Thursday, September 13, 2012

Carrot and Stick; Rewards Work, Right?

After watching the YouTube RSA Animate (below), which I found on Justin Tarte's Blog
@justintarte shout out!), I was left with new insights that I want to share with you.

The carrot and the stick work to motivate behavior - just reward the desired outcome and punish the wrong outcome- right?

The Carrot and Stick Experiment

A study at MIT took a whole group of students and gave them a series of tasks to do (from memorizing a series of words to shooting a ball through a hoop) - they placed financial incentives in 3 levels of rewards. If you did pretty well, you got a small monetary reward, if you did exceptionally well you got a larger reward. Typical motivation system for the private sector - the results of their study were as follows: if the task was only a mechanical skill the incentives worked i.e. participants performance increased congruently with the increased dollar reward - BUT once the task called for even rudimentary cognitive skills, the incentives failed to improve performance and actually higher reward incentives resulted in poorer performance. The incentive experiment was conducted by top economists (who were baffled and in disbelief) and their findings frightened them - so they repeated the experiments multiple times in multiple different environments. The results did NOT change. The higher the financial reward for cognitive taks the poorer the performance. Why?

Pink states that money is a motivator - fact - so you have to pay people enough to take the question of money off the table. This means that we all desire to have fair wage for the preparation (schooling) required to get the job, and fair for what the job requires us to do. Once we get the base salary to a fair level, the research suggests that financial rewards (bonuses) for mechanical tasks (do x then y) will work, but when the task calls for people to use even the smallest amount of cognitive skill, financial incentives back fire. Scientists believe this is because, above all, people want Purpose (meaning in life), Mastery (we want to grow and become good at stuff), and to be able to be self-directed or at least have some say so in the how we do things. To really highlight what Pink means as far as pay people enough to take money out of the equation - if you were asked to be a teacher in 2012 and told the salary would be $25,000 a year - you would feel grossly underpaid based on market conditions, right? This is starkly different that if you were a first year teacher at $45,000 (plus medical benefits), yes of course you may still wish you had more or find a district where first year teachers make a little more or less, but you are in the market range. The researchers determined that so long as you are within the market range, money stops being a top motivator for performance.

Purpose - Mastery - Autonomy

In education, it is easy to connect with the Purpose - at least it should be as we want to make a difference for kids. That is an awesome purpose. We want to master our craft so we learn new instructional techniques and try to stay current on the various federal and state mandated reforms that are put upon us. Unfortunately, with the demand associated with the reforms, such as high stakes testing, the consequences of being labeled failures can easily shake us from our purpose and ultimately leave us with a feeling of failed mastery. Further complicating matters, once a school has been labeled as a failure, the federal and state departments of education take away our autonomy, change the game so we can never really gain mastery (example- new instructional programs designed to be the cure are forced upon district leaders). There are actually schools across the country where teachers literally have to read a scripted lesson - and every teacher in every classroom is doing the exact same thing. That is degrading and humiliating and it flies in the face of what the research says motivates people.

Leadership Take - A-way

As a leader, I hope to help my staff stay connected to their sense of purpose - our kids. I want  to make sure they have what they need to do their job. I want them to have a plan for developing mastery of their craft. To me, this means that I don't change our 'plan' or strategy every year. Constant 'reform' leaves staff exhausted and unmotivated - not to mention if you keep changing the target you can never master the performance. Lastly I lead in a way that offers my staff defined autonomy. Defined autonomy is a collaborative autonomy where I respect their input, passion, individual talents and use them to set expectations. Visualize a football field, my expectations is that you get the ball across the endzone without stepping out of bounds - I leave it up to the professional to determine how to get the ball (or students) across the endzone (or achieve at a rigorous level).


This idea that we can standardize education is absurd - we must customize the educational experience by allowing our teachers to connect to their purpose (or calling), become the masters of their craft, and have autonomy (defined) in how they inspire our children. There are no simple answers to improving our schools - there is no magic program that can be dropped in - what will work is building the capacity of your staff by maintaining a focus on our purpose, using an instructional model (or approaches that are proven to be effective i.e. Blooms Taxonomy), and lastly let teachers have autonomy to inspire our children to be life long learners. This can be directly transferred by the teachers to our students - help them realize their purpose in life, help them achieve mastery, and also give them defined autonomy. Students should be able to have input into how they will 'show evidence' of mastery.

Something to think about- Watch below