Don: [00:00:00] I’m Don Rheem, CEO of E3 Solutions and author of the book Thrive by Design. I speak across North America on the neuroscience of engagement at work. I’m passionate about helping leaders at every level to create engaging workplace environments where employees feel safe recognized and validated. Employees who feel safe at work are happier healthier and more productive. Each week my team and I take on topics impacting managers and offer solutions to your biggest workplace challenges. This is the Thrive by Design podcast.
Kelly: [00:00:40] Welcome to Thrive by Design, the podcast. I’m Kelly Burns and I’m here with Don Rheem, CEO of E3 Solutions. We created this show to give managers, CEOs, and leaders the tips, strategies, and tools you need to create an engaged culture at work. We’ve been talking all about the brain for the last few episodes and today we’re moving into what drives behavior, specifically motivation.
Don: [00:01:06] Good morning, Kelly.
Kelly: [00:01:06] Good morning, Don. Let’s talk about motivation today. I know that’s maybe not your favorite word when you think of it in the colloquial sense. So what does motivation truly look like for you when we think about the neuroscience that drives engagement.
Don: [00:01:21] We want to have a better understanding of what motivates behavior when people are at work. Especially the exemplary kinds of behavior that lead to stronger teams, higher productivity, more attentive to quality issues, as opposed to another way motivation is used which is more of the rah rah cheerleader kind of motivation, where we simply motivate people. Get them to stand on their feet and clap their hands and commit to doing something differently. Which can be fine, but it tends to be not very long lasting.
Kelly: [00:01:56] Why?
Don: [00:01:59] Think of motivation at that two different levels. One would be the cognitive level – that is the conscious level that we think about in our head. I might be very motivated to climb that hill or get that extra 15 minutes in while I’m cycling. But then there’s this more subconscious motivation more emotionally based. It’s more related to how we’re wired as a species, what what motivates us to do things consistently over time. There are unlimited resources out there on the cognitive kind of motivation. Those are all great, but there’s less out there on science-based information on what’s motivating behavior at a subconscious or at emotional level.
Kelly: [00:02:47] Let’s talk about the difference in the cognitive and emotional level. You used the example of doing 15 more minutes of your bike exercise. So a cognitive motivation there might be that you burn 100 calories so you can fit into your dress for the weekend party. And an intrinsic or an emotional motivation might be because you have grandchildren at home that you want to be healthy for, see you grow up, and live a long life as a healthy individual because you want to have your life shared with those people that you care and love. Is that a good distinction between emotional and cognitive?
Don: [00:03:28] It is and it identifies sort of two different layers of motivation. The primary motivation could be closer to “I want to be a healthy individual and I want to be a healthy individual because I want to live a long time to spend time with my grandchildren. I want to have a more vibrant life. I want to have a higher quality of life.” Some of that is going to be cognitive certainly, but to be a healthy person, to want to be a part of it of a family unit over time can be just more about attachment needs and the need and desired to belong.
Don: [00:04:01] When I break that down into a more cognitive space it might be, “I need to run for a certain length of time.” “I need to do step aerobics.” “I need to walk more.” But inside the workplace what we’re trying to explore and understand is what’s motivating people’s behavior. What kind of motivators can we add or highlight, magnify in a way that will impact people’s behavior, especially when no one’s looking.
Kelly: [00:04:32] Let’s talk about extrinsic motivation. The difference in – and maybe extrinsic motivation is is similar to cognitive motivation, something that comes from the prefrontal cortex of the brain – that cognitive and thinking center of our brain. What does that motivation look like in the workplace? Where some examples of an extrinsic motivator? And what are some of the benefits of extrinsic motivation?
Don: [00:04:57] A key extrinsic motivator is money: salary, compensation, and benefits package. You can motivate people by bribing them, which is what compensation plans typically are – bribe systems to motivate people to behave in a certain way. Here’s what we know about bribe systems. Human beings will respond to bribes and they will change their behavior to try to win or acquire the bribe. But the question is, is that the best way to motivate people? Is it the most effective? Do we really get the best from people. You bring up the workplace and you just reminded me of something that I do all the time. We do a Boot Camp for Employee Engagement and I also give talks to CEOs all over the country. I was with a group of CEOs this last week in Detroit. We’re all sitting around the room and I’m describing these four levels of engagement that we see in employees when we measure.
[00:06:02] We have the Actively Engaged, the Engaged, the Somewhat Disengaged and then we have the Actively Disengaged. I come over to this this highly motivated group, these Actively Engaged employees, and I ask the CEOs “How many of you can visualize one of these Actively Engaged employees, like like an A player, just a top performer across the board?” And they all raise their hands. They can see them in their organization. Then I say, “Keep that person in your mind’s eye for a second and here’s my question to you. Are they a top performer because of what you pay them? Are they a top performer because of their pay and benefits package?”.
[00:06:39] And there’s a little bit of a cognitive pause as they process that. And then all of them, to a person, start shaking their head no. It’s not about what they’re paid. And that gets us into this conversation. Let’s get beyond the money. Maybe you were able to hire them with money and maybe you were able to attract them because of this pay package and benefits package. But when it comes to people’s daily motivation for what they do, extrinsic motivators just aren’t very effective and money is incredibly inefficient. In fact, what the research says to me, is there’s no correlation between pay and daily behavior. There will be some managers, employees, and others that shake their head and say I’m crazy. But look, we know, good leaders know that they’re top people are top people because of some kind of an intrinsic motivator. Something in their wiring, something in their nature causes them to behave that way. That’s what we want to understand, reward, recognize, and exemplify inside the organization so that we have more tools than money to change and impact the way people show up every day.
Kelly: [00:07:51] Get more granular on that if the CEOs are shaking their head no with the clear understanding that it’s not a pay package that they’re Actively Engaged employees showing up and performing at peak levels every day. What are some of the things that they say do drive that kind of engagement, that kind of behavior, every day?
Don: [00:08:11] There are a couple of things. We see in our research top performers falling if you will into two categories. One would be it’s just their nature. In science we’d say it’s nature or nurture. So they’re just a native top player. That’s their default. I would say that’s their native position.
[00:08:32] There are other top performers that may not be that natively, but they have found things in the workplace that are essentially nurturing that extra level of effort that they wouldn’t necessarily give on their own without these things going on around them. So what are these motivators around them that are causing these players to perform at a higher level? It’s often the team that they work with. They do it because of who they work with. Often it’s who they work for, that is they want to do it for their leader and the team.
[00:09:03] Sometimes they’re doing it because of the mission and the vision of the organization. They really believe in it and they want to perform at that level. I’d say the highest one is they do it for the others they work with. They want to perform at a high level so that they’re not in a in a way disappointing the other members of the team. That’s a big part of it.
[00:09:21] I’d like to get at a piece of research around task accomplishments because I think this is helpful. I’m simplifying this research so we can get through it quickly, but you bring in a group of randomly selected people into a room and you give all of them the identical task to do and you ask them to do it. When they’re done, they’ll go to the back of the room or into another room and essentially do an exit interview: What was it like? How motivated were you? How good you feel about what you did? It’s a series of social science questions. You’re measuring how well did they do the task and what was the experience like for them. And that now is your your control group. This is how a broad cross-section of Americans, how well they do this task and how they feel about having done it.
[00:10:10] Then you do the experiment again and you solicit people the same way. You ask them to volunteer to do this, as the first group was all volunteers. The volunteers come in, they sit down, and you tell them, “Look here’s the task. We want you to do it. When you’re done, do the exit interview.” Everything is identical to the first control group except for one change in the protocol . The researchers at the front of the room say, or the facilitator the front of the room says, “and by the way we’re so grateful you came in here today. We’re going to pay you to do the task.” And everybody looks around “OK. Cool we’re gonna get paid for this.”.
[00:10:44] So they do the task, the identical task as the control group. Then they go and they do the exit interviews just like the control group did. Now the researchers step back and they look at the results of the control group. How well did they do? And the second group that was offered money to do the task and you discover something fascinating. Which group did the best on the task? For most of us it’s counterintuitive, because it was the first group that did better.
[00:11:11] The group where no money was mentioned at all almost universally outperformed the people in the second group. So now the question is what the heck just happened? What’s going on there? We talk about this with managers often in our various workshops and I say “So what was different? What motivated the first group to come in?” And almost always someone says “Well they wanted to do it. It’s obvious they volunteered.” And I said “Great. Now unpack that for me. Why did they want to do it?” Then there’s a little bit more of a pause in the room as people are digging deeper. So why would someone volunteer to go in the task? And then hands go up. “They wanted to help.” “They were curious.” “They had nothing else to do. They were bored.” “They wanted to participate in something that was important.”.
[00:12:02] We unpack all of those reasons and yes all of those reasons are true. They all fall under one heading, or umbrella, if you will. They were all intrinsic motivations that came from inside the individual. They were there before they saw the request to come in and do the work. These are internal motivators that said “yes! Let’s go do that.” And in fact when they did it, they did it really well.
[00:12:29] So what’s different in the second group? The second group, and this is why the researchers did the research, they wanted to find out when you know how well people do when they’re intrinsically motivated, let’s toss in an extrinsic motivator – which is what money is – and let’s see what happens. What the research shows is when you introduce an extrinsic motivator like money, performance declines. People still do the task but they don’t do it as well and they don’t feel as good about how they did it. They spend less time on it. They’re a little bit faster, a little bit less personal commitment to the task. The task becomes more tactical and transactional rather than that sort of motivation that comes from commitment.
[00:13:18] It makes me think of another another piece of research that I think helps explain. This is in a daycare center. The owner of the daycare center is concerned because parents are showing up late to pick up their kids. Something I know you would never do.
Kelly: [00:13:33] I would never do that.
Don: [00:13:34] I know you wouldn’t and maybe I can include you in this piece of research. The owner is is worried about parents that show up late because some member of their staff has to stay until the last parent gets there. He’s getting a little concerned. He probably doesn’t want to pay overtime. He tells the staff, “Look I’m going to take care of this. This isn’t fair. Starting next month, we’re letting parents know they’re going to be fined for every minute that they’re late. We’ll end this tardy arrival business, because we’re going to make them pay for it.” He then institutes that policy and they do it for a length of time and then stop to look back at the results. An outcome unfolded that the owner hadn’t even conceived as being possible. What do you think happened to the number of parents showing up late when he instituted the fine system?
Kelly: [00:14:26] More parents willing to pay somebody to watch their child longer.
Don: [00:14:29] Yes that’s exactly what happened. Tardy parents actually increased. It went up. So now, and I want to ask you this question Kelly, when there’s no fine system, why are you rushing to show up on time to two to pick up your daughter? Why are you rushing to be there on time at daycare?
Kelly: [00:14:49] I care about the time the caregiver gives to my daughter. And you really don’t want to make your caregiver mad when you want to take good care of your child. It’s important to take care of her too.
Don: [00:15:03] So when you show up do you feel a little guilty?
Kelly: [00:15:06] When I’m late? Absolutely. I text, “I’m sorry. I’m on my way. I’ll be there in five minutes.” It’s very important to me.
Don: [00:15:12] Those are all intrinsic motivators – everything you just described. I want to be a good parent.I don’t want to feel guilty. I don’t want to upset my caregiver. This is a person taking care of my child every day. The last thing I want to do is make them upset with me. So your care and love of your child comes into play. Very powerful intrinsic motivations to be there on time. Now I’m asking you to put yourself in the position of a parent where now if you’re late all you have to do is pay. The decision becomes now, what happens…
Kelly: [00:15:44] Mental calculation! What is worth it?
Don: [00:15:45] It’s a mental calculation. It literally moves from the limbic system in the brain, where we’re processing emotion and things like guilt. And it moves into the prefrontal cortex because now it’s just a calculation. Oh ten minutes late? Fifteen dollars? But to get to finish the report and look like a hero at work?
Kelly: [00:16:04] Worth it. Absolutely.
Don: [00:16:04] Totally worth. And we don’t feel guilty because we’re now paying them to do be there late. This is part of the shift. What we want to do is to identify, understand, and nurture those intrinsic motivators that cause people to volunteer discretionary effort everyday when they’re at work.
Kelly: [00:16:23] Going back to the first example of a task accomplishment in the volunteers and those that were paid. I think it would be very rare for you to find an employee who says “I would rather work for free because I know I will work harder” even if that’s what the science says is true. Obviously that is not a really sustainable way to run an organization or an economy. However, you will find people who say “I would do this job even if they didn’t pay me.” What they truly mean it or not, the sentiment – the intrinsic nature of that statement – is true for them and that I think is the core to the motivation leaders need to find and tap into in employees. How do we get to that sentiment, get to that point where employees would say “I would do this even if they didn’t pay me.”? What are the core drivers to create that intrinsic motivation?
Don: [00:17:15] We see this in our work and as many of our listeners know we measure engagement. We have a 28 question online survey that employees take that lets us assess this with incredible accuracy. One of the things we know is that the more engaged the employee is, the less focused they are on money, pay, and compensation. Literally the less likely they are to go in and ask for a raise. It is in part because they feel so good about what they do. Some even report feeling guilty about being paid for what they do because they enjoy it so much.
[00:17:48] Now obviously I’m all for paying people as much as we can. I want employees to be paid a great wage. But for a leader, the question is, “Am I going to get more engagement, more productivity, higher quality performance, just by paying people more?” And it’s an interesting question that I ask CEOs very straightforward. “If you gave every one of your employees a 20 percent raise tomorrow, would you see resulting, a consequential, 20 percent improvement in their engagement and passion and commitment coming to work every day?” They all shake their head no.
[00:18:23] Look, we understand intuitively that the correlation between money and performance is not very high. And yet, I think we’ve just been convinced because of the business model that you’re paying people to do a certain amount of work. We talk about a decent day’s pay for a decent day’s work and I’m all for that. But what’s actually motivating people to outperform has a lot more to do with these intrinsic motivators rather than the extrinsic the money.
[00:18:51] You ask what can be done. People need to feel good about what they’re doing. I don’t mean we’re trying to make them happy, but they need to be engaged. This is about these intrinsic drivers that that moves all human behavior. Am I in an environment where I’m valued, where I’m recognized, where if I go above and beyond someone notices it? Does the manager, the leader, do we have effective recognition systems where we’re validating, recognizing, providing regular feedback?
[00:19:19] I’m going to circle back now to the comment I had where I asked the CEOs “Are your top performers top performers because of what they’re paid?” This is where my training comes in as an ecologist. I’m trained as a biologist and ecologist. I see companies as social ecosystems. I look at these top performers, and I say OK so it’s not money that regularly drives their behavior. What is the right nutrient for these top line players? What restores all the metabolic costs that they give to to behave in the way that they do? And it turns out to be something remarkably simple. It’s attention.
[00:19:59] The primary nutrient of a top performer is attention. Do you see me? Did you see me do it? Did you comment on it either to me directly, perhaps more broadly to the team? Do you see me? Which translates into I’m valued. The interesting thing for me as a practitioner working in this field with with companies all over North America, is that this solution is free. But it’s almost totally absent in many organizations. That is, a strategically designed recognition system so people who operate in highly effective ways are recognized for doing it. We do want to be leading a meritocracy, and one of the key ways to do that is to recognize and to give merit to that level of effort that is above the norm.
Kelly: [00:20:55] It’s free. This type of intrinsic motivation is free, in that it’s not bound to what you’re paying your employees, once you’re paying them a fair and sustainable wage. But it’s not free when it comes to the manager’s time commitment, because a lot of what this means is a manager has to understand their individual employees. Has to build relationships with their individual employees to know what motivates them intrinsically, because it’s going to look different for different employees on their team.
[00:21:24] I might be motivated to do a really good job because I have a personal sense of excellence and I love the kind of work I’m doing and I’m going to commit strongly to doing that work intrinsically. A colleague of mine might feel a personal sense of conviction to their colleagues, to supporting the other people in their teams, to not letting others down. They’re going to show up and be motivated by the collaboration and the respect from the team in general. Another might be motivated by the mission of the organization, knowing that the work that they’re doing every day makes a difference to this world. Those different types of individual motivators, all of which are intrinsic – which we already know is what sustains engagement – those are all different to each employee. A manager won’t understand how to tap into those intrinsic motivators individually unless they spend time with their employees. Unless they open their doors. Unless they walk down the halls. Unless they ask personal questions to get to know what drives each individual employee. In that relationship building, that is time costly, the outcome of that – the return on investment – is exceedingly high.
Don: [00:22:39] You raise a good point. I said it’s free and that was in terms of dollars. Is it free for a manager in terms of the metabolic load, the energy, that it takes to execute those kinds of relational conversations that can feel long, in-depth. And for most of us frankly the more relational the conversation gets, the more inept we often feel, because we’re not trained as therapists and counselors. So how do we deal with this emotional distress that an employee might be sharing or even an emotional high? I said it’s free, but it isn’t easy. This is part of the subtlety of great leadership. In a relational culture, leaders are more likely to know these subtle distinctions between employees than in a transactional culture where the managers just in their office just crunching numbers. It’s also harder for managers that are running virtual teams, that are in remote locations, where they don’t even have the benefit of that close personal interaction where they can see. It becomes harder.
[00:23:40] This is one of the things that I ask managers to do that are struggling to this. It’s a very practical step. I ask them to look for instances where they see their staff really excited, really happy, really pleased about something. And simply just be curious about why they’d feel so good in that moment. That’s when I’m going to hear, like in the description you said, one employee is going to say, “oh I just feel like we made great progress on our mission!” Or the other one is going to say, “oh I just felt so great how the team came together and we got this done.” And the other one is going to say “you know what, it just it just felt so good to produce such a great product for our clients and customers to see. I’m just really proud of how we show up for our customers and clients.” Because that’s really important to them.
[00:24:29] Oh what’s your title again? Oh, Vice President of Client Experiences! I know you’re interested in this, Kelly. You are focused on the client experience, what is that like? That’s a huge part of what works for you. That is an opportunity for a manager. Look for those moments of expressed joy, and it might just be the person smiles, or they feel good and in a way that you don’t always see. Just be curious. Probe. Have a conversation. That’s a great way to find out what these subtle distinctions are.
Kelly: [00:25:01] That’s great. Don, thank you so much for your insights on motivation and the science behind motivation today.
Don: [00:25:05] It’s been a pleasure to be here Kelly. As usual you’re asking great questions. This is a lot of fun.
Thank you for listening to the Thrive by Design podcast. Be sure to subscribe, rate, and review the show. Each rating and review helps other managers like you find the show and benefit from these episodes. Are you looking for science-based solutions to increase employee retention and engagement? Are you ready to measure key drivers of high performance? Do you want your team to look forward to coming to work? Don’t wait. Check out e3solutions.com right now.