The Preference for “Free” and the impact on Employee Engagement

Since organizational behavior is made up of the aggregation of individual behavior, it’s hard for me not to turn a blind eye to cool research from the field of psychology. Add some marketing or business relevance to that, and I’m hooked.

Here’s a great article on the preference for “Free”. They’ve found that there is even a clear distinction of how the brain reacts to “Free” vs. “Almost Free”, even though they both contain that marvelously enticing word of words.

For marketers, this makes sense. For Leaders – what does this mean?

I think the bigger message here is how we process the feeling or sense of attachment – of price or cost that we will have to pay for something. This isn’t just about products or services. This is about engagement.

When employees feel that the return is not worth the investment, they check-out, and that action translates into the loss of everything from the number of rotations on a screw driver to the level of attentive customer-service provided. It also translates to the amount of knowledge and innovation contributed and captured vs. the absence of such that creates gaps in the value chain and leadership of organizations.

I have seen plenty of organizational surveys that probe opinions and ask for frank insight into employee realities, only to tap the respondents and leave them, 10 months later, wondering what ever happened to the survey? They thought real change was coming!

I have seen managers place prices on behaviors and extract heavy costs from individuals whose desire to contribute and achieve excellence tend to make life for a mediocre-manager, otherwise uncomfortable.

I have seen leaders, fearful of revealing their own weaknesses or trepidation about competency, locking-up decision-making and creating redundant, non-value-added workflow to already efficient processes. The resulting mistrust eats not only the leader, but the organization.

I am sure you can think of many examples where the culture did not convey the right offer of “Free” that might enlist greater engagement from a workforce.

What price are you setting, intentionally or unintentionally, for the needed behaviors and work that will make your business successful?

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