Throw Down A Challenge
If your salary were to double tomorrow, would you become twice as effective? Unless you are starting from a very small base, it is unlikely. Likewise, being penalized for making a mistake is unlikely to reduce your propensity to make mistakes. Does this mean that we each are stuck with a static level of competency, with no room for improvement or deterioration? Of course not.
We all have the capability to improve our performance, say advocates of the Growth Mindset. However, this improvement is less likely to flow from the extrinsic motivations of reward and punishment than from our intrinsic motivation to excel.
This also does not mean that some people are better suited for certain tasks than other people. Although anyone has the potential to improve, our motivation to improve can be task-dependent, based on how much we enjoy the work at hand. This natural variation is at the heart of the Deming Total Quality Management method. Deming says "The most important act that a manager can take is to understand what it is that is important to an individual... whether he is looking for recognition by the company, or by his peers, time at work to publish, flexible working hours, time to take a university course." By making the working conditions more favorable for each employee, Deming believed that the variance of results could be improved.
Dale Carnegie, too, encourages us to take advantage of the human desire to excel by "throwing down a challenge." He quotes Harvey Firestone as saying "I have never found that pay and pay alone would either bring together or hold good people. I think it was the game itself." He describes how Bethlehem Steel's Charles Schwab improved the production of an underperforming factory simply by writing down the amount produced by the day shift on the floor in chalk. When the night shift came on and were told what it was, they saw it as a challenge to produce more. When they wrote their results, the day shift also upped the game.
However, while Carnegie attributes the intrinsic motivation for a desire to win, Deming warns that setting up competition between people, groups, or divisions can be counterproductive.
Pulling the thoughts together, I argue that leaders can be most effective by understanding the needs of each employee and encouraging each to continuously improve. By helping them understand their role in the overall system and how their contributions move the organizations goals forward. Finally, by ensuring that people are motivated to overcome the challenges at work by viewing them not as a competition but as a game.
Not convinced? I challenge you to like, share, or comment on this post.