We all know, or at least have been repeatedly told, that greed is the prime human motivator. That if it wasn’t for our lust for money then no one would ever do anything, and we certainly would not do anything for anyone else without our own monetary benefits being our primary concern. Hopefully you aren’t so cynical as to believe that and if you have any familiarity with Lean then I suspect you are beginning to realize (if you didn’t already know) that there is much more to things than just money; there’s a sense of purpose and accomplishment, pride and a desire to improve, respect and humility and much more.

I came across this video the other day:


In it, the speaker, Dan Pink, discusses “The Puzzle of Motivation” and among other things, a social experiment conducted to see how people accomplished tasks when given different forms of motivation. The result of the experiment showed that people who are motivated only through monetary gain will perform as best they can but they will not think creatively or “outside the box” in order to accomplish the task. It seems that money as a motivator is enough to get people to do what you ask but it also seems to put blinders on people. When asked to accomplish task ‘X’ for ‘Y’ amount of money people get tunnel vision and only focus on what’s right in front of them because the man with the money told them to. Anyone with even a cursory knowledge of Lean knows that this is unacceptable, that in order to get the results that Lean promises then people must be thinking creatively in order to continuously make improvements.

The difference is Extrinsic vs. Intrinsic Motivation. Extrinsic Motivation, as the name implies, is external motivators such as monetary reward or the fear of repercussion from failure. Extrinsic Motivation is good for getting people to do something that they might not normally do, like show up for work every day at 6am, but it doesn’t mean they’re going to like it or put in any special effort. They won’t approach the task wholeheartedly and won’t exert any more effort than they have to in order to accomplish the task sufficiently as laid out before them and collect the money.

Instead, they need to be doing things for a more internalized purpose; Intrinsic Motivation. Intrinsic Motivation means “engaging in behavior because it is personally rewarding” rather than because some external force compels you to engage in it. This is the task of managers in a Lean enterprise, to provide a goal and a sense of purpose for their employees that is beyond money and that gives their people a personal reason for going to work and making the business better.

At the first company I worked with when I started all this, the value stream manager told me something that I’ll always bear in mind. He said that when they undertook their Lean transformation that all of the things that many people associate with Lean – calculating and implementing kanbans, analyzing value stream maps, deciding the best flow of information and materials, etc.. – all that was easy when compared to the most difficult challenge: changing how people think. It may sound cliché but at its core Lean truly is a state of mind, it’s a philosophical outlook and approach to problem solving, it’s internalized, it isn’t learned but instead realized, and to try and get people to understand something so profound by simply enticing them with money won’t cut it. People need to feel a higher sense of purpose and personal involvement and once they’ve internalized that motivation then they will begin to let the creative juices flow and think of new ways to make the processes better, but it’s up to you to provide that higher sense of purpose for them.