How NOT to motivate workers

By William Seidman Our understanding of what motivates people has evolved. As the Industrial Revolution created manufacturing jobs, the motivation was “pay more – get more.” Research over the past 50 years has shown that this works only in jobs with limited decision-making. For decision-makers, higher pay alone as an incentive is actually detrimental to performance. What counts is how a proposed change is presented. Picture Steve, the Vice-president of a medium-sized manufacturer of sportswear, standing at a podium in a large conference room with his index finger pointing at the audience of manufacturing managers and workers: “We are going to step into the future by implementing just-in-time manufacturing processes that will improve our ability to manufacture sportswear and reduce our costs. This is going to be the best thing for our company and you…” By pointing and lecturing, Steve showed a lack of respect for his people. His words stripped them of power and participation, which made them tune out. Similarly, remember your last performance review. Most of us expect that a significant portion of it will be about what we are doing wrong. This creates an intense “fight or flight” reaction and immediate resistance to learning. We jokingly refer to these situations of “telling” behaviors as giving people the finger. Most of the time, people will return the favor, with a different finger! People don’t like being told what to do or what will be good for them. Neurologically, even a benign conversation with a superior can stimulate the amygdala, the part of the brain responsible for fear response, and this often creates an instant rejection reaction to whatever is proposed. Therefore, the mere act of announcing a “great” change to an organization sets up a situation where most people will reject the change! ]]>

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