Kind Words And Warm Fuzzies

Incentives are familiar to us in most work situations and this usually takes the form of pay, bonuses or titles. Many of us try the same strategy with our kids, although often unsuccessfully. When it comes to non-profit organizations, we expect the satisfaction of doing something worthwhile to be reward enough.

We should ideally put democratic governments into that category, but I guess utopia was never an option. However, the wiki phenomenon, specifically Wikipedia is perhaps one of the most beautiful examples of people working behind the scenes for the general good without reward.

Most of us these days turn to Wikipedia frequently as a reliable part of our search for information and to most of us the contributors are anonymous as we dive in, suck up some juicy tidbit before flitting on to next source like an intellectual butterfly.

In an interesting short report in this weeks PLoS one, Restivo and Rijt of State U of NY, have made a study of how peer awarded accolades motivates Wikipedia’s contributors (1). The accolades are ‘barnstars’ which appeared in 2003 and now there is a huge array of barnstars awarded to contributing editors by their peers who appreciate a really fine piece of editing (2).

We all like to receive warm fuzzies from time to time, but now Restivo and Rijt have done the management guru/HR thing and asked how does the award effect performance?

 They carried out their study over a 30-day window and looked at a random selection of 200 contributors who hadn’t previously been awarded a barnstar. Half the group was the control and was doomed to going barnstarless for another 90 days, while the other 100 were awarded their barnstars and also studied for 90 days.

The results were spectacular. Getting their first barnstar made them increase their productivity by 60% no less and, as a huge bonus, made them six times more likely to get more barnstars from other contributors.

Maybe the rest of us donkeys would do much better if our drivers dropped their carrots and sticks and just said nice kind words of appreciation to give us frequent warm fuzzies.


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