Monday, January 12, 2009

The Biz School Chronicles :: Why Motivation is a Bad Idea

Yes you read right and I agree with Prof. Degamboda, who lectures us on Managerial Economics. Here's why;

Of late, I have been wondering whether the traditional methods of motivation, especially when applied to individuals, are flawed. Why? Imagine you have a bunch of engineers working for you. These engineers will have varying degrees of experience, some just graduating from the university, some with 1-2 years experience and others who are veterans of the industry with 5 or more years of experience behind them with scars to prove it. So theoretically, how do you motivate all of them? The original theory dictates that one should carefully analyze each individual and try to figure out exactly where they fit in a scale of motivation such as Maslow's Heirarchy of Needs. The next step would be to set goals according to each individuals current state in this scale ensuring that these new goals would pave way to the next level in the hierarchy.

But in many organizations we don't see this happen. Instead, by tradition, most organizations use a 'one size fits all' strategy. In comes 'flat hierarchies' and 'each to ones self' type motivational schemes. The end result as I have seen, is a complete mess in team structures and overall vision. Yes, the top management gets what they want. A bunch of goal oriented cyborgs who are willing to do whatever it takes to impress them in order to get ahead. What happens downstairs is a human tragedy to say the least. The inexperienced begin to loath those who join with a bit of experience, since they are potentially a threat to bubbling up. So what happens? Corporate back stabbing, speaking without thinking just to get ones words in become acceptable practice. The experienced employees, who were hired at a price (obviously) and their input gets discarded to satisfy the insecurities of those with lesser years under their belts. Mistakes, that could have been well avoided (with the industry experience of the seniors) are repeated again and again.

The same can be explained using a marketing team. If the management motivates the individuals with goals such as Rs. 10, 000/= for every X number of units sold, eventually the employees will go to such extents as preventing others form selling this X amount once they themselves have achieved the target. Mind you, this is the culture in this part of the world. So the traditional motivational practices as above may have and still might work in the western world, but one begins to wonder whether they are ideal for us.

What's the alternative? Divide the workforce into teams and let teams compete with each other. This has different dynamics than individuals competing as apparent in many sports. But one should also remember to instill the greater vision of the organization in these teams. A classic example of teams competing with each other, while keeping the greater vision in mind is the Japanese auto industry.

A few years ago, Toyota was the first to implement VVT technology among Japanese Car makers. But if they introduced it immediately, it would have had a negative impact on Honda, Mitsubishi and Nissan. This impact would have almost killed them. The Japanese auto industry would have suffered while Toyota made some short term profits. So what did Toyota do? They postponed production for 2 years until others implemented their own versions of VVT. We all know where they are today, don't we?

As I said in a recent post, western theories might have been dominant till now. But this does not, in any way mean that they are the only way. There's a new world order emerging, look around you!