October 16, 2012

Thanks, I needed that

On Monday, I received a reminder email from our head of marketing that it was a blog week and I had one due on Friday. Some weeks I have an idea ready to go, but this week I emailed back, "I’ve got nothin’," and began to get stressed about it. I don’t get paid for doing my blog, so why do I do it when it’s just one more thing to jam into my busy life?! This happens about every third blog when I seem to be lacking ideas and it becomes very stressful.

Later that night, I was invited to a dinner meeting of the local Financial Executives International chapter and was talking with a client of ours. He told me, unsolicited, that he really likes my blog and has even sent it out to his entire staff. This feedback was just what I needed to reenergize and motivate me, and it seems to happen every time I’m about to throw in the towel.

So what’s the lesson? Maybe it’s that we get what we need, just when we need it. But I think there’s another lesson. In a book I just read, Drive, the author, Daniel Pink, talks about motivation and compensation. Research showed that in specifically defined “task”-oriented work, financial incentives work as a positive external motivator (i.e., paying x dollars for every widget produced). However, in more creative endeavors where there are many possible ways to get to the desired outcome, it’s internal motivation that matters and financial incentives can actually be detrimental. In those situations, positive feedback and recognition are more rewarding and important to reinforcing success.

So since blogging is a creative type of activity, the positive feedback I received is exactly the type of “reward” I needed to keep me going. (So, In Business, you can relax, I’m not fishing to get paid for blogging!)

As business leaders and managers, we must recognize the different activities our staffs work on and make sure the appropriate incentives are in place. If you have staff whose output or error rate can be quantified (like on an assembly line or as with some sales teams), giving your employees a financial incentive to hit a desired number can definitely increase results.

But if you run an advertising agency and you try to motivate your creative staff to come up with a great idea by offering a cash prize to the employee with the best idea, you may find your staff experiencing writer’s block. Similarly, if you are a business owner wrestling with how to execute a complex strategic business issue, you won’t be able to increase the speed and quality at which your staff solves the problem by simply promising a bonus to the member with the best idea. Instead, you may be better off allowing your staff to brainstorm – maybe offsite and in environments they personally find inspirational (for me, that would be on my bike on a country road!) and then recognizing the job well done.

As business managers, we were taught that if you dangle financial incentives in front of people you will get the performance you desire – but that’s not always the best motivator. And even more so for me, I need to keep this in mind as I have high expectations and don’t naturally tend to give people a lot of positive strokes. So as you think about activities you’re personally or professionally engaged in, and especially if you are a supervisor, make sure you are using the right tool/reward/feedback to give people what they need to keep them motivated.

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