Blame the Minister for Bafana’s loss

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

It was all going so splendidly: Bafana Bafana drew 1-1 with Morocco, then beat Swaziland 3-0, beat world champions Spain 1-0, beat Mozambique 3-1, and drew 1-1 against Mali.

Then our national team tanked, going down 1-3 to Nigeria.

What went wrong?

But let's put that aside for now. I have not really shared information about my day job in this space.

Briefly, I run a successful radio station, which has posted steady growth in audience and revenue and continues to be one of the most admired brands in the country and on the continent.

The main reason why I have been able to do this is because I have a highly competent management team. They are, almost without exception, the best at what they do in the country and can certainly hold their own anywhere in the world.

Now here’s the interesting part; every one of them could be working elsewhere for a lot more money; and, in fact, continually turn down job offers from all over.

The SABC, in particular, has demonstrated the ability to draw on unlimited funds from the government and can often pay almost double what I could afford to pay.

Why do my managers not leave?

Author Daniel H. Pink – his latest book, To Sell is Human, is a #1 New York Times business bestseller – gave a fascinating presentation a few years ago titled “The Surprising Truth about what Motivates Us”.

Dan calls into question two things that many of us would accept without further thought.

Firstly, if you reward something, do you get more of the behaviour you want?

Secondly, if you punish something, do you get less of the behaviour you want?

A study done at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology took a whole group of students and gave them a set of challenges (memorising long numbers, solving word puzzles, and physical tasks like throwing a basketball through a hoop).

Dan: “To incentivise their performance, they gave them three levels of reward. So if you did pretty well, you got a small monetary reward. If you did medium well, you got a medium monetary reward. And if you did really well, if you were one of the top performers, you got a large cash prize.”

The results were not what most people would expect. For challenges that required only repetitive manual labour, performance increased with higher pay. But once the task called for rudimentary cognitive skills – in other words, once conscious thought was required – a larger reward led to poorer performance.

The scientists didn’t believe their findings and assumed that because their subjects were MIT students (who are relatively affluent), a maximum 50 dollar monetary reward was not sufficient motivation.

So they moved the study to Madurai in South India where 50 dollars is a lot of money. One group was offered two weeks salary for low performance, medium performers were promised a month salary, and high performers were promised two months salary.

Again, surprisingly, the people who were incentivised at the medium level achieved no better than the people at the lower level.

Most crucially, the people offered the high rewards did worst of all – the promise of high rewards led to worse performance.

Dan draws the conclusion that the best use of money is to pay people enough to take the issue of money off the table. Once that is achieved, the real performance motivators become autonomy (the ability to control your workday), mastery (the ability to get better at what you do), and purpose (sharing a vision).

And these, I believe, are the reasons my management team stays with me. I don’t micromanage their departments, they are constantly honing their skills, and we all believe in being the best in the world at what we do.

Which brings me back to the question of our national soccer team who have been through a prolonged period of abuse on the part of our fellow South Africans. Face it; we’re an unforgiving, pessimistic lot as a nation. Against that backdrop of negativity, coach Gordon Igesund managed to claw together a team that posted five games in a row without loss – a record in recent times.

Then government stepped in. With just a week to go before the match, Sports and Recreation Minister Fikile Mbalula opened his mouth.

“If our team wins this Championship, they will be rewarded handsomely,” he said. “Their sacrifices, their determination and their sportsmanship to make our country proud, they will be rewarded. Money is not an issue here. … We will sit down with the SA Football Association and we will reward them.”

Don’t blame the minister. He was simply doing the only thing that governments know – offer to throw taxpayer money at what they perceive to be a problem.

But it was the wrong thing to do. National pride is not about the money. A thirst for victory is not about the money. Passion is not about money. When you toss money into the mix, it kills autonomy, mastery, and purpose.

Minister: this loss was your fault. Money is the outcome of a winning nation, not its purpose.