Some experts advocate employee engagement, others are strong believers in motivational strategies. But one does not necessarily exclude the other. There can be circumstances where even an engaged employee can use some extra motivation. Having an overall engaged team should be the main goal of every leader. Engaged employees are a true asset for every organization, especially in difficult times. There is, however, quite some confusion about the difference between engagement and motivation.
Engagement comes from ‘within’. It is having belief in the ’cause’. Engaged people do what they do because they believe it is the right thing to do and not necessarily because there is a reward waiting at the end. A prime example of engagement is volunteer work. There is no payment involved, it takes up a lot of time and it is very often ungrateful work. Yet most volunteers do it with passion and perseverance. Why? Because they believe in what they do. Engagement has everything to do with commitment.
Here is where the confusion starts. When we talk about motivation, we distinguish two different kinds: intrinsic and extrinsic motivation.
Intrinsic motivation is in fact exactly the same as engagement. It comes from ‘within’ and it has to do with the joy or fulfillment a certain job or task gives the person, rather than the reward it will bring.
Extrinsic motivation is triggered by external factors. As soon as those factors don’t exist anymore, the motivation will be gone as well.
The opponents against motivation strategies are against extrinsic motivational measures like incentives and reward programs and they are absolutely right. Reward programs are counter productive; they usually have a negative return-on-investment in terms of money, employee satisfaction and retention.
What is there against Reward Programs?
Let me share my own experience with you. I started my career as a sales rep for a company that sold copiers, faxes and printers. As often the case, we got paid a commission on top of our – quite low – base salary. On top of that, the company had a few ‘reward programs’ running. A program for the most sold units in a given period, a program for the most ‘new business’ and a few more like these.
The worst one was the ‘Sales Person of the Month Award’. The one with the most sales in a particular month could hand in the keys to his company car and was allowed to drive the company’s Porsche Carrera the following month AND he got his own parking spot in front of the building.
What do these reward programs bring? Nothing, really. Guess who always won these rewards? Correct, the people who were always in the top already. Guess who didn’t even try to get one of these rewards? Correct again, the ones at the bottom. They knew up front that they would not stand a chance against the top performers. And guess who tried a few times but never got the ‘prize’ and became de-motivated? Right, the people in the middle.
So was it motivating? For sure it was, for the group who didn’t need to be motivated; the top performers. They might have sold a bit more but once you are at the top, the room for improvement becomes smaller and smaller. It didn’t do a thing for the bottom performers. They were ‘untouched’ by these programs. It did do a lot for the group in the middle though. That is the group where every sales manager can ‘score’. They have potential and a lot of room for improvement. And what did it do? Exactly the opposite of what the program was invented for. They knew that they contributed to the company and they saw that they would never get ‘rewarded’ for their contribution. How motivating is that?
I hear some people say already:”Then they should make it to the top! Then they will get the rewards as well!” I can score 110% of my target but if other people score 115%, does that make me ‘average’? No, it doesn’t. No matter how great your group of sales people is, there will always be a number one and a number last. And reward programs will always reward the numbers one, the people who need it the least.
Extrinsic motivators: short-term strategy
Incentives and reward programs ‘motivate’ only for as long as the program lasts or even shorter if the employee feels that he won’t ‘win’.
Suppose you have installed a reward for producing a certain number of your product and suppose that everybody is really trying hard. What happens after the deadline? Exactly. People will fall back to their normal production. To get the same results, you’ll have to install another reward program and so on.
Engagement: long-term strategy
Let’s look at that last example again. Suppose one of your suppliers has delivery problems and therefore your production comes to a halt for a certain period of time and nobody will meet the target for the reward. People that were motivated will not pick up the pace right after the supplier started delivering again, because there is no reward to work for anymore.
There is a group of people who will pick up the pace, despite of the fact that there will be no reward. They have an attitude of ‘let’s see what we can do to make up for the lost time’. They are in the ‘game’ for the ‘game’ and not for the ‘prize’. They are engaged.
Engaged employees have endurance. They will continue to bring the task to a good end, despite external challenges and circumstances. They support the goals, mission and values of the company and being part of the organization makes them feel proud. In general, the quality of their work is better. They want to be able to be proud of what they have done while motivated people are like horse with blinders, trying to get to the finish as fast as possible, no matter how.
Engagement goes deep. That also means that the management of an organization has to create an environment where engagement can thrive and flourish. In my next post I will share my thoughts on what you can and have to do to create an engaged team around you.
Let me conclude with a story I heard that describes engagement the best:
Former U.S. President John F. Kennedy came up with a very bold statement in September 1962: “We are going to the moon.” Not too long thereafter he paid NASA a visit. While he was there. he asked an employee:”What is your job?”. The man answered:”My job is to put a man on the moon.” He turned out to be the janitor.
That is ‘engagement’. No matter what you do, your work is as important as anybody’s as contribution to the mutual goal.
I wish you a lot of engagement.