Can Motivation Resolve Conflicts in Businesses?

This week I watched an interesting TED talk about extrinsic and intrinsic motivation. And it made me wonder if this could help conflict resolution in businesses. [As a side note, TED is an outlet that posts talks on a variety of topics. I have yet to find one that isn't incredibly interesting and practical. If you haven't checked it out, you should -]. I've posted the talk below, and I highly recommend you watch at least the first few minutes.


In short, Dan Pink talks about how we've built businesses around an extrinsic motivator system - it's all about the carrots and sticks. Apparently science shows such motivation works...but only when mechanical skills are involved - when the task involves simple rules and a clear destination. The reward system fails when there are more complex cognitive tasks, which have become infinitely more important in 21st century business; therefore, Mr. Pink proposed a different system to motivate performance. He suggested intrinsic motivation, based on the principles of Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose. Create an environment where people can do things they are interested in and want to do. Mr. Pink provided some examples: 20% time at Google (engineers get 20% of their time to work on any project they want) and ROWE (people have no work schedules, they just have to get the work done). In these circumstances workers thrive and there is more productivity and worker satisfaction.


Is this something that is being overlooked in resolving conflicts within businesses? I think it might be. But then again, I don't necessarily believe we will see a big shift in American business practices. The traditional expectation is putting in at least an 8 hour day in the office...and I don't know how fast people can shift from tradition. I think it would be unlikely that most businesses could make the transition from extrinsic to intrinsic motivation - even if it would be the best move for their business. People, and businesses, can get stuck in their ways. It takes a confident leader to believe that relinquishing power, structure, and control over employees can actually lead to more productivity. Furthermore, to make a tangential connection with the recent book club discussion on the ADRHub, you have those a**holes who would likely never want to give their colleagues the opportunity to use work time to develop personal interests.


What do you think? Can an intrinsic motivation system breathe a new life into conflict resolution in the workplace? Has anyone experienced 20% time or ROWE? Both sound appealing but it would be helpful to get an inside glance before making any accurate observations. If you could manage your own company, would you look to this intrinsic motivation system for your business models?


Views: 263

Comment by Nicole Bohe on July 10, 2011 at 11:58am

In case the video doesn't work, here is the link to it on TED's website:

Comment by John C. Turley on July 14, 2011 at 10:47am
I worked for Carlson Marketing Group and competed with Maritz Motivation and Business Incentives for over 10 years within the motivation or performance improvement industry. We sold to major corporations throughout the world to apply the principles of incentives and employee motivation to increase sales, introduce new products, enhance employee morale, create a stronger atmosphere for collaborative teamwork, etc. Our services were comprehensive and covered the full range of corporate needs so that we could address particular or unique corporate employee issues. The approach was consultative.

Under the best of circumstances, our clients established a corporate culture where employees were generally satisfied with their work and their conditions. In these situations, we were asked to tweak an area of the company that needed improvement such as a formal process to reward employee suggestions or ideas for cost reduction, etc. Other companies were not as exemplary and required a more thorough plan.
My two points are that motivation to perform to peak performance comes from the employee. The top management must encourage a positive workplace and reward employees for going the extra mile in terms of their individual, team and departmental performance. Outside influences recognize and encourage people to achieve peak performance;however, the above mentioned points must be in play to realize optimum results.

As far as ADR is concerned, it is difficult to extrapolate whether or not the two points, namely top management positive and proactive engagement and worker personal initiative, will impact the number of employee conflicts with each other or against management. Perhaps the instances will be less in a more productive environment. When people care about their work and their co-workers and the success of the company, generally speaking the focus is on achieving mutually desirable goals to enrich the employees, the shareholders and the customer base.
Comment by Nicole Bohe on July 17, 2011 at 4:21pm
Great perspective. Creating a work environment that others want to support and move forward is an important key to longterm success.
Comment by Jeff Thompson on July 17, 2011 at 9:00pm

Great comments from both of you- i look forward to watching the video (hopefully tomorrow).


One thing that comes to my mind John is how people as individuals, measure the motivation factor of doing the work (perhaps independently) compared to just doing the bare minimal?  Not everyone is motivated to 'do the best they can' and for large corporations and organizations, it can't be as clear cut.

With that said, Google is no small business so I guess I should into their structure :)

Comment by John C. Turley on July 19, 2011 at 9:42am

Hi Jeff:

In response to your comment, this discussion dovetails with our recent ADR Book Club reading of The No Asshole Rule.  The hiring process is key to selecting highly motivated employees and developing them throughout the organization and their careers.  Positive behavior should be acknowledged and re-enforced everyday.  As Sutton suggests, negative influences should be minimized for the health and well being of the organization.   I am a proponent of Appreciative Inquiry which is not celebrated enough in American business or the public sector.

Finally, motivation cannot be imposed upon people.  The desire to attain goals must come from within the person.  Positive motivation and AI may support positive behavior, but a person's destiny is in their own hands vis-a-vis working within a positive atmosphere.


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