No reward for innovation
“Traditional carrot and stick methodology has been around for a long, long time and it does work—to an extent,” says 15Five CEO David Hassell. “But you’re never going to get the best from people.”
In a world of rapid change, innovation needs to be a priority for any company or manager. Whether it is improving efficiency, adapting to an evolving market, or simply growing as an organization, innovation is an asset. Unfortunately, many managers and their teams struggle to incorporate the right blend of productivity, and resilience, necessary to be adaptive to change as well as high performing over time. And all too often, it comes down to misunderstanding motivation, and where it should come from.
From Employee of the Month plaques to the promise of a Christmas bonus, there is a long tradition of relying on prizes of one sort or another to spur workers on to greater heights of accomplishment. These incentives are supported by an intuitive logic: people work to get paid; pay people more, and they will work more or harder.
While performance-based rewards are popular and even have their applications, they can actually be a death sentence to innovation and culture in the longer run.
As the founder and CEO of a Silicon Valley start-up, Hassell works with companies struggling with organizational culture, so he gets to see a wide range of business models in his work—and the problems that different strategies carry with them.
“Once people have basic security, money as an extrinsic motivator drops way down [in effectiveness],” Hassell explains.
So how does motivation relate to innovation?
“Fear and creativity don’t mix; and if you are trying to incentivize someone, they are just going to be focused on the reward,” says Hassell. “If you can get someone to do their best work because they believe in something, you’re going to get amazing results.”
For an example, it is instructive to look outside of the workplace, to another place where leadership frequently struggles to engage and motivate: the classroom.
Gamification—which simply means to format tasks as a sort of game, or even build a gaming platform around a project—is emerging as a cutting edge technique for getting students stimulated, excited, and personally invested in their learning. Thanks to technology and an increasing acceptance of the approach, gamification is making strides at every educational level and institution from grade schools to online universities.
Turning lessons into games makes learning personal—and the rewards, intangible. Instead of doing just enough to get by, the gaming experience turns work into fun, and advancement into its own reward. Engaged students are naturally curious, rather than worrying about grades or making it through the next exam.
In the professional world, engagement can be just as elusive (or artificial) as it is in a boring classroom. Getting to a place where motivations are intrinsic, rather than extrinsic, goes deeper than simply filing a position or adjusting your management style. Successful companies make engagement and cultural fit a key aspect of hiring. By recruiting individuals who are a great cultural fit, leadership can better ensure that everyone on the team has an intrinsic interest in their work.
“It is much easier to hire people with common values than to try to fit people into an existing culture,” Hassell says. “One of the biggest mistakes companies make all the time is to hire for skill. Skill is very important, but it is secondary to culture.”
With cultural fit acting as a key hiring (and firing) metric, productivity gets a natural boost—without the need for additional rewards (or alternatively, threats) to keep the workforce motivated. And with the whole team working cohesively, united by a common goal and a shared cultural foundation, problem-solving and adapting to change occurs in greater harmony.
In essence, rather than compelling employees and team to tolerate change, maintain productivity, and get along, the culturally unified organization will be naturally adaptive, collaborative, and motivated. The obstacles of disruption which are so common and confounding today pose greater threat to a team that doesn’t share values. But with a common mission, resilience in the face of change becomes a cultural pillar.