Kurt's Blog

January 16, 2017


Filed under: Uncategorized — Kurt Häusler @ 1:45 pm

So everyone knows that for knowledge work, money and other extrinsic motivators don’t work right? And people are instead motivated by intrinsic motivators like autonomy, mastery and purpose.

Well that is what a lot of you think but it is actually missing much of the story. When people like Dan Pink talk about it, they actually mention something intuitive at the beginning that listeners forget because the focus is on the interesting non-intuitive bit. Before the intrinsic factors actually have a motivational effect people have to be paid enough to “keep the issue of money off the table”. No one tries to hide this, but I don’t know if people focus on it enough. I guess most motivational theorists and speakers must come from countries like the USA where a significant number of knowledge workers are earning over this thresh-hold. I am not sure if it is so relevant elsewhere. I decided to look at average salaries for different types of knowledge worker to see if I could notice any patterns.

Lets have a look at some numbers from glassdoor.com. I was always redirected to the German version based on my location and couldn’t switch to the English version without signing up and filling in all details. I also converted to Euro based on current rates. These are the average salaries for each job in each country:





Software Developer €49,845 €80,245 €101,386
Scrum Master €30-70k €55-90k €112-136k
Project Manager €60,540 €86,308 €111,945

A couple of other things to keep in mind:

  • Taxes in Germany are higher than they are in the USA and Switzerland.
  • I guess for Scrum Master in each country they did not have enough entries to provide a straight up average, but they did provide a sample of entries. Here I tried to represent the range without the outliers.
  • Costs may not be comparable between countries. I know Switzerland has higher living costs, but I don’t think overall they are twice as much. I think Germany and the USA might be more comparable.

Looking at these numbers I would make the bold claim that in Germany we don’t need to worry about intrinsic motivation too much. Only the very top end are going to be earning over the thresh-hold where intrinsic motivation plays much of a role at all. I would say in Germany, we need to concentrate on paying people more. In Switzerland it would seem to be the other way around. Here we can really see the power of intrinsic motivation. In the USA it could go either way, I would say most are indeed earning over the thresh-hold, but many not.

Now, I know the software development managers in Germany are saying “Impossible. We cannot pay our guys any more. The customer would not accept our offers. We would have to let people go”. Sure, I am very familiar with the software development market in Germany and where the money goes. I would say in most cases we have to live with developers who are demotivated and are constantly looking for a better paying job. There are a couple of things we should also be looking at in most cases:

  • Doing the wrong projects and optimizing for employee utilization. Knowledge work based projects should offer significant rather than scant returns. German managers will go to great lengths to make a sale and keep their employees busy for the tiniest of margins. They have a real phobia about saying no to low value endeavors especially when employees are sitting there without a project. What happens is they make that sale, because doing something is better than doing nothing, and when a high value opportunity comes along, everyone is too busy to take it up.
  • We also have a phobia about killing low value projects early. For some reason we don’t like quitting. We want to slog on through and get it done regardless. Most things are fine to start but they aren’t meant to succeed. The focus should be on proving early that something is a loser, and killing it. Freeing up people for better things.
  • We spend too much on non-value-adding management and organisational effort. Typically when introducing lean or agile methods we add new roles in addition to existing power structures. This is a big cause of waste in organizations. By replacing rather than supplementing management roles with agile roles we can free up a lot of money to reallocate to value-adding knowledge workers resulting in increased motivation and better financial results.

Anyway, to summarise, the almost blind belief in intrinsic motivation might be appropriate for some countries, but in many countries we have to listen a bit more closely to the bit the theorists and speakers don’t spend so much time on: You have to pay enough to keep the issue of money off the table. In Germany, we do not do that, so intrinsic motivation is of limited utility.


1 Comment »

  1. > You have to pay enough to keep the issue of money off the table
    I agree with that sentiment. And I agree we do tend to overgeneralize and discuss management practices without enough attention to local conditions (at the country level, and even smaller geographic level and even very big differences between organizations).

    But I strongly disagree with “so intrinsic motivation is of limited utility.”

    Creating and maintaining workplaces that let people take pride in their job is hugely important. We spend a huge amount of our time and energy at work. Even if we are paid less than we should be it is still important to have work we can be proud of doing. Yes, the issue of low pay also has to be addressed but it isn’t an either-or choice.

    In fact, by creating systems that let people take pride in their work we take advantage of more of their potential and thus create more value which can make it easier to pay more money. If we instead, decide to reduce the importance of intrinsic motivation in our management systems that is likely to be a mistake. Granted in some places the importance of intrinsic motivation may be so well understood and incorporated that focus should go elsewhere but I question how often organizations are really doing so well on that front they need to reduce that focus in order to focus elsewhere.

    Comment by John Hunter — January 16, 2017 @ 3:58 pm

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