Weekender: Bernie Mac on Motivation

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Welcome to another edition of leadersayswhat’s the Weekender, a snicker of thought to start your weekend on the right track. Why just a snicker (versus a full-on laugh)? Because it’s the weekend!

A recent study found that money is not the primary motivator of employee effort. This is not in any way considered to be new information nor is this the only research with these findings. In fact, the late great comedian Bernie Mac discussed this with Oprah Winfrey fifteen years ago.

I think if you focus on being the best in yourself, all that stuff will come. I hear people saying, ‘Get ya money on, get ya money on.’ I hate that. I mean, that’s you’re motivation? If you do well, the money will come.

While many may think they know this, leaders continue to rely upon compensation to elevate performance. This is not to say that money is not important, but it does not motivate people to work harder, smarter, or faster for any significant period of time. Once someone is accustomed to receiving a monetary incentive for extra effort (and it happens quickly), they feel like they deserve it. And, if you’ve paid them to do a task in the past, they will feel entitled to these extra funds in the future.

Instead of depending on bribes, consider utilizing incentives that actually incentivize. The research study mentioned above found that the number one motivator of performance is challenging projects and advancement opportunities. This is in line with Horizon Engagement Anticipation Theory, which as discussed in a previous article, is the idea that people are most engaged when they have something to look forward to. It speaks to our need for visible reference points on the horizon and having a path to get there.

So give your team something positive that they can anticipate besides a bump in their paycheck. Make sure they know the career track that awaits the accomplishment of great feats, and sprinkle non-tangible enticements along the way. You can use compensation to show gratitude… just don’t expect it to result in a better work product.

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