Don’t feed the animals

dont feedWe’ve all seen the signs in zoos, domains, at car parks in our national parks…and we understand the point, even if we haven’t considered it deeply.

So…let’s consider: why shouldn’t we feed the animals?

  • We stop them thinking for themselves: they become fat and idle, expecting the food and gorging on it as and when it is delivered. They come to expect it, even knowing when the feeding times begin;
  • We alter, and harm, their natural abilities:
    • they lose their motivation of solving their feeding needs for themselves and of real satisfaction with their successes
    • even worse, they now take on new behaviours
  • They become dependent on us: once reliant on us, if we take the food away there will be a period of confusion and likely pain;
  • We create un-natural competition in what used to be a structured independent community: we witness the fighting at the artificial food source;
  • Often, the food we give them isn’t healthy for them and certainly not as healthy as what they get in the wild…we try our best to imitate it but it’s never the same thing;

…we become their keeper, they lose their instinctive capabilities. We no longer witness all the wonderful things that they are capable of. They submit to our control.

I am really using an analogy for contingent rewards: the offering of something on a contingent basis in order to (attempt to) control how someone acts…which makes these rewards extrinsic by definition.

What do we try to do instead?

  • We attempt to safeguard, or provide (if it has already been destroyed) a natural environment in which the animals can thrive!

So how do we treat people in our organisations? Now, to be very clear, I am not putting you or I ‘above’ anyone by writing this post. I am but one of the animals in an organisational system, just like you or anyone else.

If contingent rewards are being used then the Board determine how to feed the Executives at the top, whilst managers handle the feeding of the process performers at the customer interface.

The point is that contingent rewards will have highly undesirable effects!

It’s worth noting that animals can be successfully introduced back into the wild, to become amazing again! Whether this is successful will depend upon how severe the dependence has become and the effort (both time and expertise) put into undoing this.

The analogy is not perfect but I hope you see the point. Clearly, animals in the wild are dependent on their natural habitat for survival and nature isn’t always kind. Consider that our natural food of choice is to be intrinsically motivated in what we do…and, given the right habitat we can thrive!

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