Monday, October 15, 2012.
When executives’ hands are tied by
their company’s inability to give raises, bonuses and other material perks,
should they give up trying to make workers feel appreciated?
According to research cited in¬†Why Workers Won’t Work: The Case
Study of Jamaica¬†by Kenneth
Carter, respect and appreciation are exactly what the Jamaican worker is
seeking. Once their basic needs are met, they rank these attributes above
Many of us would scoff at this
finding, although it’s been verified in more than a single study. We believe
without question that more money makes people work harder.
We are partially correct if recent research cited in¬†Drive¬†by Daniel Pink is to be believed. As
long as the work being motivated involves brute force, repetition and no
creativity, more money can buy more results. However, so can desperation.
Our long and recent history of hard
economic times, with its high unemployment and steady dose of fear, has scared
low-paid employees. They respond immediately to small monetary incentives,
swallowing frequent injustices such as irregular payments. They are too afraid
to “lose the work” to resist.
Our managers come to believe that
this is exactly how you need to treat ‘these people’ in the belief that money
can be used to get someone to dig a ditch faster, and also to dig more ditches.
In their minds, all workers can be treated like ditch-diggers.
What happens when someone is given a
different job, for example, to find the best route for a new ditch?
In his book, Pink cites research that
shows that skilled, knowledge workers aren’t motivated by bonuses and rewards.
These factors actually destroy creativity by distracting the worker from the
intrinsic benefits of work, and pull their attention to focus on relatively
meagre extrinsic benefits.
It’s a grave mistake to equate the
desperate mindset of a poorly educated worker with that of a creative knowledge
worker, but that is exactly what many managers do. What should a good manager
emphasize in order to preserve and nourish the goose that lays the creative,
The answers lie beyond the basic
respect and appreciation described in Carter’s book. Pink and others show that
the way to motivate workers is beyond these factors, and rest in a manager’s
ability to give autonomy, mastery and purpose.
1. Autonomy – Being Your Own Boss
Find ways to give workers autonomy –
Many Jamaicans dream of starting their own business, but it’s not only in order
to get rich. They ‘wanna rule their destiny’ and a manager who recognises this
truth consciously gives employees small gifts of greater autonomy, while
removing micro-management. These are powerful advantages that can help prevent
good workers from leaving companies just because they want to have the power to
decide when, where and how to do their best work.
2. Mastery – Becoming the Best
Encourage workers to expand their
knowledge – In the past month our newspapers have been filled with reports of
students who have mastered their GSAT, CSEC and CAPE exams. In much the same
way, our sprinters have become the best in the world because they also possess
a desire to get better. This urge to improve is a powerful one that requires
little monetary investment in an age of free online courses from some of the
world’s best universities. It’s never been easier for a company to train its
people for free, but very few are encouraging employees to add new skills and
knowledge even when it’s affordable.
3. Purpose – Offering Direction
Give employees the opportunity to
craft a personal vision – Too many executives get over-excited about
‘increasing shareholder value’. When they publicly commit to these goals, they
separate themselves from their employees who usually don’t care much about
making already rich people even richer. Instead, they should help employees
plug into a larger purpose, a grander reason to come to work every morning and
give their employer the best part of each week.
Managers must be careful, as it’s
quite easy to distract one’s entire workforce with, for example, a new bonus
programme that destroys delicate links to ‘autonomy, mastery and purpose’.
When they turn around and complain
that no-one is motivated they need to understand that what role they played in
destroying it, and that it can only be re-built if they change their own
This isn’t an easy task, but it’s the
only one that works.
Francis Wade is the President of Framework Consulting. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org