posted 25 May 2010 in Volume 13 Issue 7
(Not) in it for the money
If you think that you need to incentivise people to guarantee motivation then something might be wrong, according to David Gurteen
Some time ago I was chatting to a knowledge manager and he told me that his organisation had a community of practice (COP) programme, which was not running well.
He asked how the organisation might incentivise the people who formed the communities as they were not engaged and were not turning up to meetings.
I asked why he thought that people needed motivating in this way. Indeed, it seemed that management was already trying to incentivise people by setting them up to compete with each other – in a situation where the ‘winning’ team would receive a trip abroad – but it was not working.
My reply was that it did not necessarily mean that incentives were the answer (even if the organisation was assuming that incentives actually work, which I don’t think they do).
I told him that he needed to understand exactly why people were not engaging and he asked how he could do that.
I suggested that he asked them, but that did not seem to impress him. So I asked him to answer a few questions for me, which I’ve listed below:
Are they busy? Oh yes, exceptionally busy – it’s a very difficult, demanding organisation;
So they don’t have much spare time? That’s right;
Was setting up the COPs their idea? Oh no, it was a senior management initiative. All the COPs were determined by the managers and people were told which ones they belonged to;
What’s the purpose of the COPs? I’m not sure what you mean;
What were the expected business outcomes? Well, more sharing and engagement of course;
But those aren’t business outcomes – and what did you tell the participants was in it for them?
He wasn’t very clear at all on the answers to any of those questions! So I moved on.
“Okay,” I said. “So, you say that this was a senior management idea. How often do they start initiatives like this and how long do they last?”
The response was that management started such programmes all the time, but after a while they lost momentum and faded out.
In summary, staff had no say in how the COPs were set up; the business value (or the personal value) was not explained to them individually; they were all ultra-busy; and, past initiatives such as this had usually faded away. I suggested that the knowledge manager actually had all the answers to his questions, without without even having to ask them! Clearly, incentives would never be the answer as there was no logical way in which to apply them.
“So, what’s the solution?” he said. “Well quite simply, you need to stop trying to do things to them and start to work with them,” I replied.
I explained that the organisation needed to talk openly with its staff, rather than simply making assumptions, no matter how well-founded it thought they might be. If the staff were really that busy, a dialogue was required to find out what their problems were and how the organisation could work with them to help. It’s not rocket science. It’s very easy really.
This situation occurred a couple of years ago now, but every so often I am reminded of it by very similar conversations I have.
I think there are two messages here. First, never assume things about people’s motivation, and second, don’t jump to the conclusion that it is lack of motivation. It is too easy to think the worst of people – to assume that they are lazy.
If you ever think you need to incentivise or attempt to motivate people then something is very wrong, as demonstrated in the story above.
David Gurteen is founder of Gurteen Knowledge and a member of the Inside Knowledge editorial board. He can be contacted via his website at www.gurteen.com