Performance or Learning – idealism or best practice??
I was recently reading Dan Pink’s new (-ish) book, Drive, and came across some amazing research that typifies human behaviour. Pink cites the scientist Carol Dweck from Stanford University and her study has taken an
intriguing look at how we approach outcomes from our endeavours.
Dweck says that we tend to focus on either performance goals (get an A in the poetry exam) or learning goals (get a thorough understanding of poetry and learn as much as possible about it). Dweck gave school children a set of scientific principles to learn and set half of them a performance goal and half a learning goal. And here’s what happened…..
Performance goals were great at getting people to perform well at relatively straight-forward problems in a particular context, but not so good for getting people to apply the knowledge in a different setting. Learning goals, however, enabled students to apply their new-found knowledge in different contexts to solve different problems.
Isn’t that what we need to do in today’s workplace?
Challenging our status quo
It is with this (and many other) studies in mind that I continually question the effectiveness of our current reward system in the workplace. I would say the vast majority of people engage in work from the point of view that it will get them x. Very few probably approach their work with the objective of getting better and learning all they can about it – how to improve, be more efficient, apply their knowledge to help customers in a different context……you get the picture.
The problem is our ingrained theory of performance for the people we manage. Have people lost the ability to respond to the sort of incentive that values learning and internal motivation above external rewards? I don’t think so; but they are becoming de-sensitised to it in the workplace.