In 1962 psychologist Sam Gluxberg forever changed our traditional ideas about incentive-based motivation. He was testing the effectiveness of rewards on performance, and found that as soon as a task required creativity or co-operation or had any kind of complexity, not only did incentives fail to drive performance up; they actually drove it down.
It turns out well-meaning metrics can often drive the wrong behaviours:
- A garage imposed a target on their car repair staff. Workers responded by overcharging customers and doing unnecessary repairs.
- A daycare centre imposed a fine on parents who were picking their kids up late from school. Two weeks after imposing the fine twice as many parents were picking their kids up late than before. The punishment killed their intrinsic motivation to do the right thing and show up on time as best they could.
So if carrots and sticks don’t drive motivation, what does?
In 1961 JFK famously said, “we will put a man on the moon.” When he said it he had no earthly idea of how they were going to do it. But that uniting sense of purpose pulled people together behind a bigger story to achieve what had seemed impossible.
What happens if you don’t have purpose? Ask the Chinese Army. They punish soldiers who have committed a crime by getting them to dig a big hole for six to eight hours. Then they get them to fill it back in again. Why? Because nothing is more soul destroying than work without purpose. When we fail to be clear why we do what we do, we commit ourselves to work without purpose.
Deep and lasting motivation comes from within when we take action every day in line with something we care about. When we know what we get out of bed for. A strong sense of Purpose guides our decisions and enables us to start doing more things in line with that purpose and stop doing the things that aren’t. There is no stronger motivation than a clear sense of purpose – a ‘why’ behind what we do.