Innovation Management

4 Experiments to Nurture Your Collaborators’ Creativity

If you want to motivate your creative employees, don’t give them carrots and sticks

When it comes to managing employee motivation, an old framework has long been established: believing that your employees are motivated only by external motivation, financial or social incentives.

Although it can be true in certain situations, providing incentives doesn’t motivate employees in terms of creativity. On the contrary, it reduces their work drive.

Creative employees do not work for rewards, but for an inner motivation to enjoy their work and to contribute their insights.

According to Daniel Pink in Drive, they are attracted to an environment that stimulates their intellectual, psychological, and emotional drives.

They are seeking an organization that provides them autonomy in their experiments, guide them throughout self-mastery, and give them a meaningful purpose for their efforts.

Here are 4 experiments drawn from motivational psychology to make your employees more creative or to attract new ones.

Don’t Give Them Carrot and Sticks

The old model widely used in companies is to believe that you can obtain motivation through external rewards or incentives.

This “carrot and stick” model, by giving specific rewarding goals, can help employees feel more entitled to their job.

But, for more creative tasks, it generally reduces their drive more than it increases it.

That’s what the researchers at Princeton University found when they have confronted participants with the candle problem

The aim of this experiment is to attach the candle to the wall so that the wax doesn’t drip on your table. You have to use the box as a support on the wall for the candle, and that requires some mental creativity to find the solution.

The first type of participant was offered incentives from $5 to $20 for the fastest solving the problem, the second type nothing else except that their time was measured.

The result seemed surprising: the first group of participants, motivated by a reward, took an average of 3.5 minutes longer than the second group.

What it shows is that when employees are focused on a specific goal they lose their open-mindedness to the problem. By taking the problem only from the perspective of winning it, they are unable to focus on other ways of solving the problem.

Therefore, the more motivated an employee is by goals outside his or her work, the less creative he or she will be in the way he or she confronts problems.

The aim is then to provide employees with predictable rewards and to avoid the use of bonuses for tasks that require creativity.

In this way, you will encourage them to find personal motivation in their work and to be interested in other perspectives.

Provide Them Autonomy in Their Environment

Another motivating factor for active and flexible employees is to give them autonomy over their work.

An environment where they are constantly monitored and under the pressure of deadlines prevents them from nurturing internal motivation for their projects.

When you give them control over their time, their way of working, and when you trust their expertise, you enable them to work by themselves. In that, they focus fully on the issues of the work itself, rather than trying to please or impress for a bonus or social recognition.

A study made by researchers of Claremont University has discovered that making employees autonomous has a significant impact on their mood and productivity. 

Many companies have already understood the benefits of this new kind of management that gives and encourages free initiatives. 

Atlassian a big software company has decided to give its programmers one day per shift where they can work on a project related to their job or not. During these days, each engineer works hard to show their achievement to their colleagues in a relaxed and festive atmosphere.

The success of these days has led them to generalize this personal time to 20% of their working time, like the well-known Google management. Each engineer at Google is entitled to one day per week to work on the project they want, and almost all the best ideas have come out of this device (Google News, Talk, Sky, Gmail, …).

So leave time and energy for your employees to think about the projects that are important to them, and you will see highly creative initiatives come to life!

Help Them Throughout Self-Mastery

Another requirement of creative employees is to have working conditions where they can experience psychological flow.

This notion invented by psychologist Csikszentmihalyi defines the optimal state of concentration where the individual is most productive, creative, and happy.

Many work environments prevent employees from feeling committed to their task.

There can be several reasons for this: they do not have clear goals and work plans. They are not challenged enough or too much. They are always distracted by other tasks. The environment prevents them from concentrating…

By removing all these barriers, you enable your employees to focus intensely on their projects and research. According to several behavioral studies, enabling the conditions of flow at work increases personal engagement.

But it is also a matter of guiding and encouraging them towards their self-mastery, by giving them relevant immediate feedback, directing them towards the tasks where they have the most flow, and pushing them to make the effort.

Stefan Falk, Ericsson’s Vice President, applied these principles when he led the merger of the company’s business units. He persuaded the managers to set jobs with clear objectives, quick feedback, instituting meetings 6 times a year where the manager and the worker discuss how they can achieve flow conditions.

Similarly, by discussing with your most creative employees about ways they are the more comfortable and challenged in their work, you can help them reach self-mastery!

Make Them Find Purpose in Their Work

Your employees’ motivation to be creative is also strengthened by the feeling that their contribution makes sense in the company.

Autonomous and committed employees are already productive, but those who are committed to great causes and ideas are even more so.

The field research of Mayo Clinic found that letting doctors spend one day a week of an aspect of their job more meaningful and purposeful reduces their chance of burnout by half. 

Companies that are set up not only to seek profit but also to carry out social or environmental actions, such as low-profit companies or cooperatives, are among the most productive and motivated.

By directing a portion of your budget to causes that are important to the value of your organization, you give your employees another reason to do their work well, better: to do it differently to make it more impactful.

For example, TOMS, a company that produces shoe boxes, gives from every sale a new shoe to children in developing countries. While seeking to create a value ethic consistent with its values, the company motivates its employees to make a difference in the world concretely.

Now it’s your turn to enlighten your employees by bringing them autonomy, self-mastery, and purpose!

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