If money is the ultimate motivator, then why are our institutions in such a desperate state, both private and public sector. If money is the ultimatemotivator then the adage of “who have more corn, feed more fowl” would prevail. But over and over we see that that adage does not prevail, so maybe there is a need to re think the extent to which we see money as the ultimate motivator. The romantic in me remembers the Beatles hit “Can’t buy me love” and I think that in addition to love, money really cannot buy loyalty and support.
I am willing to defend the position that money is not the ultimate motivator with one exception – our taxi drivers, “maxi-taxi, ph, h cars – the whole lot of them”. This conclusion has been arrived at after years of observation. I am convinced that the taxi driver does not see people waiting for transportation, he/she sees the dollar equivalent of his/her taxi fare on the side of the road. Uponsighting a traveller or shadow, the driver immediately is transformed into an unstoppable aggressor, knocking over anything in his way to wrest that fare from the unsuspecting traveller. This example underscores the point that it is irresponsible and reckless for our leaders to continue to preside over this uncivilized and hostile approach to public transportation because here is one example in which money is the prime motivator.
There is an excellent example of how cash incentives can be counter productive in the Levitt and Dubner book “Freakonomics”. It cites the example that “a daycare centre decided to impose a $3 fine when parents were late picking up their children. Instead of encouraging them to be punctual, it had the opposite effect. Late pickups went through the roof. Why? Before the fine was imposed, there was a social contract between daycare staff and parents, who tried hard to be prompt and felt guilty if they weren’t. By imposing a fine, the centre had inadvertently replaced social norms with market norms. Freed from feelings of guilt, parents frequently chose to be late and pay the fine — which was certainly not what the centre had intended”.There is however a growing body of work which supports the notion that business objectives strictly linked to compensation seldom provide sustained results and for a number of practical reasons. The most important being that employees are ofte
n unable to control all the variables which link into the tightly crafted business objectives. A second reason of almost equal weighting is that employers are seldom really interested in digging so deeply into their pockets as to truly provide the necessary cash incentives. This notion is also supported by the last century theory that the reason for business is to extract the maximum profit. Times are changing and scholars are suggesting that business must be driven by the triple bottom line – people, planet and profit so money as motivator is notching down on the list of priorities.
In this example we see the social norm trumping the market norm. This notion should cause some reflection on what really motivates persons to go the extra mile or move beyond what was contracted. What makes a person provide exceptional service or simply do their job? While there is no one line answer to this complicated question, the notion of appreciation keeps popping into my mind. The more appreciated persons feel the more likely they are to give of their best, to go beyond the bounds of duty. The more likely they are to over deliver.
This is not to downplay the importance of financial incentives as a motivator but to restate the point that money alone will not purchase support and loyalty. Shaping the culture of organizations and indeed nations cannot be based solely on economic propositions, it must be based on appealing to more lofty notions like service, integrity, honesty, fair play and a host of other soft concepts.
Further contemplation of how to motivate people reminds us of what is the simplest manifestation of appreciation – saying thanks. It is a social norm which is being forgotten more and more in contemporary society and one which must be re kindled. The late Sam Walton, founder of Walmart, put it another way when he said “Nothing else can quite substitute for a few well-chosen, well-timed, sincere words of praise. They’re absolutely free — and worth a fortune.