In much of my work with leaders and organizations in various industries and disciplines, there’s a common issue that they seek help on addressing. Specifically, how do we keep employees invested in the long-term goals of our organization?
For these leaders, the question is not so much how to improve employee engagement as it is how to sustain that enthusiasm and drive over the life span of a project or change initiative where it takes months or even years to achieve a successful outcome.
While I’ve shared strategies and insights based on what successful organizations like Pixar Studios and the European Space Agency do to sustain employee motivation over a long period of time, I wanted to explore what researchers have learned to date about what keeps our motivation going for goal completion when the end point is not so clearly defined or visible.
That exploration lead to a fascinating study done by researchers at the University of Chicago which looked at how a frequent-buyer reward card offered by a local coffee shop could motivate coffee drinkers to become repeat customers.
For this experiment, the researchers created two different kinds of rewards cards where customers would be rewarded a free cup of coffee after 10 purchases. The first reward card version relied on giving customers a coffee cup-shaped stamp with every purchase. With this reward card design, the customer’s focus would be directed towards how many purchases they had made to date.
For the second reward card, 10 coffee cup images were featured on the card and in this case, the coffee cup images would be punched out with every purchase, thereby putting the customer’s focus on how many purchases were left to be made to get the free cup of coffee.
Researchers then told the study participants that they would be given cards that were started by university students who had recently graduated so these cards would be at various levels of completion.
The researchers grouped these partially completed reward cards into two groups – group 1 had only 3 coffee cup-shaped stamps or 7 slots left to be punched and was referred to as having a “low-progress condition”. Group 2 had 7 coffee cup-shaped stamps or 3 slots left to be punched and was referred to as having a “high-progress condition”.
The researchers handed out the different scenario and design reward cards to the various participants and then evaluated how motivated research participants would be to finish the reward card to get their free cup of coffee.
What the researchers found was that when the participants received a card that had 3 coffee cup-shaped stamps or 3 slots punched, the ones that got the card design that emphasized how much progress had been made so far were more motivated to finish the reward card than those who got the reward card that emphasized how many coffee cups were left to purchase to get the free cup of coffee.
Conversely, for those participants who got cards where there were 7 coffee cup-shaped stamps or 7 slots punched, the ones with the card design that emphasized how many coffee cups were left to buy to get the free cup were more motivated to get that free cup of coffee than those whose card focused on how many cups of coffee were purchased so far.
Now for those who run coffee shops or other types of stores that use these kinds of reward cards, this finding is definitely of much interest. But how does this apply to how we can become better at creating those kinds of conditions that help keep our employees motivated over the long run in achieving our shared purpose?
The answer to this question can be found in understanding what’s behind this motivation phenomenon. Click here to continue reading »”How Leaders Can Manage The Perception Of Progress”