The Cascade Effect: How Small Wins Can Transform Your Organization

Presenter:  Author Daniel Pink, @danielpink

EDUCAUSE tends to pick well-known and sometimes controversial people for their keynote addresses, and this year is no exception.  You may not know who Daniel Pink is, but you probably know something about his work.  Quick aside: a few years ago I picked up “Drive” on my Kindle.  Unfortunately, I only got about halfway through it…I guess I don’t exhibit enough of the book’s title (you can groan now).  Anyway, you may know Daniel’s work from this animation of his TED talk:  I distributed this video to my colleagues in Student Affairs leadership something like five or six years ago…the message is as relevant now as it was then.

After a few short anecdotes, Daniel dug into the core of his keynote, which was largely a recapitulation of the video at the YouTube link above.

Contingent Rewards

  • Aka “if-then” rewards work well for simple tasks over the short-term; they’re algorithmic.  However, they’re not so great for complex and long-term tasks.
  • Once a task calls for “even rudimentary cognitive skill,” a larger reward leads to poorer performance.
  • Social scientists have known this for a while, but organizations have been slow to pick this up.

Fact:  Money is a Motivator

  • BUT…there are nuances to it’s use as a motivator.
  • Salaries have to be fair, i.e. equal pay for similar work and effort.
  • Why?  People are highly attuned to the laws of fairness.
  • Pay people enough so that money is no longer an issue.

3 Key Motivators

A Gallup poll on employee engagement for 2013 and 2014 indicates that close to 7 out of 10 employees in the US are not engaged with their work.  That’s a lot of disengagement!  How to fix?  Through self-direction!  What are the 3 key motivators?   (Incidentally, these motivators are written on the whiteboard in my office at CSUN)

  1. Autonomy.  Management as a “technology” is designed to enforce compliance, which is often at odds when dealing with complex work.  This is particularly true in IT  When employees have some control over their Time, Technique, Team and Task, you get much better results and have a better likelihood of attracting and retaining talent.  Some examples were provided about carving out time to give people “islands of autonomy.”  The Nobel Prize in Physics in 2010 was awarded to Konstantin Novoselov & Andre Geim for their research on Graphene.  This came partially due to the fact that they had “Friday Evening Experiments,” which were self-directed, unfunded work done for 2-3 hours on Friday evenings.  Do you get enough autonomy in your work?  You can give yourself an autonomy audit right here (thanks Dan, I needed that!):
  2. Mastery.  Making progress in meaningful work is the single biggest day-to-day motivator.  This is intuitive at a personal level, but in an organizational setting it depends on getting meaningful feedback about how you’re doing.  Unfortunately, most workplaces are “feedback deserts.”  Annual performance reviews are kind of ridiculous when our younger staff are used to immediate feedback.  Why is this?  They have a literal lifetime of instant feedback via games, text messages, and Google searches.  This is why many large organizations like GE, Adobe, Accenture and more are getting rid of annual performance interviews.  Instead, they’re doing weekly one-on-ones…with a twist on the fourth week.  Month one:  on weeks one, two and three ask:  what are you working on and what do you need?   On the forth week, ask what do you love and loathe about your job?  Month two:  on weeks one, two and three ask what are you working on and what do you need?  On the forth week, ask how you can remove barriers.  Month three:  on weeks one, two and three ask what are you working on and what do you need?  On the forth week, talk about long-term career goals.  And so on…mix up the fourth week.
  3. Purpose.  If people can see the value and contribution that their work has, then product quality and employee satisfaction improve.  It helps to have Purpose with a large “P” and purpose with a small “p.”  In this case, a large P = transcendent goals, a small p = day-to-day personal contributions.  As a leader, you have to give not just the HOW, but the WHY of what needs to be done.

Homework for Attendees

Next week, have 2 fewer conversations about “how” and 2 more about “why.”

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