Dan Airely, Richard Thaley, Cass Sunstein, Daniel Kahneman, Ran Kivitz, and many more psychology and behavioral economics researchers have shown that while we like to think of ourselves as rational, thinking human beings who are out to optimize our well being, we aren’t.
In fact, we are very far from it.
Sharon Begley at Newsweek wrote this interesting blog “The Limits of Reason” in it, she states, “But as psychologists have been documenting since the 1960s, humans are really, really bad at reasoning. It’s not just that we follow our emotions so often, in contexts from voting to ethics. No, even when we intend to deploy the full force of our rational faculties, we are often as ineffectual as eunuchs at an orgy.”
We see this all the time. I wrote about it in my earlier post from today “5 Lessons from the Maze.” We tend to act and behave in very non-rational ways. There are lots of irrational types of behavior and thinking and lots of theory’s about them (i.e., Loss Aversion, Status Quo Bias, Gambler’s Fallacy, Hedonistic Bias, Anchoring, Reciprocity, Inequity Aversion, etc…).
Here is what is interesting – we tend to still design our incentive programs and our motivational strategies based on believing that people act in a rational manner. We create programs that have 10 different ways to earn, with multipliers, qualifiers, and ratchet effects. We create programs with multiple components and factors that we think will drive specific behaviors and elicit particular performance results. We believe we know what people want and use only extrinsic rewards to drive our results.
As some of you might know, I am working on my PhD in I/O Psychology and have been for many years. Too many years actually – which is why I think my wife insisted that I attend a five day Dissertation Writers Retreat held by Capella University just outside of Chicago. So for the last five days I’ve been working on Chapter 4 of my dissertation which is the results section. I’ve been having a blast inputting data, crunching numbers, running statistical tests and analyzing the results and what I found out is surprising…at least it was for me.
The first drive in the Four Drive Model of Employee Motivation is the drive to Acquire & Achieve. This is typically the drive that most organizations focus on when they are trying to find a lever to influence employee motivation.
However, companies often get too caught up in the financial aspects of this drive (i.e., how much of a raise can we give, what is our targeted incentive/bonus payout, etc…).
The following are three quick tips to help you think about how to impact this drive and increase employee motivation.
1.It’s not just about the money. It is so much more…This drive also includes the drive to achieve. Achievement takes on a number of different forms. Think about this in terms of grades – there is no monetary component to this, yet we are driven to try to get an A. In organizations, recognition is a very powerful motivator because it recognizes individuals or group achievement (kind of like a report card). Organizations can tap into the drive to achieve by focusing on ensuring that recognition is done correctly (e.g., timely, relevant, and appropriate to the effort/result).
Achievement is also about setting realistic goals that can be achieved. Short-term milestones are elements to use to help keep this drive up. One way to think about this is to think about the need to reinforce achievement on at minimum every 5 weeks. If you don’t have a milestones set up that fall within that time frame, you will tend to lose people. Make sure that you celebrate those milestones as well. One thing that we are trying to get better at The Lantern Group is celebrating when a project or milestone is done. We get so caught up in the next project or next event that we don’t take the time to stop and congratulate ourselves on a job well done.
2. Add Some Perks. While we tend to focus on the big items like pay and bonuses with this drive, some of the more powerful levers that we get to pull are smaller “perks” such as office space, titles, parking spots, flexibility to work from home and other things that help satisfy the Achieve drive.
In addition, there are a number of small perks that also tie into the Acquire side of the equation, such as pizza Fridays, movie days, lunch seminars, discounts on classes, days off, foosball or pool in the office, employee of the month/quarter/year… You will notice that a number of these also contribute to the other three drives of Bond & Belong, Challenge & Comprehend, and Define & Defendsee also Four Drive Model
3. Improve your Total Rewards Communication. Too many times we’ve worked with companies that offer fantastic total rewards – not just their base salary, but their benefits, bonus programs, culture and recognition opportunities; however, no one at the company knows about these programs! This is because they are outlined in a legal terms in a five different 50 page HR documents. It is vital that you market what you are providing to people in a way that will capture their attention and convey the big picture.That means that you have to overcome silos within the organization and market your Total Rewards as a comprehensive program that highlights the offerings from across the organization.
Also, make sure that your Total Reward communications are not just a one-time effort at the beginning of the year, but instead a campaign that highlights various aspects of your offering throughout the year and keeps people engaged and charged up.
While the concept behind these ideas is simple, the implementation of them isn’t always as easy. If you need help, please give us a call. We can help you work through the issues and improve your employee’s motivation!
Salespeople who are engaged in their roles, who are motivated to succeed, and who’s goals are aligned with the organizational goals have been shown to have a significant impact on helping an organization succeed (Badovick, Hadaway, & Kaminski, 1992). Successful organizations understand this and try to keep their sales employees motivated and engaged through a variety of motivational methods – mostly involving extrinsic rewards. While much has been much written about how extrinsic rewards may have a detrimental effect of on a sales person’s intrinsic motivation (Deci & Ryan, Kohn, or Pink) there is little disagreement on the short-term impact that extrinsic rewards can have on a company’s performance. The short-term benefit of extrinsic rewards assures us that these rewards will be used in businesses no matter what Alfie Kohn or Dan Pink has to say on the topic.
It is important then that we get sales incentives right. We need to ensure that as leaders, we are not limited in our thinking about how we can structure sales incentives and how they operate. We must look at optimizing how our incentive plans are designed, the type of reward that is offered, and how goals are set.
Extrinsic Reward Program Structure
There is a very clear framework, based on the research that suggests that extrinsic reward programs should be designed such that the rewards are contingent on achieving increasing performance goals. By doing this, companies not only limit the negative impact that extrinsic rewards can have an intrinsic motivation, they also increase the actual performance that extrinsic rewards drive. This means that the use of non-contingent incentive rewards should be limited. It means that incentive plans that are strictly “do this – get that” are not optimal. Contests that rank people against one another also are not optimal as they only provide feedback that the sales person did better than the others – not against a goal.
Extrinsic Reward Type
The typical reward for performance is usually cash. When surveyed, over 70% of sales people indicate that they would prefer cash. However, there have been studies that show non-cash rewards (i.e., trips, merchandise) have a bigger impact on performance than cash alone. This does not mean that one would replace their annual sales incentive programs cash bonus with rewards of trips and tv’s – but it does mean there should probably be a mix. It should also be noted, that sometimes extrinsic rewards are based on fulfilling the drive for Achievement and as such, do not require significant outlays of dollars – recognition of performance by senior leaders can be a significant motivator for sales people.
A majority of sales incentive plans have goals that are provided to individuals. Goals are good – they have been shown to increase performance across a myriad of environments (see Locke and Lathum). However, we’ve seen significant backlash against goals when they are not understood or felt to be so out of reach as to be laughable. The negative impact of this can outweigh any positive motivation that you get from the incentives. Goals must be understood and bought into (i.e., perceived as fair) to be effective. There are a number of ways that companies can do this, but they often require changing systems and processes that have been in place for years. The key is to get the setting of individual sales goals to be as close to the sales representatives as possible, while still ensuring that they align with the company sales objectives. The science (or art) of this can be very daunting – but trust me, I’ve seen it done. One simple way to help is to provide a means for front-level managers to effectively shift quota from one territory to another but provide mechanisms to ensure fairness.
Of course extrinsic rewards are just one piece of the motivational puzzle and shouldn’t be used as the only lever to drive motivation and engagement. The key is to ensure that the incentives are right and that they do not detract from the other methods of motivation.
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