E10- Motivation Part 2- Cakes, A Gallon of Whiskey and Trash Can Kickers

One of the main jobs of a leader is to motivate others to get the work done. That is no easy task. Motivation is individual and mysterious. Or is it? This is the second part of our series on motivation.

Last week on the show we focused on the basics. There are two forms of psychological motivators at the core of human behavior. They are approach or avoidance, otherwise known as “cakes” and “snakes”. These motivational triggers go back to evolutionary behaviors we developed when we lived in caves and all our calories were burned trying to avoid becoming a snack for a pack of coyotes.

We focused on avoidance, or “snakes”. Avoidance means that people avoid pain. We want to get away from things that cause fear, anxiety and harm. In summary, if fear is the environment you intentionally set as a leader then you are doing it wrong.  You are getting the worst out of people.

Approach means that people will go after the good stuff. People want desirable rewards. This kind of reward creates anticipation, excitement and joy. It is like watching your favorite cake baking in the oven. So for our purposes, we call call this “Cakes”. As a leader, cakes are the best way to get the constructive, long term result. People will work longer and harder for the positive response. Everybody has some kind of reward that they like. Examples are money, a plaque, time off, or just a nice thank you letter.

When discussing motivation, the subject of incentives comes up. So how do incentives play in? Are they cakes or snakes? They can be both. Incentives usually begin as cakes that turn into snakes.

If you want more of the same thing, just produced faster then incentives can work.  But if the task requires creativity, relationships or ground breaking thought, then incentives don’t work. They have some glaring pitfalls.

Incentives create myopic thinking. If you are paying people to do a certain thing, that is their focus. The most important things like being nice to clients, pitching in and taking out the trash because it is full take a back seat to the activities you incentivize. And those things are hard to measure, so you don’t even realize that the culture of your organization has changed until it is too late. A leader that has a robust incentive program is one that is constantly trying to catch up and respond to what people are not doing.

Also, once you put an incentive in place and you have to change it, which you inevitably have to do, you end up completely demotivating the team. Overly structured, monetary incentives become entitlements and it is difficult to ever change that mindset. At some point it stops working. Each year the goals go up. At some point it outstrips the market, or the company can’t afford to keep paying it out. People will then begin to bend the rules to make the incentive payout.

So what is the answer?

Either your incentives are build on your ethics or your incentives dictate your ethics. Choose to establish your ethics first and then check, and double check, to make sure that your incentives are aligned.

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