Thursday, July 19, 2007

The Juice vs. The Squeeze

In my recent work-life, I've been noticing a recurring conversation. Mostly the subject of the dialogue goes by names like Motivation, Incentive, or Compensation. At the heart I find they contend with the same concepts, they just take different forms depending on the vocabulary of the participants.

How do you decide that the cost to you for expending your labor continues to be worth whatever you gain by doing so?


How do you know if the juice is worth the squeeze?

The flip-side of this equation is equally important to understand when you are in a position of leadership. Regardless of the words you use, the same exchange takes place. You might call them resources or employees, contributors or individuals, children or parents, spouses or significant others, all these are participants in the various value exchanges we participate in every day. You might call it money, freedom, pleasure, power, contribution, or simply productivity; these are all substitutes for the value in a value-exchange.

When you are trying to get productivity out of contributors (or money out an employer) it only works successfully if the value systems between the two parties have some overlap that can be shared. You can't expect an employee to work for free, you can't expect to be paid if you haven't delivered.

It seems like these value-exchanges would be simple, but in reality it's what causes all the office tension and much of strife in our personal relationships. My current perception is that this is because we tend to hide our true value-systems. We hide them from each other, from our employer, our spouses, and most noticeably from ourselves.

Think about the last time you saw someone complaining about not getting paid enough to you, but then asking the boss for more training, or more vacation time. I witness people hiding their value-systems all the time. They talk about having "interesting" work, when they really only want more responsibility. They complain about working overtime, when they really just want to choose their own working hours.

Even the simple exchanges are difficult enough but when you add the group dynamics, and the comparisons that are invariably made between different value systems, things get even more complicated. You can hardly give out raises to satisfy a person who is driven by financial incentives if most of your workforce is motivated by non-monetary benefits. You can't expect to motivate people with extras and intangible benefits if the financial incentive is non-existent.

My friend said it very well the other day:
I will behave exactly as you incent me to. -- H

If you aren't getting the response you want from your employees, or your boss, from your spouse or from your kids. Then you might examine the value-systems being exchanged. A good analytical review might really surprise you.

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