Ben’s been taking a theoretical approach to his new project…
Let’s get started
I’ve been given the unenviable task of devising a new pay, bonus and incentive structure for Specialist Holidays Group’s multichannel distribution department. The aim of the task is to improve customer service, increase colleague collaboration, reduce interchannel competition and increase profits across a department of 400+ people.
Since being given the project, I’ve spoken to a number of managers and team leaders across our brands (American Holidays, Austravel, Citalia, Crystal, Flexible Flights, Hayes & Jarvis, Jetsave, Meon Villas, and Sovereign), and channels (Call centre, Online, Trade). As I’ve engaged in these conversations and grappled with intensely detailed incentive schemes, a number of questions have arisen that, even when answered, lead to more questions:
- How are people incentivised now?
- Who should be incentivised? Everyone?
- What behaviours are we trying to encourage?
- What behaviours can we incentivise?
- What behaviours exist already?
- What motivations underpin these behaviours?
- How can we change salary, bonuses and pay to channel motivations that deliver desirable behaviours?
I need to be motivated
I started to think about what motivates people on a very basic level. At first I considered Maslow’s hierarchy of needs as an indicator of motivation, taking it for granted that people would be motivated by need to take action. The basic needs of Air, Food, Water, etc. would cause people to take action, but there were a few problems with this idea. Firstly, urgent needs tend to distort normal behaviours. Two thirsty men in the desert may fight to the death over a bottle of water, even though they had no history of competition in the past. A man may decide to rob a bank in an attempt to secure the financial future of his family, even though in circumstances where his family are financially comfortable, he is not intrinsically motivated by achieving high levels of wealth. I felt that I couldn’t rely on any test of need as an indicator of motivation, because needs distort motivation.
I changed tack and began considering what activities all people undertake just for the sake of the activity, and what activities I undertake. What do I spend hours doing which involves a high level of engagement, but I get paid nothing for. Essentially, what do I enjoy doing?
Back when I was a teenager I had something of an addiction to playing Age of Empires II. Beating computer controlled players was satisfying enough, but when I could play online to compete with real people, I found that smashing their cities and killing their villagers was even more satisfying. At Uni my housemates accused me of being obsessed with PES. It started off with me buying the game and we all played together, but then I started playing on my own and beating my housemates all the time. They refused to play me anymore, and I lost interest in playing on my own. When I was a teacher and an exam period came around, I could think of nothing better than trying to conquer Europe in Medieval II: Total War. The best part to me wasn’t the struggle to dominate the map, but the real-time battles where you mentally and physically had to outmanoeuvre and rout your opponent. There’s nothing quite like seeing a once formidable army fleeing your wake.
I now try to avoid these games as much as possible, but it led me to start thinking that everyone plays games; I know you are thinking you don’t, but I’m including all games and sports, from Angry Birds to Soccer to Hide & Seek to Scrabble. Everyone has played a game, and everyone enjoys different kinds of games, which is when I stumbled across Richard Bartle‘s Test of Gamer Psychology
Bartle is a writer, professor and game researcher who was involved in the very beginnings of virtual worlds involving multiple players. In a 1996 paper, Bartle split players of Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPGs) into four types:
- Killers – Thriving on competition with other players
- Achievers – Preferring to gain “points,” levels, equipment and other concrete measurements of succeeding
- Socializers – Playing games for the social aspect, rather than the actual game itself
- Explorers – Preferring to discover areas, create maps and learning about hidden places
There’s even a test to discover which type you are developed by Erwin Andreasen and Brandon Downey. This was an interesting tangent from trying to develop a real life incentive scheme for real life people. Or was it tangent? Could it be fundamental to the entire project? I kept reading and stumbled across an update of Bartle’s gamer types, written by Jon Radoff.
Radoff, an entrepreneur, author and game designer, sets out two axis against which gamers could be measured, dividing their motivations into four quadrants, roughly equivalent to Bartle’s Gamer types:
- Competition: player involvement where individuals complete over scarce resources, comparison, and win/loss situations; incorporates Bartle’s ‘Killers’
- Achievement: sense of progress, mastery of skills and knowledge, etc, incorporates Bartle’s ‘Achievers’
- Cooperation: player involvement in activities where they are helping each other, through creativity, shared adversity, etc, incorporates Bartle’s ‘Socializers’
- Immersion: stories, roleplaying, exploration, imagination, and a sense of connectedness to the world of the game, incorporates Bartle’s ‘Explorers’.
Geeks are people too
It used to be that games were played by particular groups of people, stereotyped as greasy haired teenage boys who didn’t have anything better to with their time. The games that they played tapped into the the things that motivated them intrinsically in ways that real life couldn’t. Those driven by competition were playing against friends and AI, attempting to get another victory, while those driven by cooperation were playing for the pay-off of interacting with others, victory being less important. Achievers were seeking to better themselves, setting records and completing tasks, while Explorers were immersing themselves in virtual worlds, exploring new worlds and testing out every scenario.
These different names have been used to classify gamers, and help them know what they enjoy most out of their gaming experiences. But more and more people play games in their daily lives through Facebook and smartphones. Words With Friends, Farmville, Angry Birds, Temple Run, Draw Something, Wii Sports and Rock Band are all positively mainstream. So when we break gamers down into four distinct types, are we actually breaking people into four types? The more I thought about it, even social media seemed to be an illustration of the four motivations in action. Facebook seemed to tick at least three boxes, providing an immersive social environment where you get to show off to your friends about how great your life is, to the point where people are almost addicted and lying about how much fun they’re having. Foursquare, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, in fact, all social media that we take part in has us working for free because they are means to reach the ends we desire; I want to have the best life, I want to have the life I want, I want to live my life with everyone, I want to live everything.
Based on these thoughts I have come to believe that, with a little adjustment, the gamer types be used to discover workplace motivation.
Hold your horses, Dan Pink has spoken
I like to watch TED talks and RSA talks on the internet. They feed my brain over breakfast, and satisfy my desire to seek constant enlightenment. A few months ago I watched a video of Dan Pink talk at TED about motivation, and key parts of his talk stuck with me to influence the way I viewed the world. This was further reinforced by reading The Social Animal by New York Times columnist David Brooks, and another talk by Pink at the RSA. The biggest idea I took away from these talks (and a few scientific studies I blew my brains out with) was that material incentives are detrimental to the completion of complex tasks. This was mind-altering to me but delightfully simple. Almost any kind of activity that requires creative thinking, which includes almost any non-repetitive activity, is hindered by the prospect of material reward. But this includes sales, doesn’t it?
A knee-jerk reaction to this idea in our sales centre would be to remove incentives and bonuses and pay a higher basic salary. That’s a knee-jerk reaction because we have hired a lot of people who are motivated by money, and some have worked here for many years being paid for performance and consistently performing for that reason. We, as an employer, have a transactional relationship with many of our employees, a relationship that is amplified the better the employee is – we’ve hired for that drive and we’ve fed that drive, but what’s behind that drive?
Pink’s 3 Motivating Factors
In his book Drive, Dan Pink writes about 3 factors leading to better performance and personal satisfaction:
- Autonomy: The desire to be self-directed
- Mastery: The urge to get better and better at something that matters
- Purpose: The urge to do what we do in service to something larger than ourselves
According to Pink, these three factors are important to everyone as long as money is not an issue. We want autonomy to define our own lives and do what we want to do, which actually makes a lot of sense until I start thinking about our sales centre and that the phones have to be manned 9 til 9. Most of our sales staff, even if given autonomy, would choose to continue working; if they are on the phone, they are making more money. What if they weren’t making more money and money wasn’t an issue? What would they do then? Would they do something they wanted to do, or something they needed to do?
Mastery is an interesting idea, and Pink has expressed it in two different ways. The “urge to get better at stuff” and the “urge to get better at something that matters” are actually different ideas, hinging on the word “matters”. What matters to me doesn’t matter to you and may not matter to the company I work for. Some people want to be better at playing guitar, some people want to be better at making friends, some people want to be better at holding their drink, and some people don’t really care about getting better at all – they just want to try everything.
Every company worth its salt these days has a transcendent purpose. Here at TUI we have the TUI Spirit, with the Vision “Making travel experiences special”, which is easy for me to engage with. I can also understand how people might not engage with it, in which case they probably shouldn’t be working for the company. My point is that having a purpose for a company is a great idea, but you cannot motivate everyone with a single purpose. I doubt that a double-glazing company could have any transcendent purpose which could motivate me, though I keep an open mind.
I’m not writing these 3 factors off, on the contrary, I think that they are highly valuable for looking at how to motivate staff. What I do think is that staff are highly variable in how they react to autonomy, mastery and purpose, and my assertion is that they react in accordance with the end they wish to achieve through an activity.
The Four Ends of Activity
I’ve adapted Bartle’s gamer types and Randall’s gamer motivations to the workplace to devise four primary ends:
I propose that all people, if given the choice, are motivated to pursue the above, that they derive pleasure from all activities they undertake according to the ends that deliver the biggest psychological payload. These four are sought by individuals as ends in themselves.
For example, some people derive great pleasure from proving themselves better than their peers, installing themselves in leadership positions, and enjoying the prestige of winning. In every area of their life they are chasing to beat the next person in front of them, and play to win. They may be competing materially with their peers, keeping up with the proverbial Jones’s, by chasing a bigger house and a better car, and as a result may be money-driven. Their motivation is Command.
Some people have their own goals and targets, deriving pleasure from smashing those targets, achieving higher levels in life for the sake of the Achievement end. Their personal goals may or may not be material, and for this reason achievers may be money-driven (often more acutely than those motivated by Command), and they will continue to set goals, even when their lives have become comfortable. They’ll climb mountains to prove to themselves they can do it.
Some people derive pleasure from interacting with others, always seeking out people whether they know them or not; every interaction has the potential to be a rewarding experience. For those motivated by Collaboration, they do not care whether they win or lose, but they do care if they get to be with you. Collaborators enjoy work as long as there’s discussion, feedback, and everyone’s involved. They will be money-driven as long as it sustains (and doesn’t interfere with) their social lives , and if surrounded by money-driven commanders and achievers they will join in to have more in common with those around them.
Some people are always working things out, exploring ideas and forming theories about how the world works. They derive great pleasure from a new discovery, and get a mental pay off at moments of Enlightenment. They can get caught up in ideas and be fanatical about an activity, as long as it continues to deliver new discoveries. Seekers of enlightenment can be difficult to motivate and will even find themselves difficult to motivate – if a project does not involve them furthering their own understanding of the world, they can find it boring or mundane.
The 2 Axes
As in Randall’s Gamer motivations, I plotted the Ends on 2 axes: People vs Environment (i.e. the world around) and Act Upon vs Interact With.
People who enjoy Acting Upon People are Commanders, deriving pleasure from winning and leadership as an end in itself. This is not to say that those motivated by Collaboration, Enlightenment or Achievement can’t be leaders, but holding a leadership position isn’t an end in itself to those 3 types. Collaborators are motivated to Interact With People, Seekers (of Enlightenment) are motivated to Interact With their Environment, immersing themselves in it and testing out hypotheses, and Achievers are driven to Act Upon the Environment, stamping their name on it by reaching goals.
But I am none of those
I have been working on a test to discover which Ends are sought through activity, based on the original gamer type test (though it has become far removed from that at this point). As I have been testing this out on people, no one has been 100% anything, which is to be expected. Everyone is a complex individual who may be motivated to pursue multiple ends.
I’ll use myself as an example. Last time I took the test I came out as:
I am motivated by all four ends, but to different extents.
My primary End is Enlightenment, which probably comes as no surprise to those who know me. I was on the phone to my mother, explaining the four Ends, and she immediately picked out Enlightenment as mine. I am motivated by massive, novel projects that I can become completely immersed in and passionate about, such as this one. My brain doles out a huge dopamine hit when I make a new discovery or solve a problem or apply a theory and it works, to the point where I blush and my hair stands on end. It’s practically an out of body experience.
I am also motivated by command. I always want to win. I was travelling with a friend recently, playing scrabble on her Kindle, and she became more and more infuriated that I would not let her win. Considering I have a score of 22% for collaboration and 62% for command, that’s no surprise; there’s far more pay-off for me if I win than if I cooperate. When I was studying Chinese, in order to motivate myself, I couldn’t depend on getting much thrill from simply achieving a high level of Chinese. In my first semester I picked someone in my class with a comparable level of Chinese that I could compete with, and I won, which was deeply satisfying. I got the added bonus of scoring higher than any other westerner in the grade, which probably gave me too much of a pay-off.
Means vs Ends
If you give people Autonomy you give them the means to seek whatever ends they want. If you give people the opportunity to exercise Mastery, they will seek to master something that they want. If you give them Purpose, you better make sure it’s a purpose that they can engage with (otherwise it’s no more than hot air).
But if you know what they want, if you know they derive satisfaction from collaborating, seeking, achieving or commanding, or any combination of those, you can deploy your employees according to what delivers them the greatest satisfaction. The best relationship you can have with your employees is to have their pursuit of happiness align with your business need.
I’ll update you next time on how I am attempting to apply the Four Ends of Activity.