Inner Work Life: Understanding the Subtext of Business Performance

This article on “Inner Work Life” is an amazing bit of research – not so much for what it says, but for what it implies.

Consider this:

It may stun you, if you are a manager, to learn what power you hold. Your behavior as a manager dramatically shapes your employees’ inner work lives. But the key levers in your hands for driving motivation and performance may not be the ones you’d suspect.

At the same time, many managers feel powerless to affect their people. So what are these “key levers…for driving motivation and performance”?

It’s not mere praise. Rather – and here I’m going beyond the authors of the study – it’s a combination of attention and conditional praise.

Consider these employee behaviors and manager-supplied consequences.

Behavior 1 – employee does what he believes is a good job
Behavior 2 – employee does what he believes is a
mediocre job
Behavior 3 – employee does what he believes is a
poor job

Consequence 1 – manager praises employee behavior
Consequence 2 – manager
ignores employee behavior
Consequence 3 – manager
criticizes or corrects employee behavior
Consequence 4 – manager
pays neutral attention (no praise or criticism)

Here’s the resulting grid:


Employee Behaviors (B), Manager Consequence (C), and Effect on Employee Motivation

B1 Good Job B2 OK Job B3 Bad Job
C1 Praise Higher motivation and performance Lower motivation; feels manipulated Lower motivation; feels alienated, cynical
C2 Ignore Lower motivation; Feels neglected
Lower motivation; Feels neglected Management are idiots; nothing I do matters
C3 Criticize or Correct Strongly alienated; may become detached, angry Alienated Fair enough
C4 Neutral Attention Okay Positive Management are idiots


You begin to get the idea – as a manager you can do the exact same thing in different circumstances, and have wildly different consequences.

In other words, praise alone is not a Golden Ticket.

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