Real Motivation

Posted on December 30, 2009 by Bruce Baker on

Special thanks to reader Dan Mott who left a link to a TED video on a post from last week called Performance Evals Are Bad – The Great Jackass Fallacy criticizing the “carrots and sticks” approach to performance evaluations and merit increases.  According to career analyst Dan Pink(you can read reviews of and or buy his new book – Drive:  The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us here), science has been confirming what Deming told us beginning in the first half of the last century — positive intent, an intrinsic desire to achieve  beats the extrinsic motivation model.  Dan summarizes the intrinsic motivators as: autonomy, mastery, and purpose.  Take the time to watch the 20 minute video from TED Global 2009:

So to sum up what Dan shared with us:

  1. External incentives have a negative effect on right brain (cognitive / creative) work even though we like to call it ‘pay for performance.’
  2. External incentives have a positive effect on left brain (task oriented, if – then) work.
  3. People have an urge to direct their own lives – autonomy.
  4. People have a desire to get better and better at something that matters –mastery.
  5. People yearn to do what they do in the service of something larger than themselves – purpose.
  6. There is a severe disconnect between the science and management theory. Ed Note – some people will insist that the world is flat until the see the picture from the moon and then they will claim that it is really a sound-stage in Arizona.

How revolutionary is what Dan is presenting?  Not to steal his thunder, he is on to some powerful stuff here, but this is pretty much what Deming has been telling us for a long time.  What Dan has done is surveyed the science literature and can make an empirical argument based on reviewed scientific work.  I don’t remember Deming doing that. He more made an appeal on a moral level and at a level of common sense (if you know of Deming basing his arguments about intrinsic motivation please share.)   Of course Dan’s delivery is excellent and Dr. Deming typically mumbled stuff.  I am going to read his book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us.

Dan’s message directly reinforces the following of Deming’s 14 points/Deadly Diseases:

  • No. 1 – Create constancy of purpose – purpose.  Inherent in creating constancy of purpose was communicating that purpose, part of point no. 7, adopt and institute leadership.
  • No. 6 – Institute training for skills – mastery.
  • No. 13 – Institute a vigorous program of education and self-improvement – mastery.
  • No. 14 – Put everybody in the company to work to accomplish the transformation – purpose.  Creating an environment where people know that their work is toward positive change in the organization will give people a deeper sense of purpose than dictating a target for a key process indicator.
  • Deming’s 3rd Deadly Disease – Evaluation by performance, merit rating, or annual review of performance

Deming tied intrinsic motivation to self esteem, dignity, cooperation, curiosity, and a yearning for learning.  He believed that these characteristics were ground out of people by life and hierarchical organizations.  Maybe poorly conceived performance evaluation and merit pay systems are part of what grinds these things out of people.

What do you think?  Dan doesn’t come from our ‘lean’ world but he is definitely an intellectual ally.  We have somebody from outside our field (quality improvement, lean, whatever we want to call it) to carry at least part of Deming’s message.  Given that he doesn’t come from our field maybe he will carry credibility to some of the people with whom we often have very little.  Dan can’t rationalized away as a member of the ‘Deming Cult’, yet he carries the message.  You can follow Dan on twitter here or follow his blog here.

What do you think?  Is this all a socialist plot to undermine competition in the workplace or is the science as clear as Dan presents it?  On a closing note, Dan points out that external incentives do positively affect left brain (task oriented) activities, those if – then activities as he referred to them.  What are the implications of that?  How can we use that?  Should we use it?

Happy and Safe New Year to All, Semper Fi Marines,


Cover of "Drive: The Surprising Truth Abo...
Cover via Amazon

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