Money, Motivation and Monkeys

We have all heard that “money doesn’t motivate”.  I’m not sure I totally agree.  If you can’t afford your weekly food bill then I suspect that making money comes high on your list, but I guess we pass that point fairly quickly.

What I do believe is true though is that money can de-motivate.

As Professor Noriaki Kano of Kano model fame would say, money is simply a basic need.  Or to use an old gag, you have two hopes of delighting your entire workforce with your compensation and benefits strategy:

  1. No Hope
  2. Bob Hope

So how do you meet those basic needs?

In his book Drive the author Dan Pink puts the case for three compensation and benefit rules.

Rule 1:  Treat people fairly

If people within an organisation feel that they are all paid equitably for their contribution then they will be happy with what they are paid.

Rule 2:  Pay slightly over the average

If your staff feel that your company pays well for the industry then they are less likely to leave and they won’t be disgruntled.

Rule 3:  If you must pay bonuses don’t pay much

Make your incentives small (if you are paying above average they don’t need to be large) and make sure you link them to a variety of performance measures.  That way your staff are less likely to cheat, and if they try, it becomes far harder to game the system.

Now you don’t have to believe any of this

So far it is just opinion and conjecture.  There is no science and I would always implore you to test and learn and avoid jumping to conclusions on little or no evidence.

So where is my evidence?

Well it comes in the form of a monkey.  I did promise you one.  Watch the video and then let me know what you think inequitable pay schemes do for morale.

Still not convinced?  Read another opinion

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Image by kevin.j


  1. Mark Welch says:

    Love it, James! The video was a perfect illustration of your point. Intrinsic motivation goes only so far, and yes, money is simply a hygiene factor. A good share of this all comes down to understanding the values of your people, and I’m sure they within and between individuals and organizations.

  2. Mark Welch says:

    Oops, in the last sentence I meant to have the word “vary” in between “they” and “within.” Sorry for the omission.

    • James Lawther says:

      No problem Mark.

      Thanks very much for the comment, and I am sure that those values do vary an awful lot.


  3. I agree, monetary incentives are highly motivational although it’s not the only motivation that we can offer to our employees.

  4. James Lawther says:

    Interesting Cheyserr, I agree, they are highly motivational, but motivational to do what? I am never entirely sure that the ends justifies the means

    Thanks for your comment


  5. Hello James

    I have come across Franz de Waal’s work (just read one of his books – Primates and Philosophers – recently) and yet not seen the video. Throughly enjoyed watching the video:made the story he told in book come alive. Thank you for sharing it.

    There is chap called Alfied Kohn who has useful/interesting stuff to say about money, rewards and competition. He started writing long time before Daniel Pink. And it occurs to me that they are both saying the same thing.

    Money is interesting. The “research” I have read is that in the USA money works as a motivator up to $60,000 a year. And as such it also drives happiness. After the $60,000 a year level, extra money does not make the same kind of big impact.

    I say pay people well enough so that they do not have to worry about the essentials of life. That is to say take care of the hygiene factor. And then put forth a context that calls forth the best from human beings. A purpose that shows up as noble, worthy, worth putting your best self in the game for. And social relationships which are make everyone feel an important member of the community. Third, fit the person with the task so that the person is putting his natural talent into the world.

    Which is my way of saying that people but their best in their game when work does not occurs as work. And it is not done to pay the bills.


    • James Lawther says:

      Maz, I like your point:

      “fit the person with the task”

      I think we have a duty to do that to the best of our abilities for our staff.

      I do wonder though how many people have the sense to choose a task that fits them when applying for a job in the first place.


  6. Hi James,
    I love the video. Thank you for sharing.

    I agree with the approach and wish that more companies would operate in this way. I guess the problem lies in understanding or getting to grips with what ‘treating people fairly’ actually means and does it mean different things to different people?


  7. Derek Mitchell says:

    Serious research has be done into incentivitisation by rewards …(real stuff with numbers)
    Havent heard of it … no surprise, there is no incentive to do so
    because they say incentives they dont really work.
    it demoralises the bulk of the work force and makes the high achievers motivation dependent on the rewards and reduces their output from before…
    So what does really work… apparently training does and recognition by your peers and superiors…

    Sounds a bit like teaching dogs or dolphins to do tricks…
    it works …

    • James Lawther says:

      Thanks for your comment Derek.

      I once heard incentives described as a bad idea that won’t die.

      Funny how the truth won’t out

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