“This is just how it is” - Why staying with the status quo will cost you

Posted by Justin Perun on Apr 10, 2019 11:16:57 AM

“I’m really concerned with the new compensation plan that’s been put into place,” I said to my former Head of Sales.

“Ok…” she answered, waiting for me to elaborate.

Taking the cue, I continued on, “I think it’s using fear as a way to motivate behavior. This isn’t in line with our company or what we advocate for. Does this concern you?”

“This is sales, Justin. This is just how it is,” she responded.

“Why? Why does this have to be how it is?” I answered back.

Defending her position, she tells me it’s simply industry standard. Other companies have put very similar plans in place and if it’s good enough for them, it should be good enough for me.

Pushing back on that I say, “Why does it matter what other companies are doing? Why are we using that as a justification for the way we’re operating? There’s an incredible amount of information out there that’s proven otherwise. Research, actual studies, have shown the use of fear, punishment, negative consequences, whatever you want to call it, will not lead to lasting results. At best you’re getting short-term resentful compliance.”

As the conversation drifted toward a more emotional state, the Head of Sales finally threw her arms into the air and said, “Well what do you want me to do?! This is the best we have right now and it’s what we’re going with. I’m not changing the plan.”

With that, the conversation came to a close and so did my hope for creating a change in the organization.

The impact of leadership

Your leadership will have an integral effect on how well you can execute on your projects because you rely on people. Effective leaders get the best out of their people. Ineffective leaders can demotivate, disengage, and demoralize those under them.

An effective leader is able to foster an environment in which their people are genuinely excited and passionate about their work. They’re free to be creative, work in the best way they know how, and are trusted to get the job done without having trivial policies put into place. Your leadership style will shape the environment your people work in, and the environment your people work in will directly affect their performance.

In this instalment, I want to discuss why our well-intentioned ‘Motivation 2.0’ leadership strategies will fail us. The above conversation is an example of a leader who I believe has no intention of causing harm to her employees by putting into place punitive measures. In fact, I believe she wants the best for her people and for the company. The trouble is, Motivation 2.0 methods will have the opposite effect.

3 reasons Motivation 2.0 no longer works

As a quick recap from the last post, Motivation 2.0 methods follow this line of thinking: Reward the behavior you want to see, and you’ll see more of it. Punish the behavior you don’t want to see, and you’ll see less of it. You rely on carrots and sticks. This worked well in the industrial age where the landscape of work was different than it is now, but what our work requires of us today has changed, and our leadership strategies need to adjust accordingly.

Motivation 2.0 suffers from three compatibility problems.

  1. How we organize what we do.
    1. Work is not always done for financial gain alone. Look at open-source projects (Wikipedia, Firefox, free online cookbooks, car designs, photographs, etc.). There’s no external reward for this work, it’s driven intrinsically. This makes Motivation 2.0 strategies obsolete.

Takeaway: The carrot is not as appealing as it once was.

2. How we think about what we do

Motivation 2.0 assumes our decisions and behaviors are predictable and robotic, always choosing what maximizes our wealth. Economics (the study of behavior) has proven differently. There are many human ‘irrational’ factors in play that guide our decisions (purpose, fulfilment, enjoyment, etc.). With that being the case, motivation 2.0 falls short here as well.

Takeaway: People don’t respond rationally to the carrot or the stick. We can’t predict or control their response. 

  3. How we do what we do

Formerly it was believed that work consisted mainly of mundane, uninteresting tasks. Today, however, our work has become more complex, more interesting, and more self-directed. This work itself is motivating. Motivation 2.0 hinges on the belief work is dull and boring, and in order for people to work hard and give their best effort, they must be motivated externally. When we add a reward or potential punishment to our work, it turns it from enjoyable to discouraging.

Takeaway: The carrot (or stick) dilutes intrinsic motivation.

Looking at the three points above, here’s what we know:  1) a main driver of our behavior stems from within ourselves, 2) we cannot control our employees’ behavior as well as we thought, and 3) Motivation 2.0 doesn’t work for the types of jobs people have today.

So if you can’t leverage bonuses, commission structures, penalties, or free snacks to get the best of your people, what can you do? As Daniel Pink describes in Drive, we need to help people find their Purpose, Autonomy, and Mastery.

Create an environment that gives your people the ability to operate with some level of autonomy. No one is a fan of being micro-managed. Continue to invest in your people, and help them on their path to mastery. Coach them, delegate responsibilities strategically to push them to grow in areas they’re passionate about. Give feedback along the way and help them to be accountable to themselves for goals they set. Finally, and potentially the most challenging aspect, is to help them find their purpose. Why are they coming into work? What makes them tick? How does their job align with their values and create a sense of meaning, importance, and fulfilment?

In the next instalment, I’ll be sharing another short story of how my direct superior created an enriching environment through his ability to coach, give feedback, delegate, and help hold me accountable to my personal goals. As a result of his leadership style, when he needed me to work my hardest and do everything I could for the company, all he needed to do was ask.

Please check in next week to learn more about how he led his team and the significant impact and influence he had on those around him. As always, feel free to ask any questions and leave any feedback. Thanks for reading!

Topics: Productivity, Leadership