Can Risk Management Increase Motivation?

Business SisyphusIs it possible that going through a formal risk management process can make some tasks more meaningful–and therefore more motivating?

I mean that as a real question not simply a rhetorical set up.

My hypothesis is that for many of us there are certain thankless tasks, which we undertake primarily out obligation and not be cause we se them as useful or interesting. In the public service, one of these thankless tasks is preparing briefing materials for senior officials during budget season. The materials need to be available in case a member of the opposition asks a related question. Usually they don’t and even when they do, the answer often doesn’t not rely heavily on the briefing materials. As a consequence, much of briefing material prepared is not used for its intended purpose. Although every public servant knows that these materials must be prepared, it can be difficult to get excited about the process knowing that there is relatively little chance any one document will be used. However, if you fail to prepare in any one area, so the conventional wisdom goes, that’s what they’ll ask about.

And that–the previous sentence–is an example of informal risk management. I just wonder if it would be more motivating and rewarding to make that explicit.

Consider some research that Dan Ariely reports in his book The Upside of Irrationality. In it, he describes a study on labour and meaning in which participants experienced two different experimental condition: one where their work is kept (presumably for later use) and the other where their work is disassembled in front of them. Subjects were paid a diminishing amount for each unit of work they completed. The measurement was how long they persisted in the task before quitting–that is how many units each subject assembled. The result was that those whose work was saved for later use produced significantly more than those who saw their work disassembled.

So, I wonder if ¬†formal risk management, by making explicit the relationship between effort and the importance of potentially ‘useless’ tasks, could increase the meaning of the tasks for employees and by doing so, increase their motivation, satisfaction and productivity.

What do you think?

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