Motivational Perdiemitis

I oriented my colleague V. in November when she was brand new on her job. She is running on her own MSH’s Madagascar Leadership Development Program. We threw her in the deep end of the pool and she swam. Now I spend a week with her and the team of consultants and counterparts (focal points from the ministry of health) she has collected around her. We met at the MSH office and I learned what happened since I left 7 months ago. It is really quite remarkable, despite people complaining that not much has happened, what she has been able to pull off under very challenging conditions, including a change in top leadership at the ministry.

I am coaching the team to continue the good work and gain confidence. I am also teaching them things that they only partially understood or not at all about our leadership development program. Since I am teaching about coaching I have to be very aware of my own coaching behavior, and try to be a model, which is hard work. Compared to my own coaching training instructors back in the US I have a long way to go, but here I am the expert. It is mentally tiring, to always be so alert.

One of the usual bumps we run into is the idea that people get motivated by money. ‘La chasse au per diem,’ is maddening. And what is maybe even more maddening is that we, the donor community, are the worst offenders. We have created a dependency on these hand-outs that make it hard to gauge whether people come to sessions because they want to or to supplement their salaries.

I found out that the team members, who come to our sessions each day to prepare them for the next leadership development workshop that they will have to run on their own, are being paid a honorarium. “What for?” I said, incredulously. And the answer is always, ‘because otherwise they won’t come.’  I am at my most Dutch and most direct then, stating that these people can take it or leave it, as they please. Frankly, I am not interested in working with people who come only for the extra pay as they do get a salary which, I am told, it is a livable salary – they are, after all, at the top of the pyramid.

These extra payments are, despite what people think, not a motivator (in much of Francophone Africa the word ‘motivation’ is a euphemism for money). Frederick Herzberg’s influential work on motivation continues to shine light on this misconception. He proposed the motivator-hygiene theory, also known as the two-factor theory of job satisfaction. Those two sets of factors influence people’s behavior at work. One set is called hygiene factors. These do not motivate, but if absent, they demotivate. They include work conditions, pay, and job security. Motivational factors such as job recognition, increased responsibility, potential for promotion, (self)development opportunities and even the work in itself (which explains volunteerism), are what we ought to focus on. But we collude with the practice of incentive payments and shell out considerable sums when all is added up. And then we are surprised that people want more money. We are surprised that they wouldn’t come if we don’t pay. And then we sigh.

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