I Was watching the other day the TED talks video - The puzzle of motivation with Dan Pink talking about the difference between how social science see that businesses can work in its utmost potential and how business managers vision and application is done in today's business world.
In a nutshell, Dan Pink explained that the more incentives the employees get, the less productive they are based on social studies that were conducted in several places in the world. They have found that when big incentives are offered to employees, the creativity of the employees is narrowing down and only focused on achieving the goal they were supposed to do while there is no expansion of their vision, skills, and productivity.
Then I looked at my own experience in my corporations days and found the exact same thing that social science measurably proven. The less incentives I received, the more productive and creative I have become. The bigger the incentives were, the more tasks oriented I was without giving myself the gift of self-expansion and creativity within my work place.
When I started the corporative world, I was given minimal task (telephone marketing) with big incentives which was supposed to motivate me to bring the results the company aimed for. That was my one and only focus, to do the task as best as I can so that I can make more sales and make more money but I was board at work and besides the money incentives, there was no expansion and growth in terms of career path. The monotonic work was not for me - I decided to quit due to lack of interest, creativity, empowerment in the job that I was doing - it didn't fit with my personality profile and I felt caged in a box without the ability to grow. Fortunately, a new manager came on board just a few days before I quit and he spotted the spark that was still left in me of wanting to do more with my life. I moved on to another company and this manager got in touch with me, trying to convince me to work for him in another department where I am able to express the skills that I have. For years I refused to work for him because of other things that I was more interested doing so we instead just developed friendship relationship that we nurtured over the years. About 6 years after, I decided I wanted to go back to the corporation world and spend 1 year to make a lot of money, close the debt that I had and moved on with my life. I called him, told him I am looking for 1 year job and the next day, I started working for him.
He gave me tools to work with, he stood as an excellent support structure, taught me almost everything that I know today about marketing and sales as he himself is a master in sales. There was one thing he didn't do - he didn't micro manage me but instead pushed me to develop my self-empowerment within what I do. He challenged my creativity, showed me by example how to look outside of the box, he did in-field training with me through which I could develop more marketing and sales skills. He invested so much time in me despite knowing that I will be leaving at the end of the year. I haven't seen many people in the corporative world who invest so much in another's personal development as he did.
In terms of incentives - the monetary incentives where initially not high meaning. I thought it was because I will be leaving at the end of the year and there was no point for him to offer me bigger monetary incentives. What I didn't realize was that the ability to create, be creative and expand my skills was the incentive I needed to make more money than anyone else in that company during that year. The incentives that he gave me was work/life balance and being in charge of my own reality whereas I could come to work when I wanted to; I could work from home; I could take vacations when I saw fit; I worked normally 4 hours less than the accepted working hours and yet, I was more productive than any other employee that he had before.
At the end of the year, in my farewell party, I asked him "I know we are friends and everything but I was also your employee who always did what I wanted to do and not so much what you had planned for me to do. How did you managed to work with someone like me?". His answer surprised us both and with Dan Pink explanations it does now make sense. His answer to my question was - "if I had to micro manage you and take away from you your ability to be creative, you would be gone after a month. I knew that if I want you to stay here for the whole year, I must give you the freedom to do what you want and I had trust that you will surprise both you and I in the money that you will make for the company. Now have a look - you are leaving us with by far more than what your job title was about - you developed systems through which we all can make more money now and that was something you never got paid for - you just did it because you enjoyed creating these systems for us". I never thought about it before he mentioned it - I did create a lot of structures for this company and never expected to be paid for it - I simply enjoyed doing it and there were no incentives offered for me to do it.
My two cents: if you are an employer who runs a business, I suggest looking into the point of empowering your people - inspire them to be creative, lead by example, be there as their support structure, listen to their creative ideas and allow them to test it for themselves even if you don't see it worthwhile - they may surprise you cause if you down motivate them, their creativity will shut down. Even for myself, I remember one day I came up with a new creative idea that my boss told me that it won't work and I insisted on testing it. He then decided to not go against me but to instead support me in the process despite of his opinion that the strategy I wanted to implement will not work. Couple of weeks down the line, it did work for us after all and since then he never said to anyone that something won't work, he supported his people to follow their creativity and see for themselves if their creative ideas work or doesn't work for them. The more you limit your people and shut their creativity down, the more dissatisfied employees you will have and the less chances your company grows to its utmost potential. Incentives are not just monetary incentives - the biggest incentive that one can have it so be able to be empowered and grow within what they do. The more they feel empowered, the more productive they will be as a point of satisfaction and fulfillment that is manifesting within themselves which will drive them to be the best that they can be, not so much for you and your company but for themselves.