We need to tap into people’s deeper motivation. Ask them: Why are you doing this work? What moves you about it? What gives you the satisfaction of a job well done? What makes you feel good about yourself? Money might not turn out to be the biggest motivator.
I was walking back to our apartment in Manhattan, the hood of my jacket pulled tight to keep the rain out, when I saw an older man with a walker struggle to descend the slippery stairs of his building. When he almost fell, I and several others went over to help.
There was an Access-A-Ride van (a Metropolitan Transit Authority vehicle for people with disabilities) waiting for him. The driver was inside, warm and dry, as he watched us straining to help his passenger cross the sidewalk in the pouring rain.
Then he opened the window and yelled over the sound of the rain coming down, “He might not be able to make it today.”
“Hold on,” we yelled (there were five of us now) as we helped the man move around the back of the van, “he can make it.”
Traffic on 84th street had stopped. We caught the man from falling a few times, hoisted him back up, and finally got him to the van door, which the driver then opened from the inside to reveal a set of stairs. The man with the walker would never make it.
“What about your side door, the one with the electric lift?” I asked.
“Oh yeah,” the driver answered, “hold on.” He put his coat over his head, came out in the rain with the rest of us, and operated the lift.
Once the man with the walker was in safely, we all began to move away when the driver opened the window one more time and yelled, “Thanks for your help.”
So, here’s my question: Why will five strangers volunteer to help a man they don’t know in the pouring rain — and think about the electric lift themselves — while the paid driver sat inside and waited?
Perhaps the driver is simply a jerk? Perhaps. But I don’t think so. Once we suggested the lift, he didn’t resist or complain, he came outside and did it immediately. And he wasn’t obnoxious either. When he thanked us for our help, he seemed sincere.
Maybe it’s because the driver is not permitted to leave the vehicle? I checked the MTA website to see if there was policy against drivers assisting passengers. On the contrary, it states “As long as the driver doesn’t lose sight of the vehicle and is not more than 100 feet away from it, the driver can assist you to and from the vehicle, help you up or down the curb or one step and assist you in boarding the vehicle.”
So why didn’t the driver help? Part of the answer is probably that for him, an old man struggling with a walker isn’t a one-time thing, it’s every day every stop, and the sight doesn’t compel him to act.
But that answer isn’t good enough. After all, it’s his job to help. That’s when it suddenly hit me: The reason the driver didn’t help might be precisely because he was paid to.
Peter Bregman (HBR, Feb 2010)