by Brian Weberg
This morning the "Breaking News" held some interest. President Obama announced a freeze in salaries for federal government employees. Now, that may be a big yawner for those of us working for state and local governments, where salary freezes are old news. Still, it caused me to think a bit more about an issue that I've been interested in for a while--the relationship of monetary rewards and incentives to worker productivity and engagement.
For example, should we conclude that all of these frozen (or reduced) salaries in the public sector are wreaking havoc on employee morale, motivation and productivity? I expect it can't help. But there is a growing consensus in the organizational management world that money isn't everything, and that other factors can be as important or more important than pay. In this age of freezes, cutbacks, furloughs and layoffs it's probably worthwhile for managers to look hard at the evidence supporting the power of so-called "intrinsic" workplace rewards and incentives.
The best place to start looking might be in the work of Dan Pink who has summarized lots of the evidence supporting "intrinsic" rewards in his book titled "Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us." Even more accessible is his talk on TED Talks which distills his message into three key points. Pink calls them the "building blocks of an entirely new operating system" for organizations:
Autonomy-the urge to direct our own lives
Mastery-the desire to get better and better at something that matters
Purpose-the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves
What does all this mean for state legislatures? Seems to me that they always have recognized and honored the motivational power of "purpose" for their employees, although it may be time to remind ourselves and our new recruits about the intrinsic rewards of working in and for America's laboratories of democracy. And the last couple decades have seen an intense commitment to mastery, as legislative staff have professionalized and specialized in a number of areas. But budget cuts also often have meant cuts in professional development funding. Mastery is a moving target, today more than ever, and yesterday's skills may not match up to tomorrow's needs. Are we doing what we should as employers to capture the motivational power of mastery?
Finally, I wonder most about autonomy. What does this mean in the legislative workplace, and if it's important (as most experts on motivation agree that it is), then how do we do it? Are we ready and able to give up the old style control-management models that carried us into the 21st century and replace them with more fluid, more self-directed and less bureaucratic workplaces? Pink would argue that the science of motivation leaves no choice to organizations that want and need to excel.