Did anyone else read the Time article on the motivation and reward studies conducted on American school children, designed to determine which bribes worked best in getting desired results?

The study results were a mixed bag. Different approaches were applied in different cities and school systems that had very different challenges. The scheme that worked the best in terms of meeting desired outcomes was the Dallas test in which second grade children (average age 7-8) were paid every time they read a book and completed a computerised quiz. The one that worked worst was in New York where students were rewarded for improving test scores. Zero results.

If you compare those results for external motivators to Dan Pink’s approach of addressing the internal motivators of autonomy, mastery and purpose, what are you left to think? I like where Alexander Kjerulf, the Chief Happiness Officer blogger, came down on this issue:

“I think the answer might lie in the fact that the NY scheme rewarded results while the Dallas scheme rewarded the process, ie. the actual steps towards the results. I’m going out on a limb here, but I do think that this carries directly over to the business world. At work it is more motivating to reward effort rather than results because while results are rarely directly under your own control, your efforts are. In other words, you can work your butt off on a project or a sale and still not get it because of factors completely outside of your influence.”

As I said in my comments to Alexander’s post: Think of it this way – rewarding outcomes = incentives. Rewarding the process = recognition. To carry it a step farther, incentives are about hitting targets (left brain) and recognition is about applying values (right brain).

That’s why, in most instances, we strongly advocate for behaviour-based employee recognition that is focussed on company values. In such programmes, any employee can be recognised (preferably frequently, specifically and in the moment) for demonstrating behaviours that reflect your company values in contribution to achieving your objectives. Sure, they can be recognised when the final deliverable is realised, but it’s just as important to recognise them along the path when they consistently and sometimes extraordinarily contribute to the coming success.

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