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Internet Marketing and Web Development in Higher Education and other tidbits…

Salary versus Autonomy

22 Sep 2009

written by Nikki Massaro Kauffman

Salary versus Autonomy

Like many of you, I’ve read Michael Fienen’s Equal Pay for Equal Work post from a few weeks ago.  (It’s worth a look, if you haven’t read it.)  If we want to recruit experts, it would make sense that we may have to lure them in with expert-level pay.  (I’d add to this that depending on the position that we should also do much broader candidate searches than just listing opportunities for a week or two on your university’s Web site.)

Let’s face it: money is one powerful motivator.  If you have a financial need for a minimum salary, all the other perks of the job will not enable you to accept.  When you are interviewing prospective employers trying to get a feel for the job, you have very little information and first impressions are crucial.  A salary offer could be interpreted as how you would be valued by the organization, and a lowball initial offer may be a bad first impression.

But what happens if you are hired as an expert (maybe even paid as an expert), and not treated as a an expert?  What amount of money does it take to sell your soul to the zombie Web committee?  In higher ed, we hire experts, but we don’t use their expertise.  Instead we form large committees, seek consultants, and gather more data.  We don’t make changes. We don’t take risks.  We don’t want to draw too much attention to our work.

In his TED talk The Science of Motivation, Dan Pink argues that in creative work, money is not an effective motivator; autonomy is.  While salary may get people in the door, autonomy keeps people from walking out of it.  We need to trust our experts. What are your thoughts?

Revolving doors photo by jlcwalker / CC BY 2.0

The content of this post is licensed: ©2009 All Rights Reserved


About the author

Nikki Massaro Kauffman

Nikki is a multimedia specialist with Penn State's World Campus Learning Design unit, creating and editing multimedia for online courses.

Previously, she was technology training coordinator with the Penn State University Libraries, responsible for technology training offered in the Libraries' 20+ departments and 30+ library locations.  

Over the years, she's been she served as an interim associate director of instructional technology and multimedia, a programmer, a database specialist, a Microsoft Certified Master Instructor, a continuing education instructor for seniors and adults with disabilities, and a high school English and communications technology teacher.  

Her interests are in the areas where technology, training, and communication intersect.  She holds degrees in both computer science and in education.  She is also an insomniac and an extreme extrovert with an indiscriminate love of language (including expletives).

This post was written by - who has written 42 posts on .eduGuru


  • Kyle Johnson

    I don’t deny that experts are, well, experts in their field, but they are one person. It seems a contradiction for web/social media experts to continually talk about the wisdom of the crowd and then be unwilling to engage a crowd (i.e committee) for its collective wisdom.

    What you need to look at is how committees are formed and ensure a diversity of opinion (one of the prerequisites for crowd wisdom to work) and understand the expert’s role as facilitator.

    • http://www.fienen.com/ Michael Fienen

      I think that’s the inherent problem though. Any average campus is not capable of putting together a “web committee” that contains the necessary traits to be truly useful. There’s too much politics involved, and too large a lack of qualified individuals. Plus, to me, engaging the crowd means engaging your audience, which is students, not a group of faculty/staff who like to play internet expert.

  • http://www.city-of-hotels.com/ Paul Jefferson

    That is correct question about really annoying issue. That is really disappointed when the STATUS of the job and its SALARY doesn’t match. It is like being a janitor-millionaire or a homeless bank owner (sorry for such primitive examples ;) )

  • http://www.karlynmorissette.com Karlyn

    @Kyle There is a difference between gathering information and input from a group of people, and using them as the ultimate decision makers. Committees aren’t formed to inform decision makers…they are formed to make decisions. Ultimately, the decision should lay with the experts, after they have gathered input from a variety of useful sources.

  • http://www.personal.psu.edu/lnm105/blogs/cleartext/ Nikki Massaro Kauffman

    @Kyle: I would argue that the most higher ed committees and the wisdom of crowds we advocate in social media are fundamentally different.

    Higher ed is top-down; committees members are appointed, sometimes for political reasons rather than expertise as @fienen noted. And if key experts or key authorities are not represented, work done and decisions made become useless. Eventually someone points out that some policy or critical piece of information was neglected; the group never had the authority to do what they were “charged” to do in the first place. Resources are wasted.

    Social media is bottom-up. If a person has interest or expertise, he or she can elect to participate. Authority is established by participation and the merit of one’s ideas. I’m not saying that higher ed can’t be like this. I have been fortunate enough to be on a few higher ed committees that were grassroots efforts. I’d gladly participate on groups like these again.

  • Isaacson

    Absolutely agree. Why does it take paying an outside expert a large consultancy fee to hear that person say the same thing we’ve been shouting internally for months, and then its suddenly a brilliant radical idea?

    Is that unique to Higher Ed? Do other industries trust the experts they hire?

  • http://tr.im/renegade Robin2go

    Not surprisingly, Karlyn and Isaacson are dead on (as is Nikki, of course). Our reliance on “the way we’ve always done it” and the misguided thought that “those higher up the org chart are smarter about all things related to higher ed” will ultimately be our downfall. Because really, social media, the wisdom of crowds, the new empowerment of the masses speaks of a much larger movement and an inevitable portent of things to come. If we continue to equate position on an org chart to expertise, we risk losing sight of resources already in house but underused.

    Social media can be tricky; higher ed wants to handle it like they want to handle everything else: gather a committee of politically acceptable members who are relatively high on the org chart, and make decisions to initiate social media. But the reality is that social media is bottom up and flat, and the decision makers are much more comfortable with top-down and hierarchical. This can make it difficult for decision makers to reframe their point of view and actually see both the forest AND the trees. Those social media types already in place within an organization are often in the trenches, at the lower bottom of the food chain and are just the resources you need. Why not use the expertise that is right in front of you? Who can better tell you how to succeed what succeeds in social media? Openness, not hidden agendas. Authenticity, not crafted messages. Dialogue and conversation, rather than a pitch, spiel, lecture or discourse.

    It can be disheartening for someone to jump through the hoops of the interview process, be lauded for their skill sets, receive encouragement to expand their interests, but then get caught in a reorg where these very same skills which were initially said to be of value are no longer valued, if they’re even recognized or remembered. At this point for the employee, it isn’t about the pay, it’s about being valued and the employee’s sense of self worth. I have first hand experience with a work unit with several employees very active in social media, but management tends to disregard them because they are too far down the org chart to be “worthy” or considered expert. Umm, really? Yet you hired them based on their skill sets. Why are they now suddenly not worthy? Talk about mixed messages!

    When we lose those people because we ignore their value, we lose more than just a single employee. Often, management loses the faith of that person’s co-workers, who can see don’t understand how management cannot see the value they’ve just let walk out the door. And when the spoken message is: “We value each of you, and want our people to be on the right seat on the bus” but the UNSPOKEN message is: “Fit in and like it, or don’t let the door hit you on the way out” then morale is the unintended victim. It is a cascade fail, and we lose resources we can ill-afford to lose in these times. Autonomy and trust, however, can do much to save that cascade fail.

    We seem to be in the middle of a great shift–not unlike the earth shattering changes of the industrial revolution–and it is going to take vision and a willingness to look at your people and their skill sets with fresh eyes. The real question here is, can we learn from our mistakes, and really change our modus operandi?

    Because the status is definitely not quo.

  • http://www.riverheadbooks.com Lydia Hirt

    Hi Nikki:

    Thanks for posting about Dan Pink- we’re also inspired and motivated by his work and appreciate your interest in the man behind the groundbreaking bestseller, A WHOLE NEW MIND. I’m excited to let you know that December 29 marks the release of Pink’s latest book, DRIVE. I’ve pasted a quick synopsis, below, but please email if you’d be interested in an advance reading copy for review consideration!

    Bursting with big ideas, DRIVE is the rare book that will change how you think and transform how you live.

    Forget everything you thought you knew about how to motivate people–at work, at school, at home. It’s wrong. As Daniel H. Pink explains in his new and paradigm-shattering book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, the secret to high performance and satisfaction in today’s world is the deeply human need to direct our own lives, to learn and create new things, and to do better by ourselves and our world.

    Drawing on four decades of scientific research on human motivation, Pink exposes the mismatch between what science knows and what business does–and how that affects every aspect of our lives. He demonstrates that while the old-fashioned carrot-and-stick approach worked successfully in the 20th century, it’s precisely the wrong way to motivate people for today’s challenges. In Drive, he reveals the three elements of true motivation:

    *Autonomy- the desire to direct our own lives
    *Mastery- the urge to get better and better at something that matters
    *Purpose- the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves

    We hope Daniel Pink’s DRIVE will open your eyes and change the way you think in 2010!

    Best,
    Lydia

  • http://www.fullonfinance.com/ Mia

    I actually do have an “expert salary” and is treated as one as well by the company, only one of them wouldn’t be enough. If I don’t like my job I’d rather quit and I can’t see how anyone could live a life hating their job, no matter how big the salary.

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