money and workThere was a great article in the New York Times Sunday Review titled “Rethinking Work,” by Barry Swartz a professor at Swathmore College. As followers of this blog know, we have been advocating that organizations focus on creating a collective purpose as a key to motivation and improved performance. This New York Times article provides solid evidence that strongly supports our approach to creating meaningful work – as such it aligns perfectly with Dan Pink’s work in Drive. This article also provides an excellent discussion of how businesses came to rely so much on compensation as the primary and, in some cases, the sole motivator of work – tracing the origins back to Adam Smith. Much of this idea is well known, but then Swartz poses a question that has troubled me for quite a long time. Why do so many organizations continue to rely on money as a primary motivator? With the evidence so clearly in favor of creating meaningful work and very little in favor of compensation based motivation, it just doesn’t make any sense. For us, more specifically, I have wondered why some specific types of functions, such as sales and call centers reject the possibility that money isn’t really the primary motivator. Swartz’s position is that the belief in financial motivation has become a self-fulfilling, self-reinforcing negative cycle. Management teams are immersed in the belief that money and metrics are everything, therefore, they strip out meaning from the environment. In an environment stripped of purpose, of course, it’s reasonable for people to believe that money is the only motivator. In the end, financial compensation is the only motivational model people seem to know and accept. Ironically, when you do ask someone what motivates them, they always give the answer, “a compelling purpose.” I wouldn’t underestimate the importance that there is a perception that there are no viable alternative models – money and metrics are incredibly well entrenched. People will never change if they don’t see a good alternative. I think the real challenge here is to give people both enough insights into the discrepancy between conventional wisdom and facts as well as a tangible means of creating a purpose-driven environment to at least get people to think a little differently. Here is the quick version we know that works: Talk to the star performers about their purpose and share this purpose interactively with others. Next, build a collective path to achieve that purpose. Then you will be able to create a very high performing organization, and finally put this emphasis on financial incentives to bed.]]>

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