboration and work that helps them grow as professionals and human beings.
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Tell us, what do you think? Do you agree with Alfie Kohn? How does your organization handle this all important issue? What have you experienced so far?
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