Behavior and Process

February 5, 2013 by Wally Bock

Derek Irvine wrote a fine article recently with the headline, “Meaningful Work? It’s Just as Important to Employees as a Paycheck.” Looking at the headline, you might think it refers to those “studies” that prove that people would rather die than give a speech. That didn’t happen here. Derek was careful in his conclusions.

“That’s not to say that pay is unimportant. But it’s a mistake to focus solely on compensation as the primary motivator of employees to engage with your organization (or, more accurately, with demonstrating the core values and delivering your strategic objectives) and keep them on staff.”

Dig around in the research behind good articles like this one and behind the whacko ones where people draw outrageous conclusions from faulty research and you find some serious issues. One is that they’re mostly about what people say, not what they actually do.

The studies that find that people would rather die than give a speech must do that. I can’t find a single incidence of anyone in real life consciously choosing to die rather than speak. Studies of what people do often give you results that are very different from what those same people said they would do. I’d love to see a good study of who’s changing jobs and why, instead of yet another one that tells me a third of workers are planning to leave their jobs this year.

Leaving out process creates problems, too. Dollar compensation and praise are both important to people, but they operate differently.

Money is a hygiene factor. There must be “enough” salary and benefits or people don’t feel like they’re being treated fairly. Increasing the money may get a temporary bump in effort, but it doesn’t last long.

Praise, on the other hand, is a motivational factor. Increase meaningful praise and you’re likely to get more effort.

Dollar compensation and praise are also delivered differently. Salary and benefits are set on high, far above the level of most workers. For them, compensation is the environment. It is what it is.

Praise is delivered by the boss. If you want to increase effective praise in an organization, the best way to do it is choose people more likely to succeed as bosses and teach them how to deliver meaningful praise.

The bottom line is pretty simple. You’ll get better results if you look beyond most studies to what people actually do and then pay attention to how the processes work in your business.

Wally Bock is a coach, a writer and President of Three Star Leadership.

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  • Many thanks for the kind shout-out, Wally. I like the way you phrase money as a hygiene factor. That’s very true.

    More importantly, I appreciate the guidance on looking beyond cursory survey results to get to the meat of what people actually do vs what they SAY they would, could or should do.

  • Pingback: Don’t Count on Compensation (or Raises) for Employee Engagement()

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