People are motivated in many ways. I have seen a number of unique systems and techniques for tapping the motivation of workers. My brother, Jack, demonstrated one such motivational system. Jack is a research archaeologist and assistant professor for Missouri State University in Springfield, Missouri. Jack supervises crews of six to 12 workers performing tasks of initial surveys and excavations.
In mid-October to mid-December 1982, I worked with Jack surveying in the Mark Twain National Forest in Missouri. Jack had two crews and I worked on both crews. Jack's crew was always out in the field until 5 p.m. By 4:30 p.m. the other crew was usually sitting on the tailgate of the truck eating snickers bars and chatting about this and that.
One rainy day, we were unable to work in the field. Instead, we spent the day with buckets of water and toothbrushes washing artifacts. Toward quitting time Jack joined us and requested us to gather round. He opened a little box and inside was a pile of small foil stars. Jack stood up and pointed to one of my fellow workers and handed him two green stars. Jack explained, "Jim earned these stars for the two Woodland points (1,000-2,500 years old) that he found last week."
He turned to George and handed him a silver star and said, "George found an Archaic point (4,500-9,500 years old) and gets a silver star." Finally, he looked at Tom and smiled, "Tom gets a gold star for the Paleoindian point (9,500-11,500) found yesterday." I, of course, remained starless since I was the least experienced of the crew and had found no points.
Afterwards, I expressed surprise with his award process. I protested to Jack, "These are grown men and you are giving them stars like kids would receive for homework assignments." Jack was undaunted and replied, "I've done this for years. Watch and see what happens. It will probably turn into a competition to see who can accumulate the most stars. Plus, the stars limit any desire to pocket artifacts for one's own collection."
The next day we were back in the field. I worked with Jack and a couple of other crew members. As usual, we returned to the truck precisely at 5 p.m. But this time the other crew was not waiting on the tailgate. We waited for ten or fifteen minutes and still they did not show up. Finally, Jack walked in the direction where their assignment would have taken them. We could hear him yelling, "Hey, guys! Come on in!" Finally, they came in explaining that they had found a very interesting site and wanted to spend more time looking for projectile points.
This was an amazing change of behavior. Jack had developed a creative little motivational tool that did just what he wanted it to do. I often talk about this change in behavior to my clients. I believe the behavior change resulted because their efforts their skills were recognized. When leaders use the simple principle of positive reinforcement, it creates positive results for the organization and for the individual.
R. Glenn Ray, Ph.D., is the president of RayCom Learning. To learn more about Ray's new book, "Tons of Stone above my head: Coal Mining Stories with Leadership Lessons," visit his Web site, www.raycomlearning.com. Everyday Leadership appears each Wednesday on the Business page.