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Ann, it was so terrific to see you in person. I wish it weren't at the start of Pink's Q&A...I would love to sit and chat!

Pink was an inspired choice. I remember how Alfie Kohn did the punished by rewards stuff...and was vilified. I believe Pink is right...and I think a ton of HR types weren't schooled at all in motivation, so they bring their own biases and misinformation to the table.

He was brave to hang around...I wonder how much impact he can make when HR ideas are so firmly rooted. I'll be in the hall today and hope to run into you. Maybe we could discuss this face to face!

Thanks, Frank - so cool to see you in person as well!

Ann - Great post and you highlight many of the thoughts and reactions that I have about Pink - love the message that performance change involves more than just money, but also dislike how he over simplifies the response. Incentives can work if they are designed right - even for creative tasks (research by Eisenberger from the 90's showed that). I just hope that we as a profession take the right message from his work and don't just repeat the talking point of "incentives are bad."

Well done.

Thanks, Kurt! I share your hope - that we can pull the right message from his work (because it is a powerful and on-target one) and disregard some of the oversimplified talking points.

Ann –

Great post, as always. Like you I am somewhat conflicted about Pink's work. On the one hand it's great - as you say - that he uses his platform to challenge long-held assumptions and try to open new avenues of conversation. On the other hand, I'm not convinced he's fully aware of how limited his own perspective is and that may be why he comes across as “patronizing” at times.

Pink ‘s notion that carrots don't work is simplistic and narrow. This is not surprising for someone whose own life currently hovers near the top of Maslow’s hierarchy. For someone coming from his privileged background (which then enabled his current status as one of the "elite") it's probably true that a carrot isn't motivating. I'm not saying Pink didn't work hard to get where he is, but I am saying that unless you've actually been hungry once in awhile you cannot understand the motivation a carrot holds. More importantly you cannot understand the self-confidence and even happiness that results from the struggle to reach the carrot. It’s a form of empowerment that a handout can never create. No doubt we could debate for hours what the “right” amount of suffering and struggling should be for humans in a civilized society, but the point is that we not discount the value of the struggle to achieve that is personified by the dangling carrot. MIley Cyrus may have a dreadful voice, but there is some truth to her words in “The Climb.” Or if Disney isn’t your preferred source for human development philosophy, check out “Pedagogy of the Oppressed” by Paolo Friere.

The second – and related - challenge with Pink is a universal challenge with most professional speakers/advisors, which is that they seem to recommend solutions that they themselves don’t follow in their own lives. For example, a few weeks ago in a webinar Tony Schwartz advised listeners to “‘relax and stop trying to compete” in their careers. Yet Schwartz himself has “competed” to get where he is as a writer/speaker/consultant. No one handed him his credibility – he had to earn it project by project. But of course advising others not to compete works for Schwartz because it lessens the chance that he’ll have competition for his wares, right?

In a similar manner, Pink advises that people should simply be paid fairly so we can just take the whole idea of money off the table. His practical implication is that base pay should go up (but still be fixed) and variable pay should go away. Yet the deeper message carries a potentially insulting commentary on the working masses. Isn’t the life of a speaker/author/entrepreneur such as Pink is almost entirely dependent on variable pay? The risk is great, but the potential reward is huge. Is it possible the that “carrot” of big speaking fees, book contracts, consulting gigs, etc. is exactly what is driving Pink’s productivity and creativity? Is it possible that he enjoys his work more because he is motivated to be more creative and productive? Is it possible that he enjoys his work more because knows he can directly impact his pay by the choices he makes? My guess is that Pink wouldn’t be too keen on taking the discussion of pay off the table when negotiating a speaking fee or book contract, and yet he suggests that that option shouldn’t be available to the masses in the working world. It begs the question whether he thinks the masses aren’t smart enough to handle it or maybe just don’t deserve it?

These are questions that have their roots in philosophy and theology, so one speech or one blog posting cannot answer them. But I think it’s important than any conversation about motivation and human development include a willingness to address contradictions such as these head on.

No offense intended, Ann, but I have learned a great deal about how to motivate and engage employees from Pink's book and presentation, and very little about them from your blogs. You are good at the technical matters about paying people, but need to improve your grasp of the bigger picture.


Thanks for sharing your considered thoughts, insights and some new angles here.


Fair enough - no offense taken, and I appreciate your feedback. Because this is a compensation blog, I do try to focus on that topic - but also to connect how we design and manage pay to broader issues of productivity, performance, motivation and engagement. Y'all have to ultimately judge for yourself how well I pull it off, I guess!

Mar - can you define how you are using the term "bigger picture"? A lot of times when people use that phrase they mean "the picture that happens to include my own opinion." Pink's books and talks certainly summarize some interesting thoughts about motivation from the work of both philosophers and researchers. Yet it seems that any well considered "bigger picture" of the intersection of compensation and motivation must also necessarily include info about that pesky "technical matter of paying people" since businesses - unlike the government - don't have the option to just invent more money when people clamor for it.

As I posted on the WorldAtWork blog about Pink's Keynote, he said absolutely nothing new. In the subsequent Q&A workshop, he conceded that Hawthorne Effects and incentives play a big part and he never strayed from our center line of standard tradecraft best practice applications.

He seems to be an articulate lawyer whose has always worked as a populist writer. Exaggerated simplifications pay off in that field. Preaching ancient generalities with the gee-whiz enthusiasm of a recent discoverer captivates some audiences, too. Rigorous researchers, on the other hand, tend to be more constrained by little details like specifics, but have no trouble coming to more sophisticated conclusions without breathless claims of original innovation. Watching him made me realize we make exciting topics boring.

One nagging problem about his approach bothers me a lot, though. It is fairly easy to pick and choose selected elements of case examples from foreign cultures to make any point from almost any point of view. Might make an attractive montage impression, but it is not RESEARCH and it might not depict a very complete picture of reality anywhere.

That said, hey, he's an entertainer rather than a compensation expert or TR tradecraft professional, so we can't hold him to our standards. He is quite proficient at his chosen profession, which is getting publicity and making money rather than quietly laboring to craft effective customized total reward programs for unique environments. You can't do everything. At least he calls attention to stuff we've fought with and for for many decades. I'll take any help we can get.

At least you admit a need for help. That's a start. Hopefully, one day someone from the compensation tradecraft will say something vaguely interesting, get a best seller and be a keynote speaker at one our conferences. That will take some doing, since most of our "thought leaders" are merely snake oil salesmen/women retelling the same tales from the past 50 years. As long as they don't say anything negative about P4P, I'm sure they'll be a hit.

Thanks, Jim and Merle, and everyone who took the time to add comments and thoughts here.

With this post, I broke two of my rules.

One, I vowed not to write any more about Dan Pink after my September 2009 post "Incentives, Motivation and the Last Word on Dan Pink". Thought I'd made the points I wanted and any additional effort would simply be unproductive. For good or bad, however, I felt compelled to jump back in after Monday's keynote. What can I say? For all that I agree with so much of his message - I struggle with the simplistic prescriptives that Pink insists on offering for pay.

Two, I typically write posts, then leave them for at least an hour, so that I can go back, review and edit. This one was literally written on the fly, rushing to get to the conference after a couple of hours doing client work in my hotel room. In hindsight, I'd probably have made a few modifications if I'd had time - but that's water under the bridge and the way it rolls.

Here's the final irony. I sit this afternoon compiling a list of mini-case studies of past client projects to present to a non-profit organization where I hope to be engaged to do a feasibility study on variable pay. It's unlikely they'll hire me, because a review of my client work in this area - if I tell it honestly - will reveal that I've talked far more clients out of doing incentives for this kind of thing than not. Not an impressive track record for a P4P snake oil saleswoman, is it?

Please feel free to share any additional thoughts and comments. I'll continue to read them.

No need to get snippy, Merle. Doesn't bother me, anyway, but it's impolite to be deliberately insulting and ad hominem attacks tend to be unpersuasive to research professionals. Not being the host, I can be blunt but I do try to stay civil.

P4P is usually done quite badly, like the raising of children, attempts to end warfare, and programs to end poverty. There are also usually certain instances of negative personal conduct even during the pursuit of a virtuous life of benevolent service. But that does not mean we shouldn't attempt such things. Nothing worthwhile comes easy. In fact, the converse seems to apply more often... if it is easy, it probably is wrong.

Where is the commandment written, "Never do anything difficult?" Certainly not in my last book that included criticisms of lame dysfunctional misguided performance management attempts. However, hardly anyone wants to pay for negative performance (we all know the exceptions). Positive performance management is possible although difficult, so I prefer to write about the ways that do work rather than obsess about the many ways that don't. Nevertheless, no one has a monopoly on wisdom.

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About The Author

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    Compensation consultant Ann Bares is the Managing Partner of Altura Consulting Group. Ann has more than 20 years of experience consulting with organizations in the areas of compensation and performance management.

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