By Cindy Lorah
The opening keynote address of the American Medical Group Association (AMGA) meeting in Orlando, March 15, featured Daniel Pink, author of A Whole New Mind and Drive, who shared his insight on the science of motivation and some of its implications for health care.
First, he looks at our “intrinsic” knowledge of motivation – what people generally believe and act on regularly. Namely, that rewarding a behavior gives you more of it and punishment for a behavior gives you less. Social scientists have basically been testing this “hypothesis” for years, and the result is that “sometimes” this holds true, but not nearly as often as we generally think…and this can lead to big mistakes.
This type of “IF – THEN” motivation (IF this action happens, THEN you will get this reward/punishment) has been shown to be great for simple and short-term tasks. However, it is not great for complex, long-term situations. One key study showed that as long as a task involves only mechanical skills, bonuses work as expected. However, once the task calls for “even rudimentary cognitive skills,” a larger reward led to poorer performance. Although this may seem wrong on a profound level, it is not surprising to social scientists. People love rewards and tend to focus intently on achieving them. However, if people need to think creatively and multi-dimensionally, you do not want to motivate single-minded focus.
An example pertaining to health care are studies looking at pay-for-performance initiatives. One study showed there “is not evidence that financial incentives can improve patient outcomes,” and a second showed that there is no evidence that pay-for-performance in hospitals led to a decrease in 30 day mortality.
To be clear, it is a fact that money is a motivator. It matters a lot, but its effects are nuanced. People are exquisitely tuned to norms of fairness. People need to be paid enough to “take money off the table” and to be perceived as being paid fairly.