Motivation is often tempered by the lack of credibility of the management (directives). However, the incentives that management selects should do exactly that: motivate you to turn in a certain direction. The fact is that many times the reward system -on the one hand- and the communicated strategy -on the other- do not always coincide. This is for the organization.
On a personal level you will find the same relationship; What do you value and whose voice do you listen to?
Steven Kerr investigated this relationship and wrote the article entitled: “On the folly of rewarding A while waiting for B.” (Published in: Academy of Management Executive, 1995 Vol. 9 No. I);
… it is hardly controversial to state that most organisms seek information about what activities are rewarded and then seek to do (or at least pretend to do) those things, often to the virtual exclusion of unrewarded activities. … There are numerous examples of reward systems that are clustered in that the types of behavior rewarded are those that the rewarder is trying to discourage, while the desired behavior is not rewarded at all.
Kerr describes various examples of “tangled systems” in politics, warfare, medicine, universities, consulting, sports, government, and business, and he does not escape criticism either. One of these examples in the University field shows the reality of the Professor who is awarded for (the number of) publications, but that the university values (more) the teaching quality. Together these do not fit. The teacher will concentrate more on the publication task.
In addition, it provides an overview of “common management reward follies” such as We expect long-term growth and environmental responsibility, but we often reward quarterly earnings. Or along the same lines, we expect teamwork, but we reward individual effort.
Kerr mentions four causes
- Fascination for an “Objective” Criterion; “Many managers seek to establish simple, quantifiable standards against which to measure and reward performance.”
- Excessive emphasis on highly visible behaviors; “Difficulties often arise from the fact that some parts of the task are highly visible while others are not. For example, posts are easier to demonstrate than to teach.”
- Hypocrisy; how we really know if the desired behavior was really desired.
- Emphasis on morality or fairness rather than efficiency
So what’s a manager to do about it? According to Kerr, managers need to explore what types of behavior are currently being rewarded. There’s a good chance these managers will be surprised to find that their companies aren’t rewarding what they’re supposed to be. The same thing happens when you try to influence the culture in some way where the structure of an organization is just dictating the opposite direction.
This is not to say that all organizational behavior is determined by formal rewards and punishments… For an organization to act on its members, the formal reward system must positively reinforce desired behavior, not be an obstacle to be overcome.
Credibility is always at stake; whether you are a manager or when you manage only yourself. The type of job is often the first thing you need to address. Teaching is a support function governed by qualitative standards. Research, on the other hand, produces and hears the rules of quantity first. You must know what your strategic direction is. If you know that, the incentives (the style) should point in the same direction. What is your incentive? The smile of a student or the money at the end of the month?
The first question in motivation is: what do I really want? Do I listen to an internal voice that values teaching (for example), or do I listen to the market (money) that values more the productive work of a researcher? Or whatever resemblance best suits your situation. If motivation is really a problem, then you know what to do.
© 2006 Hans Bool