Daily Archives: September 15, 2010

motivation – reward and punishment

Step back to 1949, to a lab where Rhesus monkeys were given some puzzles to solve.    Within a short time the monkeys had solved the puzzle which was very surprising to the experimenters.   Why would monkeys take upon a task and try to solve it when there was no punishment or reward mechanism in place to motivate them?

In the early 1900’s Fredrick Taylor was hired to measure human performance and as a result a rewards/punishment model has been the most popular model for motivating people.   Today scores of organizations roll out performance evaluations to gage how well the workers are doing.   Not doing so well may mean no raise or a quick departure from the organization.   The top performers are richly rewarded with opportunity, cash and even job security.   For routine work perhaps the model of reward and punishment is at best a workable solution.   For today’s service economy and the competitive need to stay ahead of the competition a new model must be put in place.

In 1949 Henry Harlow discovered that Rhesus monkeys were intrinsically motivated to solve the puzzle.  In fact when rewarded their performance (ability to solve the puzzle) decreased.   It is as if the reward became an expectation thereby reducing the creative potential of the monkey. 

People, creative people are motivated by the magnitude of the problem, the ability to make a difference and a personal desire to solve problems.   The management methods or reward and punishment models diminish the effectiveness of today’s working adult.   Top leaders should recognize the shift and change their methods of managing workers in the new economy.

What motivates you?   Are you motivated by rewards and punishment?

From Daniel Pink’s book Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us.