In January of 2006, while on a beach in the Florida Keys with two dear friends from my college days, my mother called me. After exchanging pleasantries about my trip, my mother got to her point. “So your grandmother joined a senior citizens group. And guess what the first thing was on the agenda of their first meeting?”
“A trip to Italy.”
“Yeah – and she wants to go.” I was hoping this was leading where I wanted it to. My mother continued, “but her hearing’s not too good, so she doesn’t want to go alone.” Jackpot.
“I’ll go with her,” I said, without hesitation. Grandma’s husband and dedicated travel companion of sixty years had died just six months earlier. Grandpa always called me “The Vagabond” when I arrived for meatballs on Sundays, having just returned from travels to Switzerland or France, or from an internship in Portland or North Carolina, or having come from my new home in Boston or Bethesda. It was only fitting that this vagabond take his wife on such a trip.
“I figured you’d want to go, but what about work?” my mother asked.
“If they won’t let me go, I’ll quit,” I said.
“I’m kidding Mom. I’ll figure it out. Just tell her I’ll go.”
A few weeks later I received an e-mail. My department was looking for volunteers to help another department catch up on a big project. It was not exactly mindless work, but it was routine. The work would have to be done outside our normal jobs, which meant staying late or coming in early. We would not be paid overtime, but we were offered something I consider much better: comp time.
By now I’m sure you can figure out who added an extra hour or so each day and earned six days of comp time in time to take her 83-year-old Italian grandmother on a once-in-a-lifetime trip to the land of her ancestors. (For those of you asking why I couldn’t just use my regular vacation days, it’s because I’m one of the few Americans who uses up all her vacation days. I needed more!)
First, I’ll say that of course this all worked out. Because I believed it would.
But this story came to mind today for another reason.
I was just reading Daniel Pink’s book Drive. I heard Mr. Pink interviewed about this book a couple years ago. I heard enough to get the gist of the book and so didn’t bother to read it. But something sparked my interest in it recently, so off I went to check it out of the library (yes, I’m one of the three people in the U.S. who don’t own an e-reader).
The book is all about what motivates us. I’m currently reading about extrinsic motivation, which he argues is best used only when there’s a routine task that needs to get done. He cautions that, even then, extrinsic rewards are only good if the person giving them 1) explains why the task is necessary 2) acknowledges the task to be done is boring and 3) let’s workers complete the task in their own way.
That’s exactly what my former company did with the aforementioned project. They explained – in numbers – how many adjustments had to processed, acknowledged it was something none of us would want to do all day (but perhaps for an hour), and they let us do it how we wanted to do it – whether that was to come in before or after work, do it on a lunch hour, etc.
Mr. Pink argues that had they forced us to do it and/or outlined exactly how/when we could do it, we would not have been as motivated. He’s spot on. Lucky for me, somebody in my company knew a little something about extrinsic motivation. Either that, or they learned about my conversation with my mother and didn’t want me to quit my job.
In March of 2006, me, Grandma Gallo, my brother, and two cousins headed to Italy. Grandma still talks about what a great trip that was.
When I took my first writing class in March, 2008, we were asked to bring something that was important to us. Our first assignment was to write about what we brought – in my case, photos of that trip. When I read my story aloud to the group I cried as I recalled Grandpa sitting at the kitchen table greeting me, “There she is – my vagabond granddaughter!”