Motivation 3.0: The “810 square-foot fence” trick
Steven Philip Warner, Editor - DTDIY | Issue Date - 03/02/2012
Aunt Polly’s 810 square-foot fence – does it ring a bell? With the glaring exception of only a few, most would not even come half-a-century close to considering a certain section of Mark Twain’s work (The Adventures of Tom Sawyer) worthy of an award for proving a “strategic guide” for CEOs who desire to understand some truth behind “employee motivation”. That may be a strange choice of literary work, but actually, Tom played the real CEO – a leader who made a work that seemed “hollow” and “a burden”, appear to be a “fantastic privilege” to his friends (call them “employees” if you will). In the end, CEO Tom not only ended up delivering some high-quality whitewashing strokes on Aunt Polly’s fence, but did that several times over! A quick lesson for leaders – for tasks to be completed, have your employees not feel obliged to complete them. This is Motivation 3.0.
Why Motivation 3.0? The Sawyer effect got work done with no real material benefit to the workers. This runs contrary to the old-school ‘Motivation 2.0’ theory that taught how monetary incentives made an employee work more efficiently and with greater sincerity. Truth of modern day capitalism is that nothing makes an institution outperform rivals and create newer benchmarks than a batch of “intrinsically motivated” employees.
In the early 2000s, if you were given an option to choose a successful encyclopedia model a decade down the line, which one of the following would you choose: Project #1 – to be funded by the $20 billion-plus-a-year topline earning Microsoft, which would motivate professional writers (managed by highly-paid managers) to contribute by doling out handsome sums to them, or, Project #2 - an online encyclopedia created by mostly unqualified individuals, who would be paid nothing and supervised by none? Project #1, would be the obvious intelligent choice. Right? Welcome to 2012. Project #1, which was born out of “extrinsic motivation” called the MSN Encarta has been discontinued. Project #2, is called Wikipedia! As of date, the “non-monetised, controversially-error-laden and unprofessionally edited” encyclopedia, has 20-plus million articles, contributed by 31 million-plus "unpaid hobbyists” who are registered users worldwide. A model of success in the modern world, unlike the Encarta, whose fortune was destroyed because it hinged its hopes on the materially motivated contributors.
In the fall of 2003, X, a certain mobile operating system (OS) maker had captured 88% of the global smartphone market. The developers of the OS were highly-paid, localised engineers, while the company that ran the OS was proud of the fact that in those days, its OS was the only one that ran exclusively on ARM processors. The company even had a batch of “chosen, comprehensively-supported” 3rd party app developers. That year saw the birth of an OS platform, Y, developed by the Open Handset Alliance. That basically meant that the product was created by thousands of “unpaid” app-developers. For them, it wasn’t the dollars per app that was of value. It was intrinsic motivation. Today, X’s market share has fallen to 16.9% (source: Gartner, Nov 2011) and the handset maker which patronised it for years together, dumped it in favour of Windows Mobile 7 in late 2011. Y on the other hand has grown to capture 52.5% of the global market. X is of course the bug-laden Symbian OS. Any guess what Y is?
Linux – which today powers 25% of all corporate servers, Firefox – which has more than 150 million users, Apache web server – which controls 52% of the corporate server market, and many more, are more examples of how “non-monetary” motivation of employees can lead to bestselling products in the modern world. In a paper by MIT Professor K. Lakhani and BCG’s Bob Wolf, titled, “Understanding Motivation and Effort in Free/Open Source Software Projects”, they prove that, “Academic theorising on individual motivations has posited that extrinsic benefits are the main drivers of efforts. We find, in contrast that, intrinsic motivation is the strongest and the most pervasive driver.”
So how should CEOs proceed to make sure their employees are intrinsically motivated? First and foremost – get rid of extrinsic motivators. Verbal rewards work best. Academic studies prove this fact. One behavioural study by Profs. Cameron, Banko & Pierce of the University of Alberta, titled, “Pervasive Negative Effects of Rewards on Intrinsic Motivation” proves that, “On high-interest tasks, verbal rewards produce positive effects on free-choice motivation and self-reported task interest. Negative effects are found when the rewards are tangible, expected.” Studies by Frederick & Ryan, Deci & Ryan, Nikos, Hodgins & Rath and many more during the past two decades, have proven how intrinsic motivational factors not only encourage the employees to work longer hours, but also deliver greater levels of satisfaction and competency, when compared to extrinsic motivational factors that only bring about a higher level of anxiety and reduce their self-esteem.
Some would note though that public companies, do dole out volumes of stock options to employees across the board. But this cannot be taken as an excuse to encourage loosely-linked bonuses, for this abovementioned practice is only meant to ensure a greater share price appreciation for the real owners of a public company – the shareholders. Also, for sales teams, extrinsic motivation is considered important. But if a CEO continues to be 100% pro-extrinsic and 0% pro-intrinsic, what you will have left behind are non-loyal employees, willing to jump ship any hour given an extra dollar in bonus.
Tom Sawyer was created 136 years back. But his relevance to today’s CEOs & leaders on how to motivate their employees stays. Master the “810 square-foot fence” trick and you have a world-beater of a loyal team, willing to work with you for more than just that extra dime! It’s worth the effort, I say.