Tag Archives: manipulation


Victoria was stumped. She had always thought the only way to motivate people was to create a bonus or incentive program.

“So, if a bonus is off the table,” I started, “what could you create as a positive consequence?”

“I suppose, if I am around and notice something good, I could give them an attaboy,” she floated.

“And if you are not around?”

“That’s the problem, when I’m not around, things grind to a halt.”

“Have you ever heard, What gets measured, gets done?” I asked. “Why do you think that happens?”

“I don’t know. I suppose it’s because people think they are being watched even when they aren’t being watched.”

“Don’t be naive. People know exactly when they are being observed and when they’re not. Here’s why What gets measured gets done. Knowing that something was done correctly, one unit completed to the quality standard creates a positive consequence. But only if it was measured. If no one notices, then there is no positive consequence. If it gets measured, there is a positive consequence.”

“So, then I would still have to be there to count all the completed units?” Victoria resisted.

“No, they’re adults. They can count their own completed units, and post the number on the white board by their work station.”

“What white board?” Victoria asked.

“The one you are going to purchase and put up tomorrow.”

Ply Them With Money

“Maybe, I will have to give them some more training. That might perk them up,” Victoria replied. “The J-curve says that productivity on anything new will decline before it gets better, but more training might be the ticket.”

“And what else?” I prodded. Victoria was getting push back as her team took on more responsibilities.

“I guess I could talk to them, as a group, let them know how much I was counting on them,” she added.

“Those are both things that you could do, probably won’t hurt, but probably won’t have the impact you are interested in,” I explained. Victoria’s face twitched. She was looking for more approval than I was giving.

“Both things you suggest,” I continued, “occur before you get the behavior you want. Most managers go there. It’s not that it’s bad, just not very powerful. The power is not in what you set up before the behavior, but what you set up after the behavior. Consequences. And the most powerful consequence is a positive consequence.”

“You mean like a bonus?” Victoria guessed.

“A bonus is a reward, not a consequence. An immediate positive consequence is more powerful than a reward. Rewards are always delayed, can get taken away, the qualifications may change. Immediate reinforcement is more powerful than an uncertain reward.”

“I don’t know. If I can’t ply them with money, what can I do?” Victoria cringed.

Le Resistance

Victoria looked a little down. “Why the long face?” I asked.

“Ugh,” she replied. “I think I just entered the J-curve. We had to let two more people go last week, I had to reassign some of their work to other people. Empowerment, you know the drill. It’s tough getting people to do new kinds of work. Their new responsibilities are suffering, big time.”

“What do you think is the problem?”

“The new things they have to do aren’t that difficult, but I am getting resistance. And some of the new decisions they have to make, well, maybe, with a little experience they will do better.”

“Describe the resistance,” I shifted.

“It’s not really resistance. They don’t say anything. But I can tell. It’s like a blank look. A nod that says yes, but a feeling that says no.

“What do you think you are going to do, to get a different result?” I pressed.

“I am going to give it more time. Maybe things will improve.” Victoria was an optimist.

“And, what if they don’t improve? First, how will you know whether they are improving? And what if they don’t improve? What will you do differently?”

In Flow

“What you are suggesting,” Sam said, “is that motivation does not require incentives to get the work done?”

“Indeed, the word motivation conjures up all kinds of incentive schemes,” I replied. “Contrast the word motivation with the word manipulation. Most incentive schemes are manipulative, attempting to induce behavior for the benefit of the manager. What I am saying is that motivation, related to work, can be spontaneous, energetic if the team member finds it of interest. It is not the purpose of a manager to find incentives to manipulate behavior, but to set conditions where people find themselves engaged in work of inherent value, where they can bring their full capacity to the problem solving and decision making embedded in the work.”

“But, I need people to work diligently, and I can’t always be there to make sure the work is done right and on-time,” Sam sounded a bit like complaining.

“People work hard, not because they have to, but because they want to. People want to learn and grow. People want to contribute and be thanked for that contribution. It is up to us, as managers, to create the conditions that release a person’s enthusiasm, creativity and initiative.”

Limitations of Performance-Reward

“There is nothing wrong with Performance-Reward (Work=Paycheck),” I said. “It is the contract that we make with employees. They show up each day and do their best in exchange for the agreed-upon compensation.”

Helen looked down, picturing something.

“I know you see yourself as a Motivator,” I continued. “And, here is why Motivation is so important for managers.

“I asked you before, if I was getting the Performance I wanted, as a Manager, why did I give two hoots whether it was Motivation or Manipulation (Performance-Reward). Here is why.

Performance-Reward requires you, the Manager, to be present, either physically present or present-by-threat, meaning, you will be back to check on things. So, Performance-Reward requires the proximity of the Manager.

“Second, the duration of the behavior is short, happens only to the specification required to get the reward. And if something happens to threaten that reward, diminish that reward, delay that reward, the performance stops.

“And that’s why Motivation is so important. As a Manager, we need sustained performance even when we are not around. We need more than Performance-Reward.”

Is Manipulation a Bad Thing?

“I just don’t like to think of myself as a Manipulator,” Helen said. “I want to believe that, as a Manager, I am perceived as a Motivator.”

“Great cover-up, isn’t it?” I smiled. “Listen, Helen, I am not suggesting that you do things, as a Manager, through deceit and trickery. What I am saying is, don’t fool yourself (11th commandment). Most of what we do is Performance-Reward or Underperformance-Reprimand, external inducements to get desired behavior.

“So, tell me, Helen, is manipulation necessarily a bad thing?”

Helen paused. “I just don’t like it. It doesn’t sound good.”

“Have you ever been working on a project, where you needed everyone to stay an extra half hour, to staple and bind all the reports, or to get a truck loaded with an emergency shipment to a customer; a situation where you needed just that extra bit of effort? So you tell everyone that you are ordering in a pizza, if they would just stay on for the half hour?”

“Well, sure, it happens, but what’s wrong with that?” Helen replied, then chuckled. “It’s a good thing my team likes pizza.”

“Exactly, just understand it is Performance-Reward. It is NOT Motivation.”

Reward or Reprimand?

Helen’s face dropped. Her smile extinguished.

My words, “Sounds like manipulation to me,” rang in her ears.

“But, but, what do you mean?” she gasped, not in desperation, but surprise.

“I mean, most of the things we do as Managers, fall in line with manipulation. We create expectations of performance, we get the performance, the team member gets a reward.

“Or more clearly, we create expectations, if we don’t get the performance, the team member gets reprimanded. Either way you look at it, most of what we do as Managers, is manipulation.”

I Certainly Don’t Manipulate

“Well, I certainly don’t manipulate my team members,” Helen insisted. “I like to think that I motivate them to get the work done.”

“Tell me, how do you do that?” I asked.

“Well, I think it begins on their first day at work. Our orientation does a really good job of explaining to them our philosophy as a company, our mission in the marketplace, where we standout against our competitors. Then, everyone, no matter what their role, goes through a pretty intensive training program, to make sure they have the skills they need to be successful. In my opinion, it’s pretty motivational.”

“How so?” I probe.

“Once they come out of training, they have to pass some competency tests, to make sure they actually have the skills they need. If they do that, they immediately get a pay rate increase, from training pay to Pay Band I. Our training pay is just above minimum wage. Pay Band I is calculated based on their actual role, their job description. It’s beginner’s pay, but it’s a step up, so immediately, they are rewarded for their efforts.”

“So, if they successfully complete their training program, they receive a reward in the form of a pay increase?”

“Yes,” Helen replied, smiling and nodding.

“Sounds like manipulation to me,” I observed.

Motivation or Manipulation?

“So, what’s the difference between motivation and manipulation?” I asked. “My kid is in the back seat of the car, and I ask him to put on his seat belt. I tell him that if he puts it on, we will go get ice cream as a reward.

“What is it? Motivation or manipulation?” The class sits on the question. Several want to leap out of their chairs with the answer, but they know it will make them a target for the discussion.

“My kid is in the back seat of the car, and I ask him to put on his seat belt. I tell him that if he doesn’t put it on, he won’t be able to play on the computer tonight.

“What is it? Motivation or manipulation?”

Contrived System of Reward

“But the worst part of my little bonus system,” Reggie confided, “was not that my managers manipulated the numbers, but that the system I created changed the mindset. I corrupted their thinking. Digging out of that hole is going to take time. And some of them will not survive. I created a contrived system to reward something I thought was good.

“And the winner of my little contest, the successful candidate who gets the position as the new division VP, is going to think he got the job by gaming the system. It doesn’t matter how I explain it, in his heart, his experience will tell him that he got the job by playing with the numbers.

“It is really true,” Reggie continued, “the behavior you reinforce, is the behavior you get. I created the incentive. I got the behavior.”

“If you are going to create a different environment, what has to change first?” I asked.

“All crumbs lead to the top,” Reggie said. “I have to change first.”