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4 Major Motivation Traps

4 Major Motivation Traps
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We’ve talked extensively about drivers of performance and how to leverage those drivers to create higher engagement and greater motivation among your team members, your employees, maybe even yourself. But I would be doing you a disservice if I did not share with you four of the major traps that people often fall trapped to when they think about motivating other people, individuals within your organization.
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And so I’m gonna go through each of these traps and share with you some of the recent data that we’ve collected, some of the cutting edge research that illustrates these traps and action and give you some counsel and some advice on how to use and apply these to ensure that you don’t fall trap to these same concerns. The first assumption or the first trap that people often commit is they assume people are just like themselves. In academic terms, we often call this social projection. I project onto other people that they value the same thing that I value.
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And the study that I’m sharing with you here was conducted by Robbins and Krueger and published back in 2005 but is the classic study on social projection. And what’s really interesting about this study is that they looked at both laboratory context, so where researchers bring people into laboratories in university and academic settings. But also in quote unquote real settings, in organizations. They had a pretty sophisticated measure for assessing the degree to which people project their beliefs, their values, their needs onto other people.
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And, what they found is that we are much more likely, whether it be in a lab context or a real organization, to project our beliefs, our values and our needs onto other people when those people are in my group, in my team, or in a social class, a social category like myself. So, I’m male. If I look at other men, I’m much more likely to assume that they have similar beliefs, needs and wants as I do, relative to if I’m thinking about a woman.
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Or in my team for example, here at the University of Michigan, I’m much more likely to assume that members of my team share similar needs, wants, and beliefs as I have relative to people in the organization at the University of Michigan who are not part of my team. And so, that’s really dangerous for us as we think about motivating individuals in our team because we subconsciously, we may not even realize it, we actually are highly likely to assume that people are just like us, that they value, they believe, they want, they need, all of the same things that we need. And that’s a very dangerous assumption because we come from different backgrounds. We have different experiences.
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We might even be from different generations going back to the earlier data. And so, I share these data with you so that you’re aware of this likelihood to project to people, especially in your team, beliefs that you hold, values that you hold, and can be very dangerous for how you think about motivating people. If you value, for example money, an extrinsic motive, and you assume that other people on your team value the same thing, so therefore, you create this very explicit, direct incentive system tied to performance of the task where they get a financial incentive. Something you might value, but they are motivated much more by intrinsic rewards, such as meaning, significance of the work, relationships with other people.
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Then, you’re actually going to create misalignment between the reward and the behavior that you’re seeking. And so be very careful not to assume that people are just like you. So, that’s the conclusion. People are much more likely to assume others are like them when thinking about their own groups, their own teams, their own social categories. Again gender, race, nationality, those types of social categories. So, that’s really trap number one, assuming people are like us. Trap number two, that we often see is that we, individuals, managers, we assume that extrinsic rewards, money, for example, has a linear relationship with job satisfaction, or life happiness, and it’s simply untrue.
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The data is extremely compelling that there’s a diminishing returns in terms of the impact these extrinsic rewards have on our satisfaction or our happiness in life. And this is where Maslow had it right. Remember, he talked about is the base of that pyramid in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs as the physical needs and the safety needs which often come with the extrinsic rewards. The more money I make, the more secure I feel in life, the more able I am to actually provide food, shelter for myself and my family. Those are the foundational needs and then once those are satisfied, then those higher order needs in terms of meaning, belongingness, esteem, come into play.
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And so, these data here Daniel Kahneman and his colleagues published in science. One of the most fascinating data sets I’ve ever seen on the relationship between money, salary, and happiness. And so, what you see here are the percent of people, by different income bands. And so remember, this is family income, and it’s a global survey pegged or indexed to US salaries, based on cost of living and other adjustments. And the response of, am I not too happy in life, am I pretty happy, or am I very happy.
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And so, I’ll give you a minute to analyze or reflect on the data that you see here, but what I’d like you to pay attention to is the relationship between the family income and the happiness of the people who filled out and participated in Kahneman’s survey. So, take a few minutes and look at these data.
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So, what you see here is a model of diminishing returns. That, when I’m making, say, less than US$50,000, the impact on my happiness for the money is actually quite positive. But, as I get up into that 50 to $90,000 range, and then especially above the $90,000 range, what you see is the relationship between, say, very happy in income, actually begins to diminish and tell off. Same thing for pretty happy. And so, at some point, the number that researchers have landed on, at least in today’s market and cost of living is that the happiness benefits of money, salary, bonuses, a lot of these extrinsic monetary rewards, the incremental benefit of the next dollar begins to diminish somewhere after $70 to US$80,000.
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And for many people, that seems counterintuitive, because we strive to make more money. And so, one of the questions that Kahneman and his colleagues really got their hands around and really tried to explore was, why is that? Because it is so counterintuitive given how much people do focus on these monetary incentives. And what they found was really interesting. In that, as soon as you get that raise, you were making 50,000 and now you’re gonna make 75,000. The question is what do you do with that money? And often times people go out and they buy a bigger house. They buy a fancier car. And, what happens is, our social comparison set actually changes.
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Now, we’re no longer comparing ourselves to people who drive the Chevrolet or the Ford, we’re comparing ourselves to the people who drive the Mercedes, or the Porsche. And, we’re always seeming as if we don’t have what we want. Same thing for the house, we move in to a nicer neighborhood, and the house around us is nicer than the one we have. And so, from a happiness perspective, we’re always unhappy, even though we’re making more money. One of the most fascinating conclusions in findings.
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But the impact for you is you think about motivating yourself and other people in your organization or your team is, don’t fall trap to the assumption that more money, more extrinsic rewards, status, recognition, those sorts of things will have a linear relationship with happiness because of that social comparison aspect that becomes so prevalent in modern life. The third trap that I want to draw your attention to is not aligning rewards with outcomes. We’ve talked a lot about, for example, intrinsic and extrinsic motivation today.
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And so, I’ll share with you a really interesting finding from a study in 2014 around the impact of these different intrinsic versus extrinsic motives on performance, but it really matters in terms of what type of performance you want. If you are in an organization where quantity is important. For example, if you’re on an assembly line where mistakes are really rare, but it’s about the number of units you’re able to produce in a finite amount of time versus quality.
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If you’re in a professional services environment where it’s all about problem solving for example, or you’re in a new product development and innovation environment where quality actually is the name of the game, and is most important criteria and in terms of task performance. You, actually, based on these data, need to think about the use of intrinsic and extrinsic motives differently. What these data suggest and what you’re looking at here is the effect of motivation on performance. The different intrinsic and extrinsic motivations. What we see is for quantity, if the element or the aspect of task performance that you really care about is how fast you’re able to produce something, or how many you can produce in an amount of time.
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Extrinsic motivation, actually, has a significant positive effect, even more so than intrinsic, on average. But if what you’re interested in is quality, innovation, creativity, what we’re finding in our latest research is that extrinsic motivation has almost no effect on improving task performance. But intrinsic motivation, again really focusing on relationships, the value I get from work, the meaning, the significance. Really focusing on those intrinsic motives drives higher quality in teams and organizations. And so as you think about what dimension of performance do you really care about. Is it quantity, or is it quality? And that desired outcome will determine which rewards you use. And so, ultimately, if you want quantity, you’re going to emphasize maybe a mix of extrinsic and intrinsic.
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But you’re certainly going to have the extrinsic tied to maybe completion or engagement in that task. If you want quality, you might leave the extrinsic completely aside and focus entirely on the intrinsic. So, again, this is the emphasis of aligning rewards with outcomes and in week four, you’re going to talk with Maxim a lot about how you effectively align rewards with those desired outcomes. So, more to come on that later in the next session. The fourth and final trap that I want to bring your attention to is that you think about leveraging these rewards to motivate and engage your team, your team members, individuals, and yourself.
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And it comes back to the study that I mentioned in number two, with Daniel Kahneman, and focusing on the impact of money and its relationship with life happiness, is I don’t want you to ignore the social comparison and fairness concerns that come anytime you begin to individualize or personalize rewards. So, imagine you have a team of five, ten people. They have different values. They need different things in order to be motivated engaged. Maybe they share some needs but they have some unique elements as well. One of the natural inclinations that people have is, well, I should just customize and give Scott what he values, give Maxim what he values, give Sherrie what she values.
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And on the surface, that’s exactly what you want to do. But you have to be careful, because you don’t want to go too far and ignore the social comparison and fairness concerns that can get created by that. Because if I’m in that team and I see somebody else getting a different reward, even if I don’t value that reward as much, if I see them getting that other reward, there’s a risk that I may feel unfairly treated. And so, you want to pay very careful attention to the social comparison and fairness concerns. Make sure you’re aligning rewards with values. Make sure you’re aligning rewards with those values and needs, but also ensure that rewards are aligned with contributions across people.
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Because that’s the essence of equity and fairness and that’s something you’ll talk extensively with Maxim about in our next session. Is how do you ensure that when you begin to align these rewards with values and the contributions that people are making to the team, how do you ensure that people feel fairly treated? Because they are going to compare themselves to others, and so, one of your responsibilities is to ensure that they feel as if they are being treated in an equitable and fair manner, and that’s something that you’ll have an opportunity to work with Maxim on extensively in our next session.
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