Three Factors Motivate Performance – Money Isn’t One of Them

Marketers have Long Known that Price is Rarely the True Motivator for Consumers; When it Comes to Motivating Employees, the Same Principle Holds

Last Fall, I heard author Dan Pink speak on the science of motivation at TEDxNASA and was delighted to run across a You Tube posting of the talk. From his study of the scientific literature on motivation, Dan outlines the myths and perils of extrinsic motivators (such as money), and describes the three key elements of truly effective motivation: autonomy, mastery, and purpose. A key finding from the MIT study described in this piece is that, while financial rewards tend to motivate people doing ‘mechanical’ tasks, it has the opposite effect on workers using ‘cognitive’ skills.

I wonder about the implications of these findings on the healthcare industry’s quest to achieve clinical, financial and market performance improvements. What are our myths? That tinkering with reimbursement models will make healthcare organizations set up and take notice? That performance bonuses will transform providers into a newly energized pep squad? Maybe. But history and science suggest ‘maybe not’ – especially if other core elements of motivation are lacking.

And I also wonder if organizations could get to the same end faster and with a more engaged, motivated team waiting at the finish line, if as much time was spent on powering up people and leadership skills, as is devoted to endless operational restructurings, process redesigns and rounds of right-sizings. That will require a new mindset about about people as strategy-critical assets, and a much greater understanding of what drives and sustains motivation for the nurses, physicians and thousands of others that are healthcare’s front line.

As Dan puts it – people are not as endlessly manipulable and predictable as you might think.

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