posted 10 Jul 2009 in Volume 12 Issue 8
The Gurteen Perspective: Punished by rewards
In this issue’s perspective, David Gurteen argues that people should be motivated by their own desire to succeed not incentivisation schemes or rewards for doing what is, essentially, their job.
If I had a penny for every time someone suggested rewarding or incentivising people to share their knowledge I’d be a rich man. But like Alfie Kohn, I do not believe rewards work.
In his book Punished by Rewards1, Kohn shows that while manipulating people with incentives may seem to work in the short run, it is a strategy that ultimately fails and does lasting harm.
Drawing from hundreds of studies, Kohn demonstrates that people actually do inferior work when they are enticed with money or other incentives. Programmes that use rewards to change people’s behavior are similarly ineffective over the long run.
The more we use artificial inducements to motivate people, the more they lose interest in what we’re bribing them to do. Rewards turn play into work, and work into drudgery.
Kohn discuses five reasons why rewards fail:
Rewards punish – rewards are manipulative. ‘Do this and you will get that’ is not much different to ‘Do this or else here is what will happen to you’;
Rewards rupture relations – excellence depends on teamwork. Rewards destroy cooperation;
Rewards ignore reasons – to solve problems people need to understand the causes. Rewards ignore the complexities of the problems;
Rewards deter risk taking – people are less likely to take risks, explore possibilities or play hunches;
Rewards undermine interest – rewards are controlling. If people focus on getting a reward they tend to feel their work is not freely chosen and directed by them.
I would add a sixth reason: Rewards are gamed – people will manipulate the system to win the prize at the expense of doing what is right.
So what’s the solution? How do we encourage people to share? How do we motivate people to do anything?
Kohn makes the excellent point that: “Loving what you do is a more powerful motivator than any goody including money.”
He also says: “Pay people well. Pay people fairly. Then do everything possible to take money (rewards) off people’s minds. Incentives, bonuses, pay-for-performance-plans and other reward systems violate this last principle by their very nature!”
Peter Senge comments that: “People don’t resist change; they resist being changed.”
And Bob Buckman says: “Our approach to KM is far more than stick or carrot. We say: ‘Knowledge sharing is your job. Do it! As a reward you may keep your job’.”
In my view we need to jointly understand our business and our world better and then we will see more clearly what needs to be done for ourselves.
How do we better understand things? Through being involved and engaged in the world and through open conversation. By:
Engaging with and involving each other;
Having open conversations with each other;
Listening to each other;
Showing each other respect;
Helping each other find our voices;
Showing genuine interest in each other;
Supporting each other;
Trusting in each other;
Giving each other responsibility;
Recognising each other’s contributions;
Creating opportunities for self-fulfillment and personal development for each other;
Not trying to tell each other what to do.
We need to understand that we cannot motivate another person, as motivation is intrinsic. People have to find it for themselves. All we can do is help them find it.
So we shouldn’t deliberately do these things to motivate people – that’s not motivation, it’s manipulation. We should do them because we genuinely care in their development. It’s more akin to the love and care we might show for a child than anything else.
David Gurteen is founder of Gurteen Knowledge. He can be contacted at email@example.com
Kohn, Alfie., Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A’s, Praise and Other Bribes, Houghton Mifflin, March 2000.