AHRI CEO Serge Sardo talks to Daniel Pink about why smart workers don’t perform well in controlling environments.
Serge Sardo: Having read your recent book Drive, why do you think behaviourism no longer has a place in business?
Daniel Pink: There are elements of behaviourism that are still effective in organisations. These very simple, mechanistic rewards are still very effective for very routine work, whether it’s in a blue-collar job turning the same screw in the same way on assembly line or in a white-collar job adding up columns of figures.
SS: But aren’t young children conditioned this way from a very early age, making it necessary for business to adopt this model of reward and punishment?
DP: It’s more about the influence of schools and businesses. . A controlling environment gives people two options: it allows them to either comply or defy, when we really want them engaged. People don’t learn and do their best work under conditions of control.
SS: What’s changed that requires a complete departure from an operating system that has worked for a couple of hundred years?
DP: Our economies have changed. People are doing work that requires creativity, judgement, discernment and complexity – conceptual thinking
SS: Are you saying that if/then rewards inhibit creativity and innovation?
DP: The evidence is clear that they do not promote creativity and under certain conditions, can inhibit it. It’s a very robust finding.
SS: Many say that the global financial crisis was largely caused by situations where people were solely motivated on reward. Would you agree?
DP: I think with the GFC it’s more complex than that. In the US we had problems with how we regulated that behaviour. We had certain incentives in the system that made that behaviour more likely.
SS: But you can certainly see this type of behaviour arising on a micro level – take for example where sales people won’t help their colleagues because they think they will miss out on an individual commission.
DP: One thought is that individual commissions can be inimical to collaboration. Some companies have got rid of sales commissions and sales have risen. There is some research out of Stanford University that shows sales targets can inhibit profits.
SS: How could HR move away from bonuses and commissions without necessarily incurring costs through increased salaries?
DP: It’s important to start small. I think people are open to the concept of recalibrating compensation. Variable compensation could be contingent on things other than individual sales. If you change the metrics to be more in line with what the organisation wants to encourage then you might have a chance.
SS: What are the key elements in an organisation that foster intrinsic motivation?
DP: Start by paying people enoug. The other three forces that lead to enduring, long-term motivation are autonomy, mastery and purpose. Autonomy is about having a sense of self direction and some control over your job. Mastery is about getting better at things that matter k. Purpose is to know why we do what we do.
SS: You say a sense of purpose is important to people. Why is it so hard for organisations to create meaningful and purposeful workplaces?
DP: I think a lot of organisaitons don’t know why they are in business.For work to have purpose the organisations where we work have to have purpose.
It’s really about knowing why you are at work in the first place. We all want to feel that we are making a contribution.
About Daniel Pink
Daniel Pink is the author of four books about the changing world of work, including the New York Times bestsellers, A Whole New Mind, and Drive. His books have been translated into 33 languages.
Pink’s articles on business and technology appear in many publications, including the New York Times, Harvard Business Review and Wired, where he is a contributing editor. He also writes a monthly business column for the UK’s Sunday Telegraph. He has provided analysis of business trends on CNN, CNBC, ABC, NPR, and other networks in the US and abroad.
A free agent, Pink held his last real job in the White House, where he served from 1995 to 1997 as chief speechwriter to vice president Al Gore. He worked as an aide to US labor secretary Robert Reich and in other positions in politics and government.