In writing the last blog on motivation my mind was drawn repeatedly to thoughts about performance. After all, motivational techniques are primarily about boosting performance. But as I put “pen to paper” for this blog it turned out harder to write than I expected. Human performance is a squiggy topic but unquestionably important.
I start out with some classic performance curves that apply to factories, motors and other mechanical systems. Next I move to the human performance curve and then consider the large variability of the performance of programmers, the Elo rating system for rating chess players and musing on its relevance to programming. I close with sage advice to programmers from Captain Barbossa and Dirty Harry (who, as far I know, are not fictional programmers).
Let’s start with a few quick observations on money and motivation.
- Bonuses can be an easy and expensive way to demotivate staff just as to motivate them.
- Experiments consistently show that financial motivation can actually reduce performance particularly on tasks that require thinking … like programming.
- If money were the sole motivator then open source would not have transformed the world and society would lose the massive contributions made by other volunteers.
- But equally … unfair rewards and low salaries can switch off the mind of your team.
So why do many organizations persist with financial bonuses as their core incentive? What’s the right balance of rewards?