Common Motivation Mistakes – Are You Guilty?

Jordan Scott
Jordan Scott
In Sales
Jordan Scott is the Content Marketing Manager at Xactly. She attended The University of California at Santa Cruz, and received degrees in Literature and Education.

Motivation Mistake #1: Lack of employee acknowledgment

In Dan Ariely’s Ted talk, “What Makes us Feel Good About our Work?” he references a study that looked at the reactions of people who were paid a small amount of money to find pairs of letters on sheets of paper under three conditions.

Under the first condition, they tuned the paper in with their name on it, and the instructor nodded and said “uh-huh.” In the second condition the participants tuned their papers in without their names, and the instructor didn’t look up or say anything. In the third scenario the people turned their marked papers in, and the instructor placed them directly into a shredder.

As the experiment went on, participants were paid increasingly smaller amounts for each paper that they turned in. The most important finding from the experiment was that the people who were acknowledged by the instructor were willing to keep finding pairs of letters for longer; all the way down to 15 cents per page.

Interestingly enough, both the people whose papers were shredded, and those we weren’t recognized for their work, quit very close to the same time; when the compensation went down to about thirty cents per page.

Solution #1: Recognize performance

So, what wisdom can be garnered from the above experiment? Simply put – a little acknowledgment goes a long way. Remember that the results of ignoring people’s work is almost as bad as shredding it in front of them! Make sure that hard work doesn’t go unnoticed, and you’ll be on your way to effectively motivating your sales reps, and all employees for that matter.

Does your highest performing employee of the month have a sweet tooth? Take a page from the Lakeside Group Associates and pick up a box of chocolate dipped strawberries to reward them. If you’re the manager, simply recognizing your employee’s hard work goes a long way; a few extra “Atta boys” could be the difference between retaining an employee long term, and losing them to another company.

This experiment also shows that while it doesn’t take a lot to motivate people, it’s very easy to eliminate motivation all together when you ignore your employee’s hard work. Under these conditions, people quickly realize that they get the same reaction whether they put in all their effort, or put forth very little effort.

Motivation Mistake #2: Repetitive work

Ariely’s Ted talk continues with a description of prison guards using cyclical unchallenging work to punish prisoners; they are forced to dig a large hole, and then immediately fill it back up. His point was that a cyclical version of work can be incredibly demotivating (and downright torturous) for people. Are your employees subjected to a similar work experience?

Solution #2: Keep work challenging.

To ensure your workforce doesn’t feel like they’re trapped in a vicious cycle of repetition, make sure that the work they are doing is connected to larger company goals. In addition, mix up your teams, and assign different duties if possible. Think about incorporating gamification in sales. Keeping things fresh helps people feel like their work has meaning, which keeps them engaged.

Motivation Mistake #3: Making tasks too simple

Ariely shares an interesting anecdote from the fifties, which still resonates today. When box cakes came out in the market about sixty years ago they weren’t very popular. The makers were shocked since they were so simple to make, and tasted great. Upon further investigation they found that people didn’t feel good about making those box cakes because it didn’t require enough effort. They might as well go buy a cake from the store, since you couldn’t tell your guests you made a cake if it came from a box. The solution was surprisingly simple: manufacturers removed the eggs and milk from the powder and instead had people mix and measure those ingredients themselves. Problem solved; the small additional amount of effort let people feel like they were working harder and could call the cake their own. Here are a few other short motivational stories for employees.

Solution #3: Make goals matter

A certain amount of difficulty in a task makes it worthwhile for people to get through. Your employees care about getting through challenges and reaching goals. If you make goals too simple, or if employees feel like the goals they are being asked to reach aren’t tied to larger corporate objectives, their productivity will falter.

To learn more about what motivates people in the workplace visit, and if you’d like to listen to Ariely’s full talk, click here.

Image Copyright: IdeaStepConceptStock


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Common Motivation Mistakes – Are You Guilty?