I’m Marching to My Own Tune. Better Get Used to It.

If you’ve read my posts on In Clear Text, you’ve already pegged me as some Bob Sutton fan-girl (among other things), but apparently were interested enough to keep reading me here on .eduGuru.  If I’m new to you, well, certain Nikki-isms are not apparent enough for me to worry about avoiding.  Win-win!

I’ve been stewing on a series of Bob Sutton posts about disincentives, particularly how money as a motivator caused people to act counter to the organization’s best interests.  For me, the real question and lesson was not, “Is money a good motivator?”  It evolved to this: “Is a single motivator the solution for all people you want to engage?

As a former teacher and a continuing education instructor for adult learners, I can tell you that that learners can have different sources of motivation, some intrinsic and some extrinsic.  Why then, in education, do we focus on systems that formally recognize people at the very top (who are typically intrinsically motivated)? My student teaching supervisor used to remind, “Success breeds success,” so that we would remember to target learners who needed motivation the most.

hceUScover Im Marching to My Own Tune. Better Get Used to It.If you are building social networks, you may find that motivation varies from participant to participant.  In Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations, Clay Shirky noted that the greatest amount of contributions will come from a relatively small amount of people while the vast majority will make only a few contributions.  Should we apply the same strategy for motivating the minority as we do the majority?  Would followers, posts, comments, ranks and badges that would reveal the extreme disparity between these groups do more harm than good when trying to coax newcomers into the fold?

Whether you are motivating your staff, potential donors, or prospective students, consider the possibility that there is no one-size-fits-all motivator, assess groups to find out what motivates them, and personalize your incentives!

8 Responses to “I’m Marching to My Own Tune. Better Get Used to It.”

  1. Says:

    I still always come back to the statement, “Money doesn’t bye happinss, but it sure can come close”. I don’t bring this up because I believe it, but because it’s something people commonly say. If money is your main motivation then you probably shouldn’t be working for a college or in education at all as you mention.

    I’ll have to check out Bob Sutton. I’ve heard the name, but not really read any of his stuff.

  2. Says:

    I read Sutton’s The No Asshole Rule and strongly recommend it as a must-read. The Knowing-Doing Gap is on my wishlist. His blog is one I check regularly (along with this one, of course).

    Lately he’s been posting about disincentives, creativity, leadership and creating infectious engagement. I wonder which topic he’ll pick for his next book.

  3. Says:

    I’d be curious to hear how money can turn into a dis-incentive. And I don’t mean this with any antagonism towards our host here, but we get hired for a certain figure, we get certifications which lead to raises, we have yearly reviews that hopefully lead to raises, we pursue promotions and take on added responsibilities that lead to…raises. Sure, if we work in academia, we do sacrifice a measure of income for a bit less pressure and corporate weight with the added benfit of doing something that hopefully benefits society on a level other than revenue, but it’s not all altruism that prevails.

    Sure there are ways to motivate that are not strictly monitary, but they have to be worked out on an individualized basis. The one thing that causes every cube in the office to “prarrie dog” is the mention of added or reduced funding and/or compensation. Personally, I like my job and don’t distinctly pursue raises or bonuses, though they’re always welcome.

    This is just my perspective, and I want to make it clear I’m not taking umbrage towards ideas expressed here or being antagonistic in the least. Curious to see what other folks have experienced or if they can offer explanations to the contrary.

    Thanks Nikki, congrats on the blog. I look forward to checking in regularly.


  4. Says:

    Managers/leaders don’t motivate employees. People are self-motivated (or not). But Sutton’s points about disincentives are spot on. There is a lot of disincentivizing going on in higher ed and in big institutions everywhere (corporations, labor unions, etc.).

    The best a manager/leader can do is two things:

    1. fight for their staff to get the resources they need to do their jobs

    2. prove you’re the smartest person around by hiring people smarter and more talented than you (that’s from Larry Winget, whose books are easy reads and a kick in the pants)

    Looking forward to reading more from you, Nikki.

  5. Says:

    @Adam I don’t think money should be a completely discarded as a motivator, there are cases when, if applied incorrectly, it becomes a disincentive.

    Sutton’s examples people who were paid piecemeal for their efforts, so they actually created work for themselves counter to the interests of the larger organization.

    Other ways money as an incentive can backfire is in an environment where individuals compete for limited incentives when collaborating would get the best overall result.

    Here in higher eduction, where funds are distributed differently from one department to another, disparities may affect morale. We become silos were efforts are duplicated.

    Sutton and Sam Culbert talk about how money tied in with performance reviews not only becomes misleading, but can become demotivating when so many other factors beyond job performance actually influence your pay (like the financial state of the instution or your ability to negotiate). <shameless self-promotion>Prepare thyself: See my post today
    for more on negotiation.</shameless self-promotion>

    @andrewcareaga: Agreed. Have you read Mavericks at Work yet? They have some great stuff on intrinsically motivating your staff with a cause (as opposed to a mission). The book and the blog are easily on my must-read list.

  6. Says:

    Nice post, useful information. Want to hear some more news like this.

  7. Says:

    Money doesn’t bye happinss, but it sure can come close”. I don’t bring this up because I believe it, but because it’s something people commonly say. If money is your main motivation then you probably shouldn’t be working for a college or in education at all as you mention.

  8. Says:

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