Work with People, don’t do things to them!

Tuesday, November 6th, 2007
How (and why) do we make people do things?

20071105_Dave_Gurteen_KMWorld_2007.JPGDavid Gurteen is an independent knowledge educator and coach, helping organizations to share their knowledge more freely and to innovate more creatively. Dave is also the founder of the Gurteen Knowledge Community, a global network of over 14,000 people in 153 countries. [ He is also a diehard Lotus Notes user!]

David is inviting us to join a conversation about rewards in KM initiatives. Rewards as in a specific reward for a specific knowledge behavior.

"How do we make them use it?"

A story: (my paraphrase, here...)

KM Program manager: "We've just created a KM system and no one will use it. How do we make them use it?"
KM Consultant: "To what extent did you involve the users in the design, planning, and implementation of the system?"
KM Program manager: "We didn't. Management wanted the system yesterday and there simply wasn't any time to involve the users."
KM Consultant: "Well, that is a problem. I'm sorry your people choose not to use a system that they see no value in..."
and so it goes...

So the question Dave wants us to consider is "How (and why) do we make people do things?"

It looks like, much of David's current thinking and questions on this topic is influenced by Alfie Kohn, author of the book "Punished by rewards".
Many of the familiar principles of Quality Management amount to an elaboration of this simple truth: an innovative healthy organization requires that we work with people rather than do things to them. - Alfie Kohn

Should we reward knowledge sharing activity?

Dave goes on to share some of Alfie Kohn's key thoughts about rewards:
  • Rewards punish
  • Rewards rupture relations
  • Rewards ignore reasons
  • Rewards undermine interest

To the best of my knowledge, no controlled scientific study has ever found a long-term enhancement of the quality of work as a result of any reward system. - Alfie Kohn

Rewards Punish
  • Threats and coercion destroy motivation and so do rewards
  • Rewards are manipulative
"Do this and you will get that" is not much different to "Do this, else this is what will happen to you."
  • When people do not get the reward they hoped for, they feel punished. [certainly if one believes he has truly earned (or qualified for) the reward.]
  • The more desirable the reward the more demoralizing it is to miss out.

Rewards rupture relations
  • Excellence depends on teamwork
  • Rewards (especially if scarce) destroy cooperation
  • Incentive driven employees will not ask for help from their manager when they need it.
  • people will conceal problems from their manager in order to appear competent.

Rewards ignore reasons
  • To solve problems, people must understand the causes
  • They ignore the complexities of the problems
  • Each situation call fora different response
  • Rewards tend to blindly promote a single solution

Rewards Deter Risk-taking
  • People are less likely to take risks; to explore possibilities; to play hunches
  • The number one casualty of rewards is creativity

Rewards Undermine Interest
  • Loving what you do is a more powerful motivator than any goody, including money
  • Rewards are controlling
  • If people focus on getting a reward they tend to feel their work is no longer freely chosen and directed by them. [Is it still knowledge work, then?]
  • If they have to bribe me to do it, it must be something I don't want to do!

So, what's the solution?

We are discussing these points...
How do we make people do things?

How do we make people use the new KM system, the new Collaboration system, the new [fill in the blank] system?

How do we make people do anything... and what role should rewards play?

Dave Gurteen tells us that Alfie Kohn suggests:
  • Pay people well
  • Pay people fairly
  • Then do everything possible to take money (rewards) off people's minds.

Incentives, bonuses, pay-for-performance-plans and other reward systems violate this last principle by their very nature!

Next Dave, goes on to share Bib Buckman's approach to motivating people to share knowledge...
Our approach to KM is far more than stick or carrot. We say "Knowledge sharing is your job. Do it!"
As a reward, you may keep your job. - Bob Buckman

Personally, while I understand and agree with Alfie Kohn's points, I must admit that I resonate more with Bob Buckman's statement on rewards for work. At least currently.

So, here are three questions I will put to you:

How do we make people do things?

How do we make people use the new KM system, the new Collaboration system, the new [fill in the blank] system?

How do we make people do anything... and what role should rewards play?


Discussion/Comments (1):

Work with People, don’t do things to them!

Just speaking for myself... I react poorly to reward systems. I'm personally offended by them. Invariably, the key to receiving them is to game the system -- to play politics rather than concentrate on the tasks that should be rewarded. I look at the offer of such bribes to be an insult to my professionalism. Of COURSE I did a good job: it's why I was hired. By definition, reward systems can only work for people who aren't working to potential, and thus don't deserve the reward.

Look... if you have to be paid extra to excel, then what is your paycheck for? Shouldn't you be motivated to do your best every day purely on general principles and personal pride? If you're not there to do your job to the best of your ability, then why are you there at all? Why shouldn't you be replaced at the first opportunity with someone who IS thus motivated? These aren't rhetorical questions. To those that think they truly believe in a reward system: I invite you to seriously consider how you would honestly answer these questions. And consider what you would think of an employee's potential answers.

For myself, huge motivators are a decent wage, a decent challenge, and managers who can define the challenges and then stay out of the way and allow employees to achieve results creatively and effectively. IOW, management that actually believes all the "thinking outside the box" rhetoric spouted during the hiring process. Rare, but not extinct.

Posted at 11/11/2007 22:18:18 by Dave Leigh

Discussion for this entry is now closed.