Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Surprising Science of Motivation

I just watched this Ted talk by Mr. Dan Pink who is an author and former speech writer for Al Gore.  This is the second or third time that I have watched this talk and I find it quite amazing how I can watch something like this, take it all in and based on past experience know it to be true.  Then life intervenes and I forget all about what is so obvious at the time of viewing.  That may be a bit of senility showing up but I truly hope that is not the case.  I suspect that happens with most people when they are not actively involved in the field that a talk or seminar is evoking.

Mr. Pink's talk has to do with changing the entire premise that corporations utilize for having a healthy and happy workforce.  The carrot and stick approach is based in urban myth but seems to be the way corporations still function.  Unless the job is screwing two pieces of wood together, it is far better to allow the worker to do the job that needs doing without holding a sharp stick over him.  While the talk could be very prescient, success in turning around the current debacle of the industrial economies of the world must be addressed first by securing some semblance of security within that workforce.  Security is not engendered by more part-time jobs with no security and no benefits.  Further, in order to make Mr. Pink's findings relevant in today's environment, full-time jobs need to be created to allow the findings that this talk clearly demonstrates to even have a chance to be proven.  I cannot believe that any company would tell part-time employees to take part of their week and come up with something that would benefit the company or society.  They are too busy trying to figure out how they are going to pay the rent much less how to make the company that is forcing them into a slave-like position to get even richer.

There has been lots of talk about this period that we are in as being a jobless recovery.   Well, it isn't quite jobless but without even looking at statistics, I just know that there have been far more part-time jobs created than there have full-time jobs.  Why is that?  Because you don't pay benefits to part-time workers and it is easier to let them go if you choose to.  The premise that corporations must first serve the short-term goals of investors or stockholders is just plain wrong.  Corporations should be striving to be great in their field and that does not happen within a quarter or even a year.  It takes long range thinking and long range planning; two things that are sadly lacking in our leadership both politically and corporately.  Steve Jobs, may he rest in peace, had the right idea.  He took two companies that were on their backs and gasping their last breaths and boosted them both to the top of their respective fields of endeavour.  He had the foresight and patience to do it properly and the result of his management is obvious to all.  His motivation was not money.  He always strove to do the job right.  That did not involve a 9-5 proposition, it involved being able to do things properly in whatever time it took.

One sentence that Mr. Pink uttered during his talk was something to the affect that "Yes, you pay people and you pay them a fair and decent wage, then you get on with the business at hand.".  That concept of paying a fair and decent wage seems to have gone by the board to a great degree lately in business.  Dr. Amy Glasmeier and Pennsylvania State University have a Living Wage Calculator that is very indicative of where much has gone wrong in the United States.  The calculator takes it down to city level in terms of how much it costs and further shows how much sectors of the economy in that city, county and state are paid for their services.  It is telling that far too many sectors put in full time at a job and still do not make a living wage.  While I have not looked at each state, it is readily apparent that the minimum wage generally falls somewhere between poverty level and an actual living wage.  I would love to see something similar for Canada but have not found one yet.  Until such time as every political level that has influence on wages and corporations understand that they must pay their workers enough so that they can live, the current downward spiral of society will continue.  I don't know if the middle class must completely disappear before there is enough anger but it would seem that Occupy Wall Street is showing a great deal of the angst that exists in the United States.  The fact that the dissatisfaction is spreading to other cities, other countries and other continents is a very good indication that this is not a local phenomenon.  It will be interesting to watch the fallout over the next couple of years to see where all of this mishandling of former economic prosperity leads.  In the meantime, I guess that infamous tax on the poor, the lottery, remains as a vestigial hope for many of regaining some of their self-worth.