Dont show me the money

Updated: Nov 20 2012, 01:02am hrs
Monetary gain ceases to be the only motivator in an employees life; a supportive workplace with an ecosystem that provides individuals with the opportunity to innovate and add value to the output holds more significance if people are fairly compensated

Nandita Gurjar

Think of the last time you felt really charged up about work, and what made you feel that way. Ill bet it wasnt money.

I am not suggesting for a moment that money doesnt matter. It does, but only up to a point. Theres enough academic and empirical evidence to show that once people are paid enoughand lets take that to mean, are compensated fairly and to the extent that they can maintain a certain standard of livingmoney is no longer the motivator it is made out to be. Bestselling author, Daniel Pink makes this point very convincingly in his talks on employee motivation in which he says that while higher financial reward elicits better performance of mechanical tasks, it actually worsens the performance of jobs with even the slightest cognitive content.

Actually, motivation works in inscrutable ways and often contradicts the laws of expected behaviour. How else would you explain why workers earning a fixed salary put in more hours than those on an hourly wage Or why unpaid volunteers in a cause are so enthusiastic about showing up at work So, if its not money, then what do people get their buzz from My short answer: supportive workplace, purposeful work.

If I had to name just one thing that inspires employees to raise their game, its finding meaning in what they do. What makes an ordinary job meaningful One, when it serves the larger interests of significant others, such as customers, influencers, or even communities. Two, when it adds value to the people doing it, by enabling them to polish their skills, acquire new knowledge, make a contribution orI kid you noteven find their own identities. If you knew that what you did between nine and five made a real difference in the real worldwhat greater high is there

I have seen this play out over and over again within Infosys. Some of our coolest innovations have come from the team in charge of a green initiative we launched a few years ago to develop new ideas in sustainability that we could replicate within the organisation and share with the rest of the world. What sets them apart is that they believedown to the last personthat they are working to create a better world. The results speak for themselves: international recognition and a business that more than pays for itself. Or our programmes like Spark and Campus Connect which require employees completing a busy week to come on weekends and be part of the influence of creating a better community.

Over the years, I have heard many colleagues and acquaintances talk wistfully about phases in their career when they were on top of things, operating at peak productivity. Its amazing how similar their stories are. Finally, all these accounts boil down to one thing: that they had a platform to showcase their abilities as well as take them to the next level. Dont be misled by the word platform and all its Google X connotations of out there ideas and a secret facility; often, its just a matter of giving an employee the space to do his or her own thing and getting out of the way. Self-direction is one of the most powerful motivators in the workplace.

Lets take that thought forward. A leading expert in workforce management says that the simplest way to motivate employees is to ask them how they would like to be motivated, and let their answers guide your approach. Find out what makes them tick (Baby Boomers want respect, Gen Y craves technology); what aspects of the job put them off; and what theyd like to see more (or less) of in the workplace. This is quite intuitive really, because its exactly what businesses are doing with their customerslearning about individual expectations in order to personalise their offerings.

These conversations are a good starting point to create an atmosphere of openness and mutual respect. Build on that by showing trust and being upfront, no matter what. When people see that theres no hidden agenda, they feel secure, respected, happier. Happiness precedes motivation. It always has.

I can say from experience that sometimes all that it takes to motivate someone is a willing ear. When you listen, really listen, to your team members talking about their challenges, youve already won them over. The corollary to that is that you also need to talk right. A common complaint among disgruntled teams is that they only hear from their managers when they do something wrong. Dont underestimate the influence of positive feedbacka kind word, a pat on the back, and public recognitioncan not only enthuse teams to work harder and better but also teach them to take fair criticism in the right spirit.

Wheres money in all of this But, heres the irony. While pretty much everyone agrees that the higher incentive equals better performance theory is flawed, most organisations continue to practice it on all employees, not just those performing routine, repetitive tasks. And this is inexplicable, because motivated employees create more productive organisations, generate smarter ideas and keep customers happier. Theres also a point of view, which says that when organisations care only about profit (no prizes for guessing their approach to employee motivation), devoid of purpose, they could end up very ordinary.

So againmoney is important but guys/gals dont sell yourself cheap. Life is not about a compromise. You should aim for getting that job which thrills you everyday and does not make you ask what you are doing here (OK maybe on somedays) A chance to create value, personal growth, recognition of effort and a supportive workplace these trump financial incentives any day. Save the carrot and stick approach for horses!

The writer is senior vice-president and Group Head of HR at Infosys