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Is Dan Pink Right?

September 10, 2009

In a recent TED talk, Dan Pink discusses how external motivation in many cases is an ineffective tool for increasing productivity. He cites several examples of experiments where added incentives actually slow down productivity. Pink doesn’t say that incentives NEVER work, he simply cites that any sort of work that requires any sort of creativity relies more on intrinsic motivation for productivity than using external incentives.

So is Dan Pink right?

According to a rebuttal by Paul Hebert of Incentive Intelligence (video shown above) he’s not completely wrong but not completely right either. Hebert explains how the data cited by Dan Pink is not new and one experiment in particular had been around since 1945. He also tells that there’s plenty of other data that is not included in Pink’s presentation that supports incentive programs and how they truly are effective in business.

A recent article on canada.com explains how employee incentive programs helped drive companies through a slow economy. The Calgary Marriott Hotel adopted a points-based reward system to where employees can give points to their peers at any level in the company for showing outstanding work or going above and beyond. The points are redeemable for a variety of merchandise options…a tangible incentive. Since implementing this system, the hotel reports a drop in staff turnover. The Calgary Airport also put a similar program in place and saw beneficial results. Says spokeswoman Katherine Kelly:

“Not only does it attract and retain employees, but now people are coming up with these good ideas to save us money. You’re rewarding people for going above and beyond, and that’s actually helping the airport.”

External motivators definitely do have an effect on performance and can drive results. It’s not the incentives alone that work, it’s finding that balance between intrinsic and external motivations (as Hebert says in the above video). The external motivators should serve to drive the natural intrinsic motivators in employees. The trick is finding what sort of program works best for each company and environment.

So…is Dan Pink right?

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. September 10, 2009 7:31 pm

    Thanks for the link love!

  2. Mark Peterman permalink
    January 12, 2010 11:57 pm

    Dan Pink makes some excellent points. However, he is so focused on intrinsic motivation and the downside of poorly designed extrinsic motivation that the message that properly designed and properly applied incentives (extrinsic motivation) work is likely to be lost in the popular press. Imagine an organization where people have a great balance of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation …. where they achieve organizational goals and are personally fulfilled. Incentive professionals need to read his book and understand the implications.

    • January 13, 2010 2:31 pm

      Mark

      I agree that Pink doesn’t call for the complete abolition of external incentives and agree with him that intrinsic motivation is essential. External incentives are effective…if programs are properly designed. Pink has good intentions but does miss the mark in some areas. A few incentive professionals have read his book and one even did a review. Check this one out if you’re interested http://bit.ly/80mmd0. Thanks for your response!

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