There is a wonderful wee battle going on between the viewpoints of Dan Pink (author of Drive) and Aubrey Daniels (Author of Oops!). You can check out the post where Aubrey Daniels says what Dan Pink is writing about motivation "drives him crazy" here.
I think this is a great debate to be having because it might help change how people think. Pink challenges us with the notion that rewards and extrinsic reinforcement often does not improve performance and often (for tasks that require thinking/creativity) hurts performance. Daniels refutes this by saying that his experience proves that reinforcement and rewards work to impove performance. Daniels also takes aim at Pink's assertion that the "carrot and stick" approach no longer works and says that it never worked (and distiguishes reinforcement as something that is not a carrot and stick approach).
I have been reading the works of both Pink and Daniels for many years. I can remember the Daniels book, Bringing out the Best in People, which is now many years old (and which I gave out to people until I figured out this was not the right approach, then I stopped recommending the book).
So what's my take on this? I gotta go with Pink on this one. Why?
Yes, I have seen and experienced that reinforcement focuses performance and makes it more consistent - improving compliance of the fundamentals. And I think we all need to make sure that employees know what we appreciate their work and in what ways we think they add the greatest contributions. Showing care and being interested in employees - genuinely - is powerful and I advocate for that in a BIG way.
And I think we need to be clear about our expectations and give employees the respect they deserve by being candid about how their performance is, or is not, meeting expectations. Neither approach precludes us from doing this.
But here is the bottom line for me. When I think about the greatest managers I have worked with, seen, and been (I have had a few great days, too :-), what makes great managers stand out is NOT that they use reinforcement and rewards more fully and well.
AND I have seen many managers try to use reinforcement because they have been told they should and they come off as mechanistic and fake. Employees know when you are praising them because you think you should.
The word "praise," in fact, makes my skin crawl because imbedded in the meaning of this word is an assumption of a power structure. Bosses praise employees. Parents praise kids. The same goes for the word "empowerment," by the way (and yes, even "management" to some degree).
Most work environments are not ready for a radical makeover where structure, rules, and control are wiped out - and Pink knows this and says this in his book.
Here's what I know at the core of my being because I have seen it for 25 years, done it, trained it, and wrote about it. Tapping into that inner fire - the amazing contributor - that is inside people is the most important work of management and it cannot be a mechanized practice. This is what great managers do. It is not that they learned how to give reinforcement more effectively, it is that they spend theri time with their employees in a totally different conversation and with different purposes.
Daniels will argue that reinforcement must be genuine, and I agree with this, and I know his intent is NOT that managers hand out praise that feels fake. But here is the thing - what are we teaching managers? Are we teaching them that there is a system to performance and to make the system work, do these things and then are we giving them simple little ideas for ways to remember to give postiive reinforcement? Often this IS what is being taught and this is well-intended mechanism. It is not too far from a human form of the Pavlovian response.
If we, on the other hand, build our orgnaizations around idea of how can we work so that everyone can and will be driven to do their best work, we would train our managers differently. Not giving them templates, check sheets and routines, but teaching them how to build talent, be a catalytic coach, create opportunites for challenge and contribution, and actively partner to remove obstables. This manager will tapp into what makes people amazing and will show admiration, gratitude, and care.
Don't ignore the information from either Pink or Daniels or this debate - it is important. Give both sides your attention, give their ideas a try. Notive how you feel and how your employees feel and behave under each approach. Think about which approach would best help you do your best work. Then assess how you want to manage and which beliefs and approaches can help you be a driver - a catalyst - for greater results and engagement.
Check out Dan Pink's TED talk here. And the links to Pink and Daniels are above. Weigh in here and tell me what you think!