Quotes from: ““Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A’s, Praise, and Other Bribes” by Alfie Kohn

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Alfie Kohn writes and speaks widely on human behavior, education, and parenting. He is the author of twelve books and hundreds of articles. Kohn has been described by Time Magazine as “perhaps the country’s most outspoken critic of education’s fixation on grades and test scores.” He has appeared twice on “Oprah,” as well as on “The Today Show,” NPR’s “Talk of the Nation,” and on many other TV and radio programs. He spends much of his time speaking at education conferences, as well as to parent groups, school faculties, and researchers. Kohn lives (actually) in the Boston area – and (virtually) at www.alfiekohn.org.

More at about the authorhttp://www.amazon.com/Alfie-Kohn/e/B001IGHN82/ref=dp_byline_cont_book_1. 

Get a book copy: http://www.amazon.com/Punished-Rewards-Trouble-Incentive-Praise/dp/0618001816/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1452824979&sr=8-1&keywords=punished+by+rewards 


This summary (selected book quotes) has been prepared for:

  • Employers
  • Professors and Teachers
  • Parents

that are too busy giving out bonuses, grades and gold stars, to understand the real harm that incentives, rewards and extrinsic manipulation techniques cause to their Employees, Students and Children (respectively).

“Frederick W. Taylor published his famous book, The Principles of Scientific Management, which described how tasks at a factory should be broken into parts, each assigned to a worker according to a precise plan, with financial rewards meted out to encourage maximum efficiency in production. “

“Survivors of introductory psychology courses will recall that there are two major varieties of learning theory: classical conditioning (identified with Pavlov’s dogs) and operant, or instrumental, conditioning (identified with Skinner’s rats). “

“More important, we can depart from Skinner at this point and begin to address ourselves to contemporary pay-for-performance plans in the workplace or the technique of pasting a gold star on a chart each time a child complies with her parents’ demands. “

“Ironically, rewards and punishments not only lie at the core of faith but are central to our idea of rationality as well, particularly as it makes its presence felt in economic choices. “

“Frederick Herzberg observed that managers who emphasize rewards and punishments “offer their own motivational characteristics as the pattern to be instilled in their subordinates. They become the template from which the new recruit to industry learns his motivational pattern.”

“Exactly the same is true in the office. Good management, like good teaching, is a matter of solving problems and helping people do their best. This too takes time and effort and thought and patience and talent. Dangling a bonus in front of employees does not. In many workplaces, incentive plans are used as a substitute for management: pay is made contingent on performance and everything else is left to take care of itself. “

“Rewards don’t bring about the changes we are hoping for, but the point here is also that something else is going on: the more rewards are used, the more they seem to be needed. …………Pretty soon, the provision of rewards becomes habitual because there seems to be no way to do without them. “

The interest of the behaviorist in man’s doings is more than the interest of the spectator— he wants to control man’s reactions as physical scientists want to control and manipulate other natural phenomena.

—  John B. Watson, Behaviorism

“The belief that rewards will be distributed fairly, even if it takes until the next lifetime to settle accounts, is one component of what is sometimes referred to as the “just world” view. “

“For many people, the moralistic corollary to this assumption is that bad things should be bestowed on, or good things withheld from, those who are undeserving. “

“Excellence is often the product of cooperation, and even individual achievement typically is built on the work of other people’s earlier efforts. So who “deserves” the reward when lots of people had a hand in the performance? “

“However, the assumption that people should be rewarded on the basis of what they have done is “not as much a psychological law about human nature as it is a psychological outcome of a culture’s socialization practices.”

“My claim is that pop behaviorism is by its very nature dehumanizing. But I do not mean by that word merely that we are treated or understood as being on a par with other species; this is just a symptom. In the case of Skinnerian theory, the human self has been yanked up by its roots and the person reduced to a repertoire of behaviors. It is hard to imagine what could be more dehumanizing than the removal of what defines us as human. “

“Some observers think that to manipulate workers with incentives is to treat them like children. “

“Management also seems to assume that machines and workers are alike in that they are both normally passive agents who must be stimulated by management in order to go into action. In the case of the machines, management turns on the electricity. In the case of workers, money takes the place of electricity. “

“When we repeatedly promise rewards to children for acting responsibly, or to students for making an effort to learn something new, or to employees for doing quality work, we are assuming that they could not or would not choose to act this way on their own. If the capacity for responsible action, the natural love of learning, and the desire to do good work are already part of who we are, then the tacit assumption to the contrary can fairly be described as dehumanizing.* “

“Clearly, punishments are harsher and more overt; there is no getting around the intent to control in “Do this or else here’s what will happen to you.” But rewards simply “control through seduction rather than force.” “

“In the workplace, there is no getting around the fact that “the basic purpose of merit pay is manipulative. “

“If a child is sneaky enough to save up tokens rather than feeling driven to keep earning new ones, we are warned that “the child and not the teacher is in control” of her behavior (a prospect evidently regarded as appalling on its face). “

“The point to be emphasized is that all rewards, by virtue of being rewards, are not attempts to influence or persuade or solve problems together, but simply to control. “

“This feature of rewards is much easier to understand when we are being controlled than when we are doing the controlling. This is why it is so important to imagine ourselves in the other position, to take the perspective of the person whose behavior we are manipulating. “

“By definition, it would seem, if one person controls another, the two individuals have unequal status. “

…“made us feel like a McDonald’s Employee of the Month.” 31 Perhaps we should ask why anyone, even an employee at McDonald’s, should be made to feel that way. “

“If rewards bolster the traditional order of things, then the psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is right to warn (or promise) that “to de-emphasize conventional rewards threatens the existing power structure. “

“More realistically, we must acknowledge that because pop behaviorism is fundamentally a means of controlling people, it is by its nature inimical to democracy, 37 critical questioning, and the free exchange of ideas among equal participants. “

“The first step is to examine our own motivation: are we ultimately trying to teach a skill, promote a value, boost self-esteem, or are we mostly interested in making someone do what we want? Next, we might try to put ourselves in the reward recipient’s shoes and imagine whether she might feel manipulated, irrespective of our intentions. (An expression of positive feedback might be construed as useful information by one person and as a clever attempt to control what she does tomorrow by another.) Finally, we ought to look at various objective features of the reward experience— how much emphasis the incentive has been given, how large or attractive it is, how closely it is tied to the quality of performance, and so on— with an eye to minimizing the extent to which the recipient will see the reward as driving his actions. “

“…more sweeping objection, one that has been made not only by Skinner and Skinnerians but also by social theorists with whom they have little in common: control is an unavoidable feature of human relationships; all that actually varies is the subtlety of the system of reinforcement. A brief smile and nod are just as controlling as a dollar bill— “

“A far more defensible position, it seems to me, is that some forms of human interaction are controlling and some are not. The line might not be easy to draw in practice, but the distinction is still meaningful and important. “

“But to say that children need structure or guidance is very different from saying they have to be controlled. “

“The thrust of this chapter, then, has been that giving people rewards is not an obviously fair or appropriate practice across all situations; to the contrary, it is an inherently objectionable way of reaching our goals by virtue of its status as a means of controlling others. Some readers will respond to this by saying that regardless of whether rewards are good, bad, or neutral from a moral point of view, the most important reason we use them is that they work. Let us now see whether this is true. “

 [Rewards] have effects that interfere with performance in ways that we are only beginning to understand.

—Janet Spence, 1971 “

“Many of the early (and highly successful) applications of the principles of behavior modification have involved animals (such as pigeons), children, or institutionalized adults such as prisoners or mental patients. Individuals in each of these groups are necessarily dependent on powerful others for many of the things they most want and need, and their behavior usually can be shaped with relative ease. “

“For how long are rewards effective? The short answer is that they work best in the short term. For behavior changes to last, it is usually necessary to keep the rewards coming. “

“In the real world, even if not in the laboratory, rewards must be judged on whether they lead to lasting change— change that persists when there are no longer any goodies to be gained. “

“Translation: when the goodies stop, people go right back to acting the way they did before the program began. “

“Three areas where there is enough evidence to permit at least provisional judgments about their success are losing weight, quitting smoking, and using seatbelts. Here’s what the data show:

Losing weight In one dieting study, some subjects were promised a twice-a-week reward of five dollars each time the scale showed good news, while others got nothing. Those who were paid did make more progress at the beginning, but then gained back the weight— and then some— over the next five months. By contrast, those who had not been rewarded kept getting slimmer. This study was quite small, and a lot of the subjects were unavailable for measurement at the end, so we probably shouldn’t give it too much weight. But a similar study published ten years later offered little solace for behaviorists: after a year, no difference was found between the payment and nonpayment groups. (Actually, there was one difference: many of those who had been promised money for shedding pounds failed to show up for the final weigh-in.)

Quitting smoking Losing weight and keeping it off are inordinately difficult, so it may be unfair to reject pop behaviorism just because it hasn’t worked miracles here. The trouble is that it hasn’t done much better elsewhere, assuming we are looking for long-term gains. Take smoking cessation. A very large study, published in 1991, recruited subjects for a self-help program designed to help people kick the habit. Some were offered a prize for turning in weekly progress reports; some got feedback designed to enhance their motivation to quit; everybody else (the control group) got nothing. What happened? Prize recipients were twice as likely as the others to return the first week’s report. But three months later, they were lighting up again more often than those who received the other treatment— and even more than those in the control group! Saliva samples revealed that subjects who had been promised prizes were twice as likely to lie about having quit. In fact, for those who received both treatments, “the financial incentive somehow diminished the positive impact of the personalized feedback.” Not only were rewards unhelpful; they actually did harm. ..

Using seat belts Even more research has been done on applying behaviorism to the promotion of seat belt use. In fact, an enthusiastic partisan of behaviorism and his colleagues reviewed the effects of twenty-eight programs used by nine different companies to get their employees to buckle up; nearly half a million vehicle observations were made over six years in this research. The result: programs that rewarded people for wearing seat belts were the least effective over the long haul. In follow-up measures ranging from a month to more than a year later, programs that offered prizes or cash for buckling up found changes in seat belt use ranging from a 62 percent increase to a 4 percent decrease. Programs without rewards averaged a 152 percent increase. The authors, who clearly did not expect this result, had to confess that “the greater impact of the no-reward strategies from both an immediate and long-term perspective . .  .[ was] not predicted and [is] inconsistent with basic reinforcement theory.”

“At what, exactly, are rewards effective? To ask how long rewards last, and to learn that they rarely produce effects that survive the rewards themselves, is to invite curiosity about just what it is that rewards are doing. Why don’t people keep acting the way they were initially reinforced for acting? The answer is that reinforcements do not generally alter the attitudes and emotional commitments that underlie our behaviors. They do not make deep, lasting changes because they are aimed at affecting only what we do. If, like Skinner, you think there is nothing to human beings other than what we do— that we are only repertoires of behavior— then this criticism will not trouble you; it may even seem meaningless. “

“What rewards and punishments do is induce compliance, and this they do very well indeed. If your objective is to get people to obey an order, to show up on time and do what they’re told, then bribing or threatening them may be sensible strategies. But if your objective is to get long-term quality in the workplace, to help students become careful thinkers and self-directed learners, or to support children in developing good values, then rewards, like punishments, are absolutely useless. In fact, as we are beginning to see, they are worse than useless— they are actually counterproductive. “

“Morton Deutsch concluded that “there is no evidence to indicate that people work more productively when they are expecting to be rewarded in proportion to their performance than when they are expecting to be rewarded equally or on the basis of need. “

“Incentives will have a detrimental effect on performance when two conditions are met: first, when the task is interesting enough for subjects that the offer of incentives is a superfluous source of motivation; second, when the solution to the task is open-ended enough that the steps leading to a solution are not immediately obvious. “

“A growing number of parents, teachers, and managers have come to believe that punishment, defined as any attempt to change someone’s behavior by forcing him or her to undergo something unpleasant, is bad news. Later in this book, I will defend the position that punishing people should indeed be avoided whenever possible, both for practical and moral reasons. For now, I want to address readers who already share this view, and who therefore try to use rewards instead. “

“The troubling truth is that rewards and punishments are not opposites at all; they are two sides of the same coin. And it is a coin that does not buy very much. “

“…the same psychological model, one that conceives of motivation as nothing more than the manipulation of behavior. “

That rewards punish is not due only to the fact that they are controlling. They also have that effect for a second, even more straightforward, reason: some people do not get the rewards they were hoping to get, and the effect of this is, in practice, indistinguishable from punishment. “

“A survey of several hundred mothers of kindergarten-age children revealed a significant positive relationship between the frequent use of rewards and the frequent use of physical punishment. “

“As it happens, most studies have found that unexpected rewards are much less destructive than the rewards people are told about beforehand and are deliberately trying to obtain. “

“Most businesspeople can remember an instance when they, or their colleagues, were expecting a bonus, only to become demoralized when they ended up, for whatever reason, not getting it. Parents readily tell stories of exactly the same thing happening when their children failed to get some reward at school that they were counting on. Most of us are familiar with this phenomenon, but few of us have considered that it is not merely widespread but endemic to the use of rewards. “

“Rewards also disrupt relationships in very particular ways that are demonstrably linked to learning, productivity, and the development of responsibility. They have these effects both with respect to horizontal relationships (those among peers) and vertical relationships (those among people whose status is different, such as teacher and student, parent and child, supervisor and employee). “

“As a rule, rewards are not conducive to developing and maintaining the positive relationships that promote optimal learning or performance. But two common arrangements for rewarding people take a bad thing and make it much worse by explicitly setting people against each other. The first of these is a condition of artificial scarcity. Imagine that you are one of twenty or thirty students in a classroom. The teacher announces at the beginning of the year that whoever makes the highest score on each Friday’s quiz will be eligible to wear a GENIUS OF THE WEEK badge and enjoy a set of privileges that go with it. How is this likely to affect the way you view your fellow students? How inclined will you be to help someone else with an assignment? How easy will it be for a sense of community to take root in that room? “

“Some writers have acknowledged many of these problems and suggested that the solution is to stop rewarding individuals and use small group incentives instead, either in the workplace or the classroom. Unfortunately, offering goodies to teams simply shifts the rivalry to another level, maximizing the competition and thereby minimizing the coordination among groups. Moreover, the four other major problems discussed in this chapter and the next are not alleviated by changing how many people receive a reward. There is research to show that “shared incentives do not ameliorate the negative effects of performance-contingent rewards. “

“First, most competition creates anxiety of a type and level that typically interferes with performance. 16 Second, those who believe they don’t have a chance of winning are discouraged from making an effort; having been given no reason to apply themselves except to defeat their peers, and convinced that they cannot do so, these people are almost by definition demotivated. 17 Third, according to a series of studies by psychologist Carole Ames, people tend to attribute “

“The presence or absence of rewards is, of course, only one factor among many that affect the quality of our relationships. But it is a factor too often overlooked in its tendency to cause flattery to be emphasized in place of trust and to create a feeling of being evaluated rather than supported. “

“A mother in Virginia wrote to me not long ago to challenge my criticism of behavioral manipulation. “If I cannot either punish (or allow consequences) or reward (bribe) my children . .  . what do I do when my almost three year old . .  . wanders out of her room again and again at bedtime?” she asked. Fair enough: let us consider three possible ways of dealing with a child who will not stay in bed. Behaviorist A favors “consequences”: “If you’re not back in that bed by the time I count to three, young lady, you won’t be watching television for a week!” Behaviorist B favors rewards: “If you stay in bed until morning for the next three nights, honey, I’ll buy you that teddy bear you wanted. “

“…when we are working for a reward, we do exactly what is necessary to get it and no more. “

“If we want children to read more, to read carefully, and to care about reading, then offering them bribes— edible or otherwise— is exactly the wrong way to go about it. “

“Psychologists sometimes refer to rewards and punishments as “extrinsic” motivators, because they are inducements outside of the task itself. People who have been led to think in terms of what they will get for doing something can be described as extrinsically motivated. The opposite of this is intrinsic motivation, which basically means enjoying what one does for its own sake.* “

“…intrinsic motivation remains a powerful predictor of how good a job someone will do in the workplace or how successfully he or she will learn in school. “

“For example, we should be especially concerned about presenting food as a prize on a regular basis if there is any chance that doing so could contribute to eating disorders. “

Age. Clearly, as we have seen, “the effects of rewards on intrinsic motivation have been found to be similar across the ages,” from very young children to adults. 17 One is never too young or too old to have one’s interest in a task reduced when that task is presented as a way of getting a reward. “

Sex. Men and women, boys and girls, respond to rewards in pretty much the same way; most researchers have had no reason to expect different results on the basis of gender and have found none. 18 (The one exception to this trend concerns responses to praise, which tends to affect females more negatively than males, for reasons to be discussed in chapter “

Race and social class. As far as I can determine, no researcher has ever set out to investigate whether rewards affect one’s interest in a task differently depending on race or social status. There are some data, however, on how rewards affect task performance. Studies in the 1950s and 1960s found that “lower-class” children, unlike their middle-class counterparts, tended to perform better on certain isolated tasks when given tangible incentives such as candy. “

“…rewards are usually experienced as controlling, and we tend to recoil from situations where our autonomy has been diminished. “

“Intrinsic motivation is the prototypical form of self-determination,” 35 while “rewards in general appear to have a controlling significance to some extent and thus in general run the risk of undermining intrinsic motivation. “

“Two kinds of motivation are better than one.” Outside of psychology departments, very few people explicitly distinguish between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. But some who do make use of these concepts apparently assume the two can simply be added together for best effect. 52 Motivation comes in two flavors, these people seem to be saying, and both together must be better than either one by itself. What research (and, if we are attentive to long-term consequences, experience) makes quite clear is that things don’t always work this way in the real world. You can combine different forms of control to make people less motivated, but it’s not so easy to combine intrinsic and extrinsic motivation to make them more motivated. Finding a task interesting, which is both critical to excellence and highly desirable in itself, is usually eroded by the addition of a reward. “

“More specifically, the belief that we can offer rewards to jump-start a behavior and then simply fade them out presumes, according to Barry Schwartz, that “the effects of rewards do not carry over beyond acquisition into later occurrences of the activity in question and do not transfer to related, but different activities. “

“In fact, the more you want what has been dangled in front of you, the more you may come to dislike whatever you have to do to get it. “

“As rewards continue to co-opt intrinsic motivation and preclude intrinsic satisfaction, the extrinsic needs . .  . become stronger in themselves. Thus, people develop stronger extrinsic needs as substitutes for more basic, unsatisfied needs.  .  .  . They end up behaving as if they were addicted to extrinsic rewards. “

“The only problem is that we are offering incentives for the wrong behaviors. If we made rewards contingent on people’s doing exactly what needs to be done, the problem would disappear “

“If we’re worried about reducing intrinsic motivation, then what’s the problem with giving people rewards for doing things they don’t find interesting?” It is true that rewards are most likely to kill interest where there is the most interest “

“If we are concerned about performance as well as interest, remember that a number of studies have shown that while extrinsic motivators nearly always reduce creativity, they sometimes cause people to do a poorer job at fairly routine (and presumably uninteresting) tasks “

“Even if people who are bored by a task seem to respond to a reward, it seems unwise to use artificial inducements to try to interest someone in an activity that other people already enjoy on its merits.* It would be far more productive to ask why he or she is bored. (Perhaps the task is simply too easy or too hard for her, in which case adjusting the level of challenge would seem to make more sense than offering a bribe.) “

“…teachers who use controlling techniques such as extrinsic motivators tend to produce students who are more extrinsic, while those who emphasize students’ autonomy produce students who are more intrinsic. “

–Get rewards out of people’s faces. If they must be given, at least reduce the salience of the rewards— that is, how conspicuous and relevant they are. Research suggests that the more prominent an extrinsic motivator is, the more intrinsic motivation is undermined. 90 Our challenge is to offer fewer of them, make each one smaller, give them out privately, and avoid making a big fuss over the whole process.

–Offer rewards after the fact, as a surprise. People who protest that their intent is not to control people but only to “recognize excel lence” (an idea taken up in the next chapter) or to show appreciation can demonstrate they mean what they say by taking care not to tell people in advance what they will get for doing something.

Never turn the quest for rewards into a contest. Extrinsic motivators, as I have noted, become more destructive when the number of them is artificially limited— that is, when performance is measured in relative rather than absolute terms. 93 If bonuses are to be handed out at work, they should be available to anyone who meets a given standard instead of making each person an obstacle to the others’ success. Likewise, the tendency of some classroom teachers to grade on a curve is nothing short of immoral: it gratuitously limits the number of good grades just so the result will conform to an arbitrary, fixed distribution (few grades that are very bad, an equally small number that are very good, and a lot that are mediocre).

–Make rewards as similar as possible to the task. So-called endogenous rewards reduce the gap between what people are doing and what they are getting for it. 95 If you feel compelled to give a child something for having read a book, give her another book.

–Give people as much choice as possible about how rewards are used. Although rewards are basically mechanisms for controlling people, you can minimize the destructive consequences by including the potential recipients in the process of deciding what will be given out and how and to whom.

–Try to immunize individuals against the motivation-killing effects of rewards. It is possible that in some circumstances people’s intrinsic motivation can be shored up so that they are more resistant to the harmful effects of rewards. Some laboratory experiments have countered these effects by convincing people that they find the task interesting’’“

Children have an intrinsic desire to learn. Praise and manipulation can only serve to stifle that natural motivation and replace it with blind conformity, a mechanical work style, or open defiance toward authority.

 —Randy Hitz and Amy Driscoll, 1988

“praise is less likely to be promised in advance. Rewards are most damaging when they are expected— that is, when “Do this and you’ll get that” is heard before we do something— whereas praise generally comes as a surprise, after the fact. “

“Here, then, we have four accounts of how praise may impede performance: it signals low ability, makes people feel pressured, invites a low-risk strategy to avoid failure, and reduces interest in the task itself. Regardless of which of these seems to be operating, the evidence suggests that praise “interacts with other variables in a manner analogous to tangible rewards.” 23 That means it is a poor bet for enhancing the quality of what people do. “

“Two studies with college students found that women (but not men) who were praised for their work became less interested in it than those who weren’t praised. 35 Deci speculated that this effect was due to the fact that women are more likely than men to view positive feedback as controlling, rather than just providing information about how they did. “

“Private comments, offered so as to promote self-determination and intrinsic motivation, are enough to let people know their work is appreciated. There is no reason to offer these comments from a stage or to weight them down with trophies or certificates.”

“By contrast, in the typical ceremony for “recognizing excellence,” the people in charge have unilaterally selected, at their own discretion and based on their own criteria, some people to recognize over, and in front of, others. “

“The real problem is not that children expect to be praised for everything they do; it is that adults are tempted to take shortcuts, to manipulate their behavior with the use of rewards instead of explaining, helping them to develop needed skills, fostering a commitment to good values, and bringing them in on the process of deciding how to learn and behave. “

“selective reinforcement and indiscriminate reinforcement are two versions of the same thing, two manifestations of the same theory of motivation. The trouble with rewards is not that we hand them out too easily; it is that they are controlling, ultimately ineffective, and likely to undermine intrinsic interest.

 [The fault does not lie] with the use of poor techniques in administering incentive systems.  .  .  . [Rather,] there is something wrong with the theory of worker motivation upon which the policies and procedures are based.

 —William Foote Whyte, 1955

Not only are incentive systems and pay-for-performance plans pervasive in U.S. companies, but there exists a deep and rarely questioned commitment to the belief that offering people rewards will cause them to do a better job. The evidence, however, suggests that extrinsic motivators in the workplace are not only ineffective but often positively counterproductive. The most familiar reasons proposed to explain this failure deal with relatively minor issues that apply only to specific incentive programs. But several other reasons strike at the heart of the assumptions about motivation that underlie all such programs. The bottom line is that any approach that offers a reward for better performance is destined to be ineffective. “

“Get the incentives right and productivity will follow. If we give people big, straightforward monetary incentives . .  . the productivity problem will go away.” 13 In point of fact, if we have seen anything “go away” as a consequence of relying on incentives, it has not been the productivity problem but productivity. “

“If you want teamwork, you have got to recognize the team,” says the influential management theorist Edward Lawler. 15 His main point is that we should shift rewards from individuals to groups, but the idea of moving beyond a reliance on rewards altogether— promoting cooperation without, in effect, bribing people to work together— is evidently unimaginable. “

American workplace: a large dog holding out a biscuit to a smaller dog that holds one out to a still smaller dog, and so on until the dogs and biscuits vanish into insignificance. “

Consider the countries typically cited as competitors of the United States. Japan and Germany, to take two of the most successful, rarely use incentives or other behaviorist tactics to induce people to do a better job. “

Finally, consider the use of merit pay in the public sector. The most comprehensive attempt to implement such a program in the federal government, resulting from the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978, was judged a disaster even by the man who directed it. 33 In what was billed as the first direct test of the effects of performance-contingent pay for managers, a team of researchers at the University of California at Irvine looked at the performance of twenty offices of the Social Security Administration over more than four years. Using the very performance measures on which the managers’ salary increases had been based, they found that “the implementation of merit pay had no significant effects on organizational performance.” “

“*We might ask, while we are at it, who has the greatest incentive to defend the idea of incentives. Who would naturally prefer to fiddle with the formulas used for compensation rather than question the very premise of paying for performance? Arguably, the answer is the thousands of consultants whose livelihoods would be jeopardized if that premise were challenged. “

“To try a different bonus plan, another reward, a new proposal from the same Skinnerian perspective, is about as sensible as treating cirrhosis of the liver by switching from vodka to gin. “

“Pay is not a motivator.” 56 If an employee isn’t especially interested in an in-kind incentive, this is not a serious problem; a stereo system can be substituted for a trip to Hawaii. But what if it turns out that the default reward, money, also lacks the motivational power most of us attribute to it? That making money shouldn’t be the driving force in our lives is a message that has echoed through all cultures and in all ages. That money isn’t the driving force in our lives is another matter. Even when a man of Deming’s stature makes the flat declaration that money isn’t a motivator, we are skeptical— or at least puzzled. Of course, all of us want to be paid. Money buys the things we need and the things we want. Moreover, the less someone is paid— or at least, the less control he has over his own work— the more concerned he is likely to be about financial matters. 57 In this respect, money is like sex, as James Baldwin remarked somewhere: we are preoccupied with it mostly when it is missing from our lives. It can be readily conceded. “

“When samples of industrial employees in 1946 and 1986 were asked what they looked for in a job, they ranked “good wages” fifth out of ten possible factors. In the more recent survey, “interesting work” was number one. Supervisors, however, assumed that workers cared most about money59— and presumably made managerial decisions on the basis of that erroneous belief. “

“As the sociologist Philip Slater once remarked, “The idea that everybody wants money is propaganda circulated by wealth addicts to make themselves feel better about their addiction.”

“Consider, by way of analogy, the claim that carrots are good for your eyes. This is true only in the very limited sense that they provide carotene, which your body turns into vitamin A; a complete deprivation of vitamin A would cause night blindness. But almost everyone has immense reserves of carotene stored in the liver, and eating more carrots, or otherwise ingesting vitamin A above the amount you need, doesn’t improve your vision at all. So it is for a “carrot” like money: less of it may hurt, but that doesn’t mean more of it will help. “

“Rewards punish. In some circles, it is no longer necessary to make the case that punishment destroys motivation: this fact is already understood, and one can proceed directly to the seldom-noticed point that rewards have the same effect. But the people who run many large American corporations are still convinced that coercive and punitive tactics are useful. Sadly, a few words on this topic (before addressing the question of rewards) may not be superfluous. Even today it is not very difficult to find business leaders who believe that fear motivates people to do good work. “I hope everybody here comes to work scared to death” about the fate of the company, said a top executive at AT& T. 78 “Making the bottom 10 percent uncomfortable is good business,” declared a senior vice president of personnel at IBM, which recently adopted an evaluation system mandating that one of every ten employees must receive a poor rating every year and be given three months to improve or be fired. 79 Pay-for-performance systems, in order to “send the proper signals for good performance,” must “withhold sufficient pay” when people’s work is disappointing, according to a standard text on compensation. “

“The most charitable thing we can say about the use of punishment and fear is that it is psychologically naive. Threatening people can make them anxious about the consequences of doing poorly, but the fear of failure is completely different from the desire to succeed. “

Rewards rupture relationships. Horizontal relationships, such as those among employees of comparable status, are casualties of the scramble for rewards. As Deming and others have emphasized, incentive programs reduce the possibility that people will cooperate. And when cooperation is absent, so is quality. “We talk about teamwork at training sessions,” one bank executive remarked, “and then we destroy it in the compensation system. “

“Furthermore, contests, rankings, and competition for a limited number of incentives cause each employee to see every colleague as an obstacle to her own success, which in turn discourages collaboration and erodes the social support and sense of belongingness that make for secure employees and an effective’ organization. “

“…there is evidence that pay-for-performance plans tend to displace careful management: where reward systems are employed, it is less likely that productive strategies will be used. “

“A compensation system is no substitute for careful management, just as a behaviorist approach is no substitute for getting to the root of problems, but it is often used that way. “

Rewards discourage risk-taking. “People will do precisely what they are asked to do if the reward is significant,” enthuses one proponent of pay-for-performance programs. 95 And here we have identified exactly what is wrong with such programs. “

“When employees participate in setting performance standards, such as in organizations using the “management by objectives” technique popularized by Peter Drucker, “they have an incentive to set goals at safe levels . .  . to assure high ratings and rewards.”

Rewards undermine interest. Possibly the most compelling reason that incentive systems fail is the phenomenon described in chapter 5: extrinsic motivators not only are less effective than intrinsic motivation but actually reduce intrinsic motivation. “

“the risk of any incentive or pay-for-performance system is that it will make people less interested in their work and therefore less likely to approach it with enthusiasm and a commitment to excellence. Furthermore, the more closely we tie compensation (or other rewards) to performance, the more damage we do. “

“The management system of choice is therefore Skinnerian, with pay made contingent on performance. Since extrinsic factors eat away at intrinsic motivation, people become less interested in their work as a result and increasingly likely to require extrinsic incentives before putting out an effort. Then the supervisors point to that orientation, shake their heads, and say, “You see? If you don’t offer them a reward, they won’t do anything.” It is a classic self-fulfilling prophecy, and it did not escape the attention of critics like McGregor, Herzberg, and Levinson. “

“On the underlying philosophy, they speak the same language. “No system really works unless it operates with incentives,” declares American Federation of Teachers president Albert Shanker. 5 And The New Republic chimes in: “People respond to incentives.”

“Externally imposed evaluations, goals, rewards, and pressures seem to create a style of teaching and learning that is antithetical to quality learning outcomes in school, that is, learning characterized by durability, depth, and integration. “

“Controlling techniques in general, and rewards in particular, are most pervasively applied to children with special needs and challenges— and to those who simply carry a label that sets them apart. These children are subjected to a relentless regimen of Skinnerian manipulation, complete with elaborate charts, point systems, and reinforcement schedules. Even teachers and clinicians who would hesitate to use such methods with other children assume it is justified for those who are classified by a distinguishing set of initials. “

“Children with greater needs and handicaps are controlled even more tightly. Classes for them “tend to be heavily dominated by externally controlling teaching practices and extrinsic motivational incentives.”

“The attempt to protect that image usually comes at the expense of a desire to try one’s best, which can seem risky. If you don’t try, you can’t fail. Second, the more the student is focused on how well he’s doing, the less he is absorbed in the task itself. That absorption facilitates learning, so anything that undermines it is educationally disruptive. “

“Getting students to think about how they are performing also increases their fear of failure. Trying not to fail is, of course, very different from trying to succeed. “

If we want children to become able to act with personal conviction about what is right . .  . we must reduce our adult power and avoid the use of rewards and punishments as much as possible.

—Constance Kamii, 1984  “

BRIBES AND THREATS WORK. If I held up a pile of hundred-dollar bills and promised to hand them over if you learned every word on this page by heart, you would probably start committing them to memory. If I held a loaded gun to your head and told you I was going to pull the trigger unless you immediately ripped this page out of the book and ate it, you would very likely find these ideas a lot easier to swallow. If the punishment is aversive enough, or the reward appealing enough, there is no telling what you (or I) would agree to do. “

“No behavioral manipulation ever helped a child develop a commitment to becoming a caring and responsible person. No reward for doing something we approve of ever gave a child a reason for continuing to act that way when there was no longer any reward to be gained for doing so. “

“The research literature leaves no doubt that punishment is counterproductive. Studies over more than half a century show that when adults use disciplinary approaches variously described as “highly controlling,” “power-assertive,” or just plain punitive, children become more disruptive, aggressive, and hostile. “

“Mothers who punished toilet accidents severely ended up with bed-wetting children. Mother who punished dependency to get rid of it had more dependent children than mothers who did not punish. “

“…punishment leads to three possible outcomes: “calculation of risks” (which means children spend their time figuring out whether they can get away with something), “blind conformity” (which fails to teach responsible decision-making), or “revolt.”

“A number of psychologists and educators influenced by the work of Rudolf Dreikurs33 denounce punishment as harsh and ineffective and suggest instead that children be made to suffer “consequences”— especially those described as “logical” or “natural”— for their actions. “

“Countless parents, including some who deliberately try to avoid using punishment, have gotten into the habit of buying their children’s good behavior with money and treats. 44 Teachers too use privileges and good grades, parties and movies to get individual students or whole classes to act “appropriately.” Both at home and at school, praise is frequently used to manipulate children’s behavior. Typically the goal of rewarders is no different from what punishers have in mind: “Do what you’re told.”

First, rewards punish. It is no less controlling to offer goodies for a desired behavior than to threaten sanctions for its absence (or for the presence of an undesired behavior). “

Second, rewards rupture relationships. They open up an enormous chasm between the parent and child, now defined as the rewarder and the rewarded. “

Third, rewards ignore reasons. Why are children acting selfishly or disrespectfully or aggressively? “

“The question would seem to be perfectly reasonable, and yet I have found it frustrating and difficult to answer for several reasons. First of all, the alternative to rewards depends on whether we are talking about raising children, teaching students, or managing employees. “

“If what you want is to get a child, a student, or a worker to do what you say, then the answer to the question “What’s the alternative to rewards?” is that there probably is no alternative (with the possible exception of punishment). To induce short-term compliance, behavioral manipulation is the best we’ve got. If, however, your goal is to tap your employees’ intrinsic interest in doing quality work, or to encourage your students to become lifelong, self-directed learners, or to help your child grow into a caring, responsible, decent person, then it makes no sense to ask “What’s the alternative to rewards?” because rewards never moved us one millimeter toward those objectives. In fact, rewards actively interfere with our attempts to reach them. “

Here are the basic principles I would propose to those responsible for setting policy: Pay people generously and equitably. Do your best to make sure they don’t feel exploited. Then do everything in your power to help them put money out of their minds. “

“When someone contacts me about giving a lecture or writing an article, I ask how much money is involved and often negotiate for the maximum amount that seems to be fair and that the organization can afford to pay. Then, assuming we have come to an agreement, I do my best not to think about the money again. I do this because I fear the consequences of construing what I am doing in terms of what I am being paid: eventually I might find myself thinking, “A is paying me twice as much as B, so I’d better do twice as good a job for A.” If I ever reach that point, my integrity will be gone, and my intrinsic motivation will have fled along with it. What I attempt to do, in other words, is decouple the task from the compensation. “

“If the company has had a profitable year, I see no reason those gains should not be distributed to the employees; after all, their work is what produced the profit. 4 These recommendations accord, more or less, with those of Deming5 and, as I understand it, with the practice of most companies in Japan and elsewhere. 6 Some major U.S. corporations— a minority, to be sure— are beginning to move in this direction because of Deming’s influence or because of a gradual realization that pay-for-performance is an inherently flawed concept. “

“After abolishing merit pay, we need to take a hard look at its first cousin, the performance appraisal. This is typically a stressful annual ritual in which employees are ranked, rated, or otherwise judged— a tradition that should have been retired long ago in light of how misleading its results are and how predictably it generates resentment and impedes cooperation. “

“…some critics have suggested that the performance evaluation persists because it is “a very effective tool for controlling employees . .  .[ that] should not be confused . .  . with motivation of employees.” 8 Others argue that its appeal consists in allowing superiors to shift the responsibility for solving problems to their subordinates. 9 Whatever the accuracy of these charges, performance evaluations are most commonly defended on the grounds that they are needed “

  • determine how much each employee is paid or who will receive various awards and incentives;
  • make employees perform better for fear of receiving a negative evaluation or in the hope of getting a positive one;
  • sort employees on the basis of how good a job they are doing so we know whom to promote; or
  • provide feedback, discuss problems, and identify needs in order to help each employee do a better job. “

“Even within the standard hierarchical arrangement, the use of performance appraisals to decide on promotions is based on three dubious assumptions: first, that someone’s achievement in his current job is a reliable predictor of how successful he will be in another, very different, position;* second, that how much someone has achieved is a more important consideration in deciding whether and how his responsibilities will change than what sort of work he prefers and finds intrinsically motivating; and third, to the extent that performance does matter, that it is best judged by the evaluation of a superior rather than by one’s peers or oneself. “

By linking compensation to performance appraisal . .  . the exchange between superior and subordinate is then not about performance but rather about pay, and it is only likely to produce de-motivators.  .  .  . [A discussion about] progress and performance without the prospect that such a review must result in a penalty or an award to the employee [means that] the communication is more likely to stay open and honest. “

This recommendation does not amount merely to saying that supervisors should refrain from talking about money during an evaluation; it means that the entire process of providing feedback, assessing progress, and making plans ought to be completely separate from salary determinations. If such sessions are to be productive, there must be no reward or punishment hanging in the balance. The fact is that no matter how sensitively conducted and constructive an evaluation may be, it becomes a counterproductive force if how much people are paid depends on what is said there. “

“Changing the way workers are treated may boost productivity more than changing the way they are paid.”

“Most so-called managerial teams are not teams at all, but collections of individual relationships with the boss in which each individual is vying with every other for power, prestige, recognition, and personal autonomy. Under such conditions unity of purpose is a myth “

“Pay should not be an active ingredient in promoting teamwork and motivating performance.  .  .  . Telling people you are going to change the compensation system rallies them around compensation when what you want them to do is rally around making teams work.”

“Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, who has spent much of his career describing the pure pleasure of “flow” experiences, points out that beyond such enjoyment “one must still ask, ‘What are the consequences of this particular activity?’” 23 The question is not just “Are we having fun yet?” but “Are we making a difference?”

“Managers do not motivate employees by giving them higher wages, more benefits, or new status symbols. Rather, employees are motivated by their own inherent need to succeed at a challenging task. The manager’s job, then, is not to motivate people to get them to achieve; instead, the manager should provide opportunities for people to achieve so they will become motivated. “

“When people are well matched with their jobs, it rarely is necessary to force, coerce, bribe, or trick them into working hard and trying to perform the job well. Instead, they try to do well because it is rewarding and satisfying to do so.”

“The loss of autonomy entailed by the use of rewards or punishments helps explain why they sap our motivation. But managers must do more than avoid these tactics; they need to take affirmative steps to make sure employees have real choices about how they do their jobs. “

“Even managers who are sincere about providing genuine choice to employees may handicap such programs by hanging on to the premises and practices of behaviorism. “

Show me an employee who has to do what she is told, who has learned to distrust smiling assurances that the boss’s door is always open for someone with a suggestion or complaint, whose intrinsic motivation has evaporated in the face of a regimen of rewards and punishments, and I will show you an employee who may well shrug off an invitation to participate in a brand-new, memo-driven Worker Involvement Program. “

One specific similarity between work and school is that the same misconceived question is regularly posed in both places. Douglas McGregor reminded us that “How do you motivate people?” is not what managers should be asking. Nor should educators: children do not need to be motivated. From the beginning they are hungry to make sense of their world. Given an environment in which they don’t feel controlled and in which they are encouraged to think about what they are doing (rather than how well they are doing it), students of any age will generally exhibit an abundance of motivation and a healthy appetite for challenge. “

“For teachers and parents who are convinced by the evidence that rewards for learning are counterproductive, it is difficult enough to discard the stickers and stars, edible treats, and other incentives that have been dangled in front of students for so long. Getting rid of grades, however, presents a challenge of a different order of magnitude. Even if they had the power to do so, many people are likely to be more reluctant about giving up something so integral to our educational system that it is hard to imagine life without it. “

“Grades dilute the pleasure that a student experiences on successfully completing a task. 16 They encourage cheating17 and strain the relationship between teacher and student. 18 They reduce a student’s sense of control over his own fate and can induce a blind conformity to others’ wishes— sometimes to the point that students are alienated from their own preferences and don’t even know who they are. 19 Again, notice that it is not only those punished by F’s but also those rewarded by A’s who bear the cost of grades. “

“The fact is that faculty members have it within their power to reduce this pernicious and distorting aspect of educational practice that often seems to work against learning. If faculty would relax their emphasis on grades, this might serve not to lower standards but to encourage an orientation toward learning. “

“If there is no reason to grade students, students should not be graded. But until we can make the grades disappear (at least from our own schools), we can take small and, yes, realistic steps in the right direction. Here is the way to do that, reduced to its essence: teachers and parents who care about learning need to do everything in their power to help students forget that grades exist. “

“After reading the evidence and weighing the arguments, it makes sense for parents to consider putting aside grades and scores as indicators of success and to look instead at the child’s interest in learning. “

Given that the most selective colleges have been known to accept home-schooled children who have never set foot in a classroom, it is difficult to believe that qualified applicants would be rejected if, instead of the usual transcript, their schools sent along several thoughtful qualitative assessments from some of the students’ teachers, together with a form letter explaining how the school prefers to stress learning rather than sorting “

“American schools offer two basic modes of instruction. In the first, children are set against each other, competing for artificially scarce grades and prizes, struggling to be the first with the right answer. The subliminal lesson is that everyone else should be regarded as potential obstacles to one’s own success. In the second, children are seated at separate desks, taught to ignore everyone else, reminded not to talk, told that the teacher wants to see “what you can do, not what your neighbor can do,” given solitary seatwork assignments followed by solitary homework assignments followed by solitary tests. The subliminal lesson is “how to be alone in a crowd.” 41 This is the extent of most teachers’ repertoires: pit students against each other or pry them apart from each other. The only problem with these arrangements is that neither is particularly conducive to learning. “

“Right now, a good deal of what students are required to do in school is, to be blunt, not worth doing. The tasks they are assigned involve very little creative thought and very much rote learning. “

“*One of my epiphanies as a teacher came with the realization that students’ disruptive acts were less a sign of malice than of a simple desire to make the time pass faster. No strategy for classroom management can hope to be effective in the long term if it ignores the fact that misbehavior often reflects students’ lack of interest in much of what we are teaching. They can’t get out, so they act out. “

“Intrinsic motivation also flourishes when students are not always doing the same thing. Moreover, a variety of kinds of tasks, each requiring different skills, has an additional advantage: it helps to reduce the glaring disparities in status in the classroom. “

“At least one study has found that children given more “opportunity to participate in decisions about schoolwork” score higher on standardized tests. “

“case, the teacher will need to help students learn the skills with which they can make the best use of their freedom. “Opportunities to develop self-management and self-regulatory strategies must accompany the assignment of responsibility,” says Carole Ames. “

“As for teachers’ beliefs about learning, there is obviously a wide range of assumptions and practices to be found. It is impossible to wish away the pervasiveness of Skinnerian techniques in American schools. But a recent national survey of elementary school teachers found fairly widespread understanding that rewards are not particularly effective at getting or keeping students motivated. “

“Does punishment work in the real world? Experience and research teach us that troublesome behavior increases when children are punished, that underlying problems aren’t solved, that dubious values are modeled. “

“Punishing a child for a truly destructive act is no more sensible than punishing her for a trifle; one could argue it makes even less sense because the stakes are higher. “

“Good parenting is not defined by which decision one makes in each instance so much as by the willingness to think about these decisions— as opposed to the tendency to say no habitually and to demand mindless obedience to mindless restrictions. “

“Beyond compliance is the desire to induce children to keep following our rules even when there is no immediate reward to be obtained or punishment to be avoided— that is, to get them to “internalize” these rules. “

“Consider another example: some people insist that two parents must always present a united front by taking the same position in front of a child. True, two wildly different approaches to parenting in the same family will lead to problems, but there is something rigid and inauthentic about trying to deny that Mom and Dad don’t always see things the same way. More to the point, if the child is deprived of any opportunity to decide what happens to her, the parents’ unity amounts to an alliance of them against her. 54 Again, choice is the decisive issue. “

“The moral of this story, I think, is that if we want children to act in a caring fashion— or for that matter, to become part of a community, to learn to take responsibility and make choices— we are obliged to set up the structures that will facilitate movement in this direction and also to remove the barriers. Rewards and punishments actively interfere with what we are trying to do at home and at school. “


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