Getting People to Do More By Giving Them Less
Turnkey digs deep into the psychology of motivation. We use recognition with our clients to install and grow intrinsic motivation. If I am intrinsically motivated it means that I perform a behavior because I believe it is the right thing to do. If I am extrinsically motivated, however, I perform a behavior in hopes of a reward, typically a monetized reward. Oddly, this same dynamic plays out in the workplace, even though pay is part and parcel of the employment agreement.
In his 2016 book and TED Talk, "Why We Work," Swarthmore College professor Barry Schwartz argued that the carrot and stick paradigm that has dominated workplace management is, at best, overvalued, and, at worst, actually demotivating. As Schwartz put it, "When we lose confidence that people have the will to do the right thing, and we turn to incentives, we find that we get what we pay for."
In short, when material incentives are positioned as the primary reason people should perform their roles, other values essential to their motivation get "crowded out." And these are the values that are responsible for truly excellent performance. Schwartz demonstrated that this happens in all kinds of work roles, from hospital janitors, to teachers, to university professors and lawyers.
And at Turnkey, we live it. Recently I wanted to say "thanks" and recognize someone who really had covered my buns while I was on business travel. Sitting at my desk, I took the easy way out—I used the gift card for coffee I had in my desk. Even as I left it on her desk, I knew it was the wrong thing to do and could totally backfire. It could cause her to attribute her great work as driven by financial motives instead of personal pride for doing a great job. I tried to inoculate my coworker from her DNA-derived likely response to my reward:
From: Kate Bullard
Hey there Katrina! Attached is the presentation you will be presenting today on our call.
From: Katrina VanHuss
Thanks for the deck; it is perfect. Did you find the extrinsic motivator I left for you? I would have left something completely valueless, if I cared more.
(Kate finds gift card on her desk.)
From: Kate Bullard
Whyyyyy?!?!? I thought you liked me!
From: Katrina VanHuss
I do—just not enough to give you nothing but praise.
Her instant grasp and participation in my humor leads me to hope her work will not be negatively impacted by my reward. And that I will soon have another chance to do the right thing, the more effective thing—to simply recognize her.
Otis Fulton, Ph.D., spent most of his career in the education industry, working at the psychometric research and development firm MetaMetrics Inc., Pearson Education and others. Since 2013, he has focused on the nonprofit sector, applying psychology to fundraising and donor behavior at Turnkey. He is the co-author of the 2017 book, ”Dollar Dash: The Behavioral Economics of Peer-to-Peer Fundraising,” and the 2023 book, "Social Fundraising: Mining the New Peer-to-Peer Landscape," and is a frequent speaker at national nonprofit conferences. With Katrina VanHuss, he co-authors a blog at NonProfit PRO, “Peeling the Onion,” on the intersection of psychology and philanthropy.
Otis is a much sought-after copywriter for nonprofit fundraising messages. He has written campaigns for UNICEF, St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, March of Dimes, Susan G. Komen, the USO and dozens of other organizations. He has a Ph.D. in social psychology from Virginia Commonwealth University and a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Virginia, where he also played on UVA’s first ACC champion basketball team.
Katrina VanHuss has helped national nonprofits raise funds and friends since 1989 when she founded Turnkey. Her client’s successes and her dedication to research have made her a sought-after speaker, presenting at national conferences for Blackbaud, Peer to Peer Professional Forum, Nonprofit PRO, The Need Help Foundation and her clients’ national meetings. The firm’s work is underpinned by the study and application of behavioral economics and social psychology. Turnkey provides project engagements, coaching, counsel and staffing to nonprofits seeking to improve revenue or create new revenue. Her work extends into organizational alignment efforts and executive coaching.
Katrina regularly shares her wit and business experiences on her and Otis Fulton's NonProfit PRO blog “Peeling the Onion.” She and Otis are also co-authors of the books, "Dollar Dash: The Behavioral Economics of Peer-to-Peer Fundraising" and "Social Fundraising: Mining the New Peer-to-Peer Landscape." When not writing or researching, Katrina likes to make things — furniture from reclaimed wood, new gardens, food with no recipe. Katrina’s favorite Saturday is spent cleaning out the garage, mowing the grass, making something new, all while listening to loud music by now-deceased black women, throwing in a few sets on the weight bench off and on, then collapsing on the couch with her husband Otis to gang-watch new Netflix series whilst drinking sauvignon blanc.
Katrina grew up on a Virginia beef cattle and tobacco farm with her three brothers. She is accordingly skilled in hand to hand combat and witty repartee — skills gained at the expense of her brothers. Katrina’s claim to fame is having made it to the “American Gladiator” Richmond competition as a finalist in her late 20s, progressing in the competition until a strangely large blonde woman knocked her off a pedestal with an oversized pain-inducing Q-tip. Katrina’s mantra for life is “Be nice. Do good. Embrace embarrassment.” Clearly she’s got No. 3 down.