Often, when organizations are trying to make change happen, it comes down to a couple of levers that they need to pull to start the motion. It might be organizational structure, or process, or communication. Almost always, it’s a combination of things that need to be addressed in order to cause change to happen. But every single time, part of the equation is human behavior. When I ask the leaders in the companies I work with how they intend to change human behavior, the first thing they say usually revolves around compensation.
I’m certain that there has been a time when I’ve asked that question and gotten an answer that wasn’t related to compensation, but candidly, it’s pretty rare. At least part of the answer is usually about adding the new behavior to the list of performance items that affect their bonus, or worse, threatening to take money off the table if they don’t perform the new trick. It seems to be part of our business DNA that we use money to motivate people to do anything, anytime, in any way.
It’s ironic then, that anytime I work with a leader who has accomplished anything of significance and I ask them what motivated them to make it happen, they never say “I did it for the money.” Maybe it really was the money, but they just don’t want to admit it. If that’s the case, please ignore the rest of this article.
Certainly there are times when people are motivated by money. Without it, life gets pretty difficult. But it can’t be the only way we get people to make change happen in our enterprise. The other side of compensation, threatening to remove it, doesn’t work in a sustainable way either.
While it’s not how most of the world operates their business, people simply aren’t motivated solely, or even mostly, by money unless they don’t have any. People are motivated by a much more complex system of desires, goals, wants and needs than by a few more dollars.
People make changes in how they do their jobs when four criteria are present:
They want to
They think they can
They know how
They see others doing it
In rare cases, exceptional individuals are capable of needing only the first three, but for the most part, all four need to be present to some degree to sustain change in the workplace.
Money only partially affects the first of those requirements and usually for a short period of time. Real change requires coaching, learning, alignment with personal goals and a different culture driven by leaders. People will want to do things because they are worth doing and because they believe in the people who are asking them to try something new and different, far faster than they will do them for a bigger bonus.
Effective leaders understand how to help people make lasting changes and how to create an environment where change has fewer barriers. Many people think change starts at the top because that’s where the authority is. The reality is that while authority can start change, only leadership can sustain it.