Retention: Committed Action or ‘going through the motions’?

By Andrew Bass | Newsletter

In a nutshell: You can’t motivate people – motivation is intrinsic. That means that if you want committed action you can’t get it using pay and perks alone. That's always been true, but today, powerful forces are making the problem more acute.

What do I mean by Committed Action?

Let’s start with Action: “the process of doing something – usually over a period of time – in order to achieve a purpose.” Obviously, businesses need lots of action.

As for being Committed, I mean the state of being intrinsically dedicated. People who are committed are self-starting. They're determined. They're tenacious. Contrast being committed with merely being compliant, where someone does the job because of extrinsic incentives – carrots or sticks – not because they actually care that much about the company or the job itself.

You only get the best out of people who are committed

And here’s the problem we have today. Powerful forces are making it more likely you’re just getting extrinsically motivated employees. As a senior recruiter said to me recently, “If someone is in their kitchen, working on their laptop, using similar-looking (or the same) software – say Zoom, Teams, Excel, Slack – then what difference does it make if they’re working for Company A or Company B – it’s all going to come down to money.”

There has to be something differentiated, something making people want to commit

For many roles, the jobs companies are offering are undifferentiated. And unimaginative attempts to differentiate ‘employee value propositions’ using bolt on perks like health plans, gym memberships and flexible working arrangements are easily matched by the competition.

The employees you are getting that way are not going to give you their best. They can’t. There may be an initial sugar-rush because of a signing bonus but people soon habituate. If the work is only motivated by extrinsic carrots and sticks, they’ll get bored, start going through the motions and then look for a better deal elsewhere. You could argue that’s what the carrots and sticks approach incentivises them to do.

How do you foster committed action?

There are a bunch of ways, which I will be talking about in the book I'm working on. The magic sequence is:

  1. Invite their CURIOSITY
  2. Encourage EXPLORATION
  3. Transfer OWNERSHIP

As a clue to Step One, think about a master teacher who gets a student interested in a subject they might originally find uninspiring. Great teachers shift students from studying to avoid failing an exam (or to pass it and get a reward), and toward learning for its intrinsic interest. Those students do better and go further. A great example of such mastery comes from Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society. Imagine if your company could engage talent like he did...

Copyright Andy Bass 2022

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