It’s 1968, and Fredrick Herzberg has the snarkiest of titles in the prestigious Harvard Business Review (HBR). His article, “One More Time: How Do You Motivate Employees?” would go on to become one of the most requested reprints from HBR. Behind the snarky title is research into what motivates people. What causes them to stay with the organization, and what prevents them from leaving – and why are they different?
The first category of motivation that Herzberg covered were hygiene items. Without enough of these, people will leave. If you don’t pay people a livable wage, they’ll find someone who can. Each of the factors that Herzberg considered had some hygiene aspects to them. However, the interesting discovery is that adding beyond the amount necessary to be “okay” didn’t motivate people more. As Daniel Kahneman explains in Thinking, Fast and Slow, people are marginally less motivated by the second dollar than the first until there’s no appreciable change in motivation.
It’s not just money. There are other factors, like the company’s policy and administration, that must be good enough, but it’s not like these factors will compel people to be more likely to stay.
The motivators are in an entirely different class. While there may not be much in the way of these factors required to help people stay on the job, their continued satisfaction – and performance – was driven by things like achievement, recognition, the work itself, responsibility, and advancement. Company policy and administration wasn’t on the list.
This has important implications for how you motivate people towards changes. You can’t use things like supervision, relationship with supervisor, work conditions, or salary to motivate people to change. You’ve got to find the things that top Herzberg’s list.
We Need Stinking Badges
Humphrey Bogart in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre spoke the line, “We don’t need no stinking badges.” With respect to Mr. Bogart, we do. We need badges. A few years ago, learning and development professionals discovered gamification and started putting badges into every training they did. The world caught on, and there now seems to be a badge for everything. From a social psychology point of view, this is a good thing – and it doesn’t hurt with Rogers’ perspective on adoption either. (See Diffusion of Innovations.)
Degenerates into Work
It was Peter Drucker who said, “All good strategy eventually degenerates into work.” At the end of the day, the work that you’re asking people to do – the work after the change – must be enjoyable at some level or they won’t be happy doing it.
Responsibility, Advancement, and Growth
Our egos are constantly making a mess of things. We consistently rate ourselves as better than we are. (See How We Know What Isn’t So.) A way that we combat this is to receive more responsibility – even without additional pay, more advancement, and opportunities for growth. These motivators beg the questions of how will the people who are changing feel more responsibility, that their careers have advanced, or feel that they have a greater opportunity for growth? If there’s no answer, then you’re probably not motivating them.
If you want to accomplish change, you may find that the answers exist in a 50 year old text that talks about how to motivate employees – one more time.