The Medallia Team

What motivates you to deliver your highest-quality work?
Regardless of your company or role, one big reason is likely finding satisfaction in the work itself or the cause it furthers. It’s intuitive: when we care personally about the work we’re doing, we approach it with more determination and creativity.
However, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that companies don’t often use these factors to motivate their employees.
The reasons for this disconnect are rarely malicious. When faced with stiff competition and demanding financial goals, companies often feel forced to prioritize having employees adhere strictly to accepted strategies and tactics. This approach often creates incentives for employees that aren’t aligned with creating great experiences for customers — and instead focuses them on “hitting their numbers” and avoiding the penalties for not doing so. It’s not that motivators like pleasurable work and a higher purpose disappear entirely. They’re just not managed with any rigor, and thus end up being massively de-emphasized.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with setting outcome-oriented goals around things like customer satisfaction or sales. But research has found that when such motivators are overemphasized at the expense of others that focus on the work itself — such as learning, enjoyment, or meeting a higher purpose — not only does the company become less adaptive and creative, but the overall quality of work decreases.
This was a key takeaway from Lindsay McGregor and Neel Doshi, authors of the New York Times bestselling book Primed to Perform, who recently joined Medallia for a webinar on building high-performing company cultures. Sharing findings from their book and their own experience studying leading companies, they covered such topics as:

  • The Cobra Effect — When the British colonial government in India offered bounties for dead cobras in order to thin out the snake population, locals established cobra farms in order to maximize their profits. In a business, setting hard goals without any other motivators often leads to similarly detrimental workarounds.
  • Tactical vs. Adaptive Performance — When a company over-trains employees to follow existing routines, they often become worse at adapting when things go awry.
  • Total Motivation — A methodology for measuring how different motivators impact employee behavior.

Check out the full recording to the right!

Photo credit: William Warby