Over the past few years, we have seen a shift in how organizations value their internal communications. In the past, employee focused communications were often an afterthought. Companies would spend significant time, effort and money on developing out their incentive plans, making sure they were designed to drive the right behaviors and performance, only to communicate it to the field in an e-mail with a 30-page, single-spaced legal contract attached.
Category: Leadership Page 2 of 8
Kurt Nelson, PhD and Ben Granlund
As part of our exhibit booth at the World at Work 2016 Total Rewards Conference, we designed a method for giving away our promotional t-shirts that simultaneously acted as an experiment to help us understand what motivates people.
What we found out was intriguing and reinforces some key behavioral insights about intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, recognizing accomplishments and having specific goals.
Our process involved a stationary bike that was hooked up to a bank of LED lights1 – the faster and longer you peddled, the more lights lit up, sounds basic enough right?
The six LED light panels set up on a vertical pole that lit up from the bottom to the top – once all six lights were lit up, all the lights flashed and the process was over.
We set our process up a little differently
To earn a very cool “Behavior Matters” t-shirt, all people needed to do was get on the bike and light up one of the lights.
We did not require that people light all six lights, and we did not assign a time length for peddling to earn a t-shirt. All they had to do was light up one light – a relatively easy process.
Additionally, people could get their name written on our leader board if they were one of the five fastest people to light up all the lights. This white board with hand written names on it was updated whenever someone earned one of the top five spots.
Our original concept was to have people read one of two sets of written rules – one positive and encouraging; the other bland and discouraging. The intent was to see if the different messages impacted how people performed or felt about the activity. We quickly realized that our original plans were not working – too many people wanted to ride the bike and the process ended up being us telling participants the rules instead of them reading them thus invalidating the initial study.
Luckily for us, this is where things got interesting!
While the original communication experiment didn’t pan out, we were still able to gather very interesting findings. Specifically we were intrigued by some of the insights we gained into extrinsic and intrinsic motivation, the power of leader boards, and the impact that specific goals have on performance. First, let’s look at the overall results:
A total of 103 people rode the bike over the two days the exhibit hall was open (some participants rode multiple times). Their performance is shown in table below.
|Highest number of lights lit up||1||2||3||4||5||6|
|# of people achieving level||1||0||6||14||34||48|
|% of people achieving level||0.9%||0.0%||5.8%||13.6%||33.0%||46.6%|
|Average time to reach level
The average ride time was 31.7 seconds – with the fastest time being 4.8 seconds and the longest time being 80 seconds. There is some obvious differences based on physical fitness here as shown by the inverse time required to reach the different levels of lights (i.e., more time on average to reach 3 lights than 4 lights, etc.) which played out in how well people did.
Do you just want a shirt or are you looking for something more?
We needed to have an incentive to get most people on the bike. True, there were some who just wanted to get on the bike and see how many lights they could get, but the vast majority of the people got on the bike to earn the t-shirt. In other words, they needed an extrinsic reward to participate.
But that’s not the interesting part…
The interesting part was that only one person stopped at the first light (1 out of 103, that’s less than 1%)! Once they were on, the majority of participants moved past the threshold for earning a t-shirt and continued peddling to see what they could do. This was not easy – we had the settings on the bike be rather hard. This meant that peddling for more than 15 seconds was difficult for most non-athletes.
We believe once they started the activity, they intrinsic motivation of the bike kicked in. The lights tracked their progress immediately and they could directly see how they were doing against the goal. They wanted to see what they could accomplish. They no longer worried about the t-shirt – but instead, focused on the event.
In other words, they challenged themselves to see how many lights could they light up?
They had already committed to participate in order to acquire a t-shirt (the reward) – now they were pushing beyond what was required for the shirt because of the challenge that they were presented with. If we think about the 4-Drive Model of Employee Motivation (for more info see here, here, here) we see that the Acquire component was instrumental in the motivation to initiate the event, but the ongoing motivation was propelled by the intrinsic drive to Challenge oneself and see how they could do.
The idea of using an extrinsic motivator to entice people to participate in programs or activities that they are not excited about and then allowing their natural Challenge drive take-over should not be undervalued. Additionally, the more that a program uses a measure of goal progression, highlighting an individual’s progress, the more a participants Challenge drive is activated. In other words, the design of your extrinsic incentive program can impact the intrinsic motivation that is activated. Finding cohesion between these extrinsic and intrinsic motivators can certainly help drive the right behaviors.
What’s up with the leader board?
We had a leader board where riders got their name featured if they were one of the five fastest people to light up all six lights. They did not earn any additional extrinsic reward for being on the leader board – no fancy give-away, no grand prize, not even an extra t-shirt.
So did it make a difference?
Please join us in welcoming Tim Holdgrafer to The Lantern Group team. Tim joined the team last month as our sales director in the Midwest region. He will be responsible for managing all of our new sales for our Motivation, Team and Workshop solutions.
He brings over 20 years of experience in delivering financial services and business solutions to a wide range of clients from large multinational companies to local start-ups and entrepreneurs.
Tim has a passion for driving change within an organization.
Additionally, Tim is an experienced facilitator having worked with The Lantern Group since 2014 helping deliver some of our most exciting and challenging team building programs.
Tim earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Minnesota – Carlson School of Management and is a long suffering Gopher football fan. In his spare time he enjoys staying active through running, softball, golf and playing hockey every sunday night. He uses his team building and leadership experience to help his coaching of youth soccer and hockey in Minneapolis as well as being the Cubmaster for over 90 young boys. When he has some downtime, he also enjoys reading and researching genealogy. Tim is married and has three fantastic boys.
Please give a big welcome to Tim!
I’ve been reading a lot of books and articles lately on willpower. It is incredible the new research on willpower and how we can build our willpower reserves up and how they get worn down. I am fascinated by the larger impact of this research and the implications that it has on our ability to change. It is fairly evident that the more willpower one has and that one applies to their change process, the more likely that change will occur.
I had a client send me an e-mail the other day – with this question – “Whose job is it to motivate?” Here is the response that I sent her…
“Whose job is it to motivate?
This was an interesting question – one that, at first glance, seemed like it could be quickly answered if I did not spend too much time thinking about it. So I spent some time thinking on it…and like the proverbial onion, it has many layers.
A quick response would be that it is the manager’s job to motivate. They are in charge of their team of people and one of the responsibilities that they have is to make sure that their team is doing their job. You get people to do their job by motivating them. As a manager, you are likely to be in control of many of the motivational levers that organizations typically use, such as performance ratings, incentive components, special role assignments, recognition and a host of other tools that are designed to help motivate employees. As a manager, you are often the closest link to the organization that employees have – as such, you are key to ensuring that they know the strategy and vision for the company.
So the job of motivating is the managers….
Except that when you peel away another layer, and ask the question, “can a manager really motivate his or her employees?” This comes down to a theoretical question about our ability or lack of ability to really motivate another person? Sure, you can motivate through fear and intimidation, but those are not typically the types of motivational forces that we think of when we think of a manager (outside of the threat of firing). The question is revolves around the idea of having someone else motivate me or do I need to motivate myself. You can put all of the rewards and accolades in front of me, but if I choose not to be motivated by that, then is there anything that you can do to motivate me?
Think about this in another way as a hypothetical question – what would motivate you to bring great physical harm to another person? Would any amount of money sway you to do that? Would any type of promotion or praise get you to do this? Probably not. You would have to have an intrinsic motivation to be able to do this (if even that would suffice for many people).
If we go down this path, then motivation is self-derived and is ultimately the job of the employee…
However, you peel away another layer and look at the role that our environment plays in our behavior and attitudes. For instance, we know that people eat more when their plate is larger – even if they are not motivated to do so, or more ominously, motivated to not eat more (i.e., on a diet). It has been shown that the work environment that we are in can have a significant impact on our attitudes and ultimately our performance. We know that people’s behavior is changed when they are presented with an incentive or reward for doing something. Studies, as well as our own experience, show that we will work longer, harder and more tenaciously if we know that there will be a luxurious reward as the result of our effort. This points to the fact that a company’s leadership and the culture, environment, systems and processes that they develop are key to motivation.
Taking that line of thought, it is leadership’s job to motivate…
Except they do not often have an immediate presence or interaction with the employees. That is relegated to the manager and how those systems, environments and culture are interpreted often relies on their actual practice of them…so we are back to the manager…and to the individual…
Ultimately, it comes down to a combination of all three. That the job of motivating is everyone’s job.
This is not a simple matter to say that “motivation” falls within someone’s job description…it is indeed a larger issue that has its roots in so much of what everyone in the company does every day. We know that employees are complex individuals. That each of us is driven by different needs and different goals. The Four Drive Model helps us put those drives into categories, but those drives are still hugely complex in their nature, and that it takes a large amount of effort by the company, managers and individuals to really motivate us to our fullest potential.
Ok – hope I didn’t get too long winded or philosophical and that this was insightful to you…
Let me know if you have further questions.
Kurt Nelson, PhD.”
For the past two years, in addition to my regular day job, I’ve been researching what it takes for people to make meaningful and purposeful change.
It has been fascinating.
I’ve talked with a number of people about their change journeys. I’ve read countless books and journal articles on change. I’ve been introduced to a number of new insights from neuroscience, motivational theory, behavioral economics and habit formation that, when brought together, can have a huge impact on how people can effectively change. I have identified what I think are six major components that help drive successful change.
I’ve lived this, breathed it, and dreamed it…
I’ve not been able to keep my own change habits going.
At the beginning of the year I had set out to write five pages a week on change (not quite a New Years resolution, but very close). I thought that would be a manageable goal and one that would allow me have enough material for a book on change by the end of the year.
Five pages a week isn’t even a page a day – how hard could that be?
Well it was hard. Very hard.
So on Friday night, around 7:00 PM, I will board a plane and fly for over 20 hours to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia to conduct a workshop on Sales Incentive Management for a group of various executives from around southern Asia whom I’ve never met and the only interaction I’ve had with the organizers is via e-mail.
And no…I did not wire them any money in advance. In fact, they wired me money.
The saga began back in December 19th when I was busy with a number of other programs. Going through my e-mail quickly, there was one that almost got put in the trash immediately “Trainer invite for Sale Compensation Management.” It started out, “Dear Mr. Nelson, Good day to you. We are pleased to formally invite you, on behalf of UNI Strategic, to be the trainer four our 2 day training on Sales Compensation Management…” It went on to talk about what they wanted and how they “specialize in the provision of business-to-business intelligence.” It was signed by Ramesh, Conference Producer.