What’s the best way to motivate medical device teams?
What’s the best way to motivate medical device teams?
As the medical device design and development landscape shifts quickly under our feet, so does our thinking surrounding work and how to get the best results. What used to be the best way to motivate your medical device team may not apply any more.

Globalization and changing demographics are impacting what gets done where. Here is some interesting data from the United States Census bureau from 1997 to 2012. In the United States, Manufacturing dropped by 5.5 million jobs (31.2%) within a 15 year time span. Formerly the highest sector of employees, it has now fallen to number #4. Health Care and Social assistance, in contrast, has seen the largest increase of 5.0 million jobs (37.1%).

So what does this mean and how does it impact how you motivate your medical device team? Less jobs are methodical. Methodical jobs are either moving off shore, or being done by machines and computers. More medical device jobs are requiring innovation, creativity, and problem solving.

Motivation-What Does the Science Say?

Status Quo-Carrots and Sticks

Let’s start with the status quo for motivation, which includes the carrot and the stick.

Dan Pink has an excellent talk called the The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us that explains how the traditional methodologies work in today’s work place. It’s 10 minutes long, and well worth watching.

The idea behind carrot/stick motivation in the workplace is that behavior and outcomes can be manipulated through reward and punishment based models. Rewards can be used to reinforce desirable results, and lower compensation and deadlines can be used to dissuade from undesirable outcomes. It has been used time and time again in a number of different industries.
So based on studies, how well does this work?

According to Pink, a growing body of research indicates that this works much like you would expect, for basic rudimentary tasks with low cognition requirements. The larger the reward, the higher the productivity.

But what about tasks that require creativity and problem solving?

In his talk Pink describes studies (some sponsored by the Federal Reserve1) providing a large bonus for high target, medium bonus for a mid-level target, and a small bonus for an “okay” result. For tasks that require creativity, or problem solving, something very interesting happens; not only does this approach not provide better results, but the end result can often be worse! The higher the bonus, the worse the results. When these studies were first conducted, no one believed them, so this study has been repeated over varying regions and affluent and poor populations.

Why is this? Work involving creativity and problem solving is best done when the person is Intrinsically Motivated, and not Extrinsically Motivated through rewards. People know when they are being extrinsically controlled by carrots on sticks, and it can dampen their creativity.

Intrinsic vs Extrinsic Motivation

Extrinsic Motivation refers to motivation that comes from the outside of an individual. These include things like money, or grades.

Intrinsic motivation, in contract, is motivation based on internal rewards. In Pink’s talk he concludes motivation comes from a sense of autonomy, mastery, and purpose. It is the idea of having control over your work, being able to perfect your craft, and working towards something that truly matters to you.

The Ivey Business School, in their article on Four Intrinsic Rewards that Drive Employee Engagement extends this to a sense of meaningfulness, a sense of choice, a sense of competence, and a sense of progress.

How to Encourage Intrinsic Motivation (or at least not discourage it)

Let’s start with meaningfulness or purpose.

For any project there is always a “why”. Ensuring the team is connected to the reason behind the project effort is key. Keeping the eye on the high goal can help a team stay motivated through the incremental technical challenges, or supplier issues.

In addition to ensuring the team understands the “why” of the project, also understand the “why” of your team members. What are their individual goals, what makes them excited? Try to assign tasks in those areas.

Sometimes the biggest challenge is not motivation during the project, but motivation when your project ends or is put on hold. There are many cases where a team can be engaged in their work, happily working long hours, and then, when the project gets cancelled, the individuals become disengaged. Think of ways where perhaps the project didn’t achieve the original purpose, but had benefits in terms of important lessons learned, or expanded technical expertise. Often it achieved a secondary purpose.

Dan Ariely did a number of interesting experiments on how perceived meaningfulness of a task improves productivity using legos2, and this gives very good insight.

Choice, Autonomy, and Competence

Tracking time, tasks, and budget is important, but micromanagement is a motivation killer. Use your plan as a framework, but especially in tasks requiring creativity, be flexible with other approaches to solving the problem at hand. The solution needs to fit within budget and time constraints, but truly innovative solutions give employees the freedom to be creative.

Progress and Mastery

Let employees engage in the types of work they are drawn to. Ask them about their goals, or what opportunities they see in a project. Provide opportunity to perfect their craft. When a task is completed, reflect on the progress and how it helps reach the end goal.

Motivation research and behavioral economics is developing field, and quite applicable to individual satisfaction as well as team satisfaction. As more medical device jobs require innovation, creativity, and problem solving, the more important it will be for project managers to master both Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation. I would be really interested in other’s experiences, or articles on the topic.

1 – Dan Ariely, Uri Gneezy, George Loewenstein, and Nina Mazar, “Large Stakes and Big Mistakes,” Federal Reserve of Boston Working Papers, No. 05-11, July 25, 2005
2 – Dan Ariely, Emir Kamenica and Drazen Prelec (Forthcoming), “Man’s Search for Meaning: The Case of Legos”. Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization.

Sheila McQueen is a Project Manager at StarFish Medical.  Sheila has likes to use the right motivation to help her teams solve the right problem on a variety of medical device projects.

© Chrisp543 | Dreamstime.com – Carrot on a stick
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One response to “Choosing the best way to motivate medical device teams”

  1. You raised one issue that should be repeated in every board room of every company that develops complex products: financial incentives are not motivators for creative (including technical) people. Passion for the science, the engineering, or improving customer outcomes are motivators. This is so often missed.

    This means that “the why” of a project is even more important.

    There is one additional factor that applies particularly to medical devices and life science products. Motivating people to adhere to design controls or product development processes is often a real challenge for project managers. The worst approach is the stick: “follow the SOP or else…”. The best approach is the carrot: convey the value in following the development process in terms of execution predicability and quality of outcomes. In our facilitation and training we promote the idea that the project manager is “the steward of the product development process” and is charged with leading the team to “the appropriate application of the PDP to the specific project.” Providing this latitude within teams results in teams realizing that the PDP can actually be a benefit to the project, not a bureaucratic burden!

    Thanks for the thoughtful article.

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