Understanding reward

February 25, 2015

By Curtis R. Sprouse

In my world, Reward is defined as the need for and ability to provide feedback relative to performance.Many people do not understand the power of Reward or the complicated dynamics that determine one’s need for Reward.This is a very important dynamic that leaders need to better understand. What is it that people need and why does it have a material impact on one’s desire to work hard, to persevere, to respond?

In an experimental research done by Dan Ariely, PhD, Professor of Psychology and Behavioral Economics at Duke University, people were paid to build a series of LEGOBionicle models. The first group (Meaningful Condition) would complete the model, then the model was placed under the table and they were asked to build a second model for less money. Then a third for a lesser amount of money and so on, until the person refused to continue.

In a second group (Sisyphus Condition – named after the Greek king who was punished by being asked to repeat forever the act of rolling an immense bolder up a hill, only to watch it roll back down), when the person completed the model, they were asked to build a second Bionicle model for a lesser amount. However, as they were building the next model, the previously completed model was disassembled in front of the person. The process of destroying the person’s work was continued throughout the process. The Meaningful group built an average of 11 Bionicle models, while the Sisyphus group built an average of 7 Bionicle models.

In a third condition, people were given a description of the two conditions but did not need to do the work. They were asked to describe the outcome of the two scenarios.People predicted the correct outcome that the Meaningful Condition would produce more Bionicle models than the Sisyphus Condition. They did not understand the materiality of the difference that would occur when people felt no value, however. The conclusion is that people will work harder, longer, and feel better about the work if they believe the work has meaning, even a small amount of meaning.

In research done by EurekaConnect we have found that there is far more to this concept.People have different capacities depending on how much Reward they need and how much they tend to give. Our work shows that people with high Reward scores, above the 75% (based on validated assessment instruments) will manifest in these people needing more feedback, higher degree of feedback, and a greater sense of purpose.

People scoring lower for Reward, at or below the 35%, did not need the same level of Reward to perform.The good news is that Reward is a learned behavior, as people can refine their need for Reward.There are other factors that will impact one’s ability to adjust Reward, with Dominance and Competing being two genetic behaviors that will have an impact on one’s need for Reward.

Dominance measures one’s need to control, to lead, and it defines ego. The higher the score, the higher the ego. Competing measures one’s need to win with a sense of urgency. There are aggressive Competitors, Situational Competitors, and Internal Competitors. One’s Dominance and Competing mode will help the individual and the leader understand a fundamental dynamic of Influence and Motivation that will have a material impact on organizational efficiency and effectiveness.

EurekaConnect has been able to advance concepts studied by Dr. Ariely, defining the very behaviors that define when and how people will react to various incentives. This insight and understanding of individuals and teams relative to these concepts has a profound impact on individual success and organizational success. There is an opportunity for leaders and teams to address these fundamental requirements in an objective and measurable way.

Note: Scores and profiles referenced in this article refer to characteristics defined in the EurekaConnect Behavioral Dynamics program

About the author: Curtis R. Sprouse is the President and CEO of EurekaConnect, LLC. Curtis has spent over 25 years building companies and consulting for hundreds of the fortune 500 companies. EurekaConnect, LLC uses proven technologies and data driven solutions that objectively and measurably improve organizational performance. For more information please