Sometimes — to the tune of sideways glances and skepticism — I tell people that I’m not motivated by money. It’s actually quite true. Over the years I’ve had some jobs and contracts that paid well and others that didn’t. I took some jobs in the past to widen my experience and learn new skills. I took on contracts with clients who couldn’t pay, but provided great opportunities for me to help others.

Occasionally, I felt that there must be something wrong with me for not actively chasing the almighty dollar; but, it turns out I’m not alone.

When Money Doesn’t Pay

I’ve written about creating a work environment that fosters creativity, but what about your company’s programs for rewarding creativity? Do you have a competitive bonus structure in place to motivate your employees and support their ingenuity? If you do, the program could actually be doing more harm than good.

The below video showcases a great speech from innovation thought leader Dan Pink. In it, he discusses the challenges of motivating and rewarding cognitive employees. Though it’s not a recent talk — the original presentation was in 2010 — it covers many pieces of valuable info that are, surprisingly, still not mainstream knowledge at most companies.

Outcomes and Tactics

Key points of the findings are simple. Monetary rewards work well in traditional manufacturing or organizations dependent on repetitive tasks — however, they actually do quite a bit of damage in positions where cognition is needed (i.e., knowledge workers). According to Pink, the three rewards that result in the greatest motivation and best outcomes are:

  • Autonomy. The ability to make independent decisions is crucial for knowledge workers. As creative and collaborative thinkers, a generous amount of flexibility in how they approach a project, develop ideas, and organize workflow is vital to their sense of ownership and investment.
  • Mastery. The opportunity to master a talent or skill is an investment on the part of both the organization and the employee. By encouraging education and development, companies not only give their people a sense of support and the ability to grow, but in the end, they also benefit from the employee’s expanded skill set.
  • Purpose. This is, perhaps, the most critical element, and more of a building block than an actual reward. Putting someone in a position where they actually make a difference — one that’s tangible, and not just talked about — cements their emotional connection to the work and their position as a project stakeholder.

Employee engagement is one of those critical business needs that sometimes masquerades as a nicety rather than a necessity. But truly, there’s nothing more important than developing a company culture that’s inherently rewarding, supportive, and motivating. What kind of team structure, programs, or rewards has your company put in place to reward creativity and innovation? Tell us about them in the comments!