Rewards and Trust

A few months back I had blogged about Rewards and Punishment. The underlying theme was that rewards and punishment are two sides of the same coin of ‘control knobs’ and fail miserably in producing motivation, increasing efficiency and creating a better human being. In addition to that, rewards have the following issues:

  • rewards tend to be an implicit punishment towards those who did not receive a reward
  • rewards tend to get people to do uninteresting things by providing a wrong kind of incentive
  • rewards tend to be habit forming
  • rewards tend to discourage collaboration (since generally, in the end there is a single winner)
  • rewards tend to discourage risk taking choices (since rewards are for repeat occurence of one single good habit)

A significant aspect that I did not write about was that rewards (and punishments) tend to upset the ‘everyday trust’ that glues a team together. A team is a social unit where diverse tasks are completed by a group of people. A feeling of (what is called team spirit) togetherness that a team builds is based upon a trust currency. Control knobs to kickstart motivation, if ill-selected and hastily applied, tend to strike at the very base of the trust framework.

The ‘individual above all else’ theme of rewarding (or, punishment [which could be called negative rewards]) makes it nearly certain that collaboration is not a way to move forward. It is somewhat simple to confuse the demonstration of appreciation with the showering of rewards. They are never the same thing. Rewards, irrespective of whether they are positive or negative do not lend themselves to an increase of motivation. In fact, they become misdirected if they are habit forming.

Most of the time those who are in the process of completing tasks feel miserable because of the feeling of being irrelevant in the whole universe of things. A sense of trust and thus a sense of belonging and being recognized helps to overcome the turmoil of feeling irrelevant. Rewards are not recognition devices. They are a big bull’s eye painted on the receiver which says “look at me, I chose to ignore collaboration and hence got a trinket”.

That isn’t a trust enhancing scenario.

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