Motivational Systems

Traditionally, Nicaragua has been an agricultural economy, and was long considered the bread-basket of Central America. For 40 years, the Somoza family, friends, and other high-ranking officials owned most of the land, and treated the country as their personal farm. Workers were often treated as sharecroppers. The landowners were treated as omnipotent patrons that controlled every aspect of the workers’ lives. As is common to this type of arrangement, workers were heavily indebted to their “patrons”, and were barely one step beyond slavery. The motivational system employed was largely based on fear. Fear of losing their jobs, fear of mistreatment, and fear of the mistreatment of their families.

Nicaraguans became acutely sensitive to motivational systems. It is easily understood that they react negatively and strongly to any system that is fear or control based. It is not uncommon to see a Nicaraguan walk away from a well paying job if they have been mistreated. And being mistreated has a broad range of meaning. Making a worker lose face in front of colleagues, using a strong or menacing voice, using inappropriate language, or any type of threat can provoke an irrevocable decision on the part of the worker to immediately resign, regardless of the consequences.

Artificial systems that place inordinate control in the hands of the manager are equally rejected. The Nicaraguan worker is astute at figuring out the “rules of the game,” and is quick to turn any but the most carefully crafted motivational system to their advantage. The key here is that the system is likely to be viewed as a game, rather than a performance based system aimed at improving quality and productivity.

Systems that are discretionary are most likely to create conflicts. Individuals will misinterpret the application of manager discretion to preference for certain employees, and reject the notion that the application of the discretion is based on performance.

The systems that have the best result are those that use clearly defined rules, parameters and rewards for performance. Whenever possible, it works best to have the workers involved in the generation of system. This will ensure greater compliance with the system, and fewer problems understanding it and its application. In most settings, a wide variety of incentives can be used, although the Nicaraguan worker, like most others, prefers monetary based systems.

The type of system used needs to take into account the level of education and training of the employee, as well as the standing of the position held.