Did you know there is an industry out there that will match extrinsic rewards to a company’s culture and thereby drive performance? They call themselves “full service incentive firms” and claim to motivate and help retain employees with items like “Michael Kors handbags, Kate Spades accessories and beats by Dr.Dre headphones.” (Bloomberg BusinessWeek, July 2014).
The only problem is that the research by Harlow (1951), Levinson (1973) and Deci (1975, 1995) shows that extrinsic rewards only work if you need tasks done harder or faster. However, if the work is complex and cognitive, extrinsic rewards don’t work.
Colorfully, Levinson refers to this as the “Great Jackass Fallacy”. Put a carrot at the end of a stick. Now, complete the image and what’s chasing the carrot? A Jackass, of course.
If you think of your employees as jackasses and want to motivate them, well, dangle a carrot out there for them to chase. But, if you really want to waste your money, gild the carrot and give your team Dr. Dre headphones.
The key to driving performance that requires behaviors like problem solving and creative thinking is rewards that are intrinsic in nature. Psychologists have known this for years. Indeed, that is not a typo in the second paragraph on Harlow’s research. He published a paper and first used term “intrinsic reward” in 1951 *.
Based on science and not empty promises, our Adaptable Leader program provides insights and tools to identify what is intrinsically rewarding for each team member. We guarantee that it will work and will be far less expensive than handing out $500 headphones. If you want to find out more click here and dial down to the last course description. https://www.tildensst.com/course-descriptions.
* One of Harlow’s findings was that laboratory chimpanzees started to solve puzzles before rewards like bananas were introduced. “The performance of the task provided an intrinsic reward.’, he wrote.