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Money: an overrated motivational tool

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in Leaders & Managers,People Management

To get your employees to work harder, you dangle bonus payments for those who give superior effort. You want them to show up every day for their shift, so you offer extra cash for perfect attendance. You also want them to refer qualified job candidates, so you pay them a finder’s fee.

It’s habit forming, isn’t it?

Most workers love money. But that doesn’t mean it should dominate your attempts to motivate them. Peter Drucker believed that money is a short-term motivator at best.

If you rely too much on cash as your currency of choice to spur performance, you send a message that you view your employees as lab animals. Just as researchers who study mice entice them to cooperate with a chunk of cheese, you’re substituting money.

Consider what can happen if you announce that you’ll pay a $500 bonus to anyone with an unblemished attendance record for six months. What you’re really saying is, “We realize you dislike going to work, especially on Fridays and Mondays. So we’ll help you overcome that resistance.”

If people enjoyed their jobs, then they would show up even when tempted to treat themselves to a three-day weekend.

Lessons Learned

A fair compensation package enables you to retain quality workers. But once they’re in place, dangling additional cash will not lure them to perform at a higher level. Here are better motivators:

Group appreciation. At staff meetings, recognize individuals who go beyond the call of duty. Then lead the team in a hearty round of applause. Add hoots of approval and distribute noisemakers to further enliven the scene.

A chance to experiment. Engage top performers by letting them stage experiments to boost indi-vidual and team results. Encourage them to test their ideas and track outcomes.

Stick to a handful of compelling points

Your vast knowledge can work against you if you dump too much information on others in an attempt to persuade them. Consider the lesson of Hal Sperlich, an auto designer who created the Ford Mustang. He found that when asking drivers why they chose a specific car, they rarely cited more than three reasons even just after their purchase. Because most people can’t retain more than three or four points at once, structure your argument around a well-selected handful of alluring ideas. If you talk too much or overload your presentation with too many concepts, you will drive people away.


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