The surprising truth about what motivates us..

One of the team recently shared a really great presentation about what really motivates us. The talk, by Dan Pink explores the real drivers of motivation for knowledge workers, that is, people in roles that require them to think critically and creatively about how to get things done.

He gives a number of examples from research. One surprising conclusion is that financial rewards work well for “mechanical tasks” but not for tasks that require more than “rudimentary” thinking. In fact when rewards were provided for more complex tasks, teams provided with the largest reward to succeed performed worse than those with little incentive!

It sounds counter intuitive but in my experience it really does rings true.

If we think about organizations that are really successful, they are not focused on massive financial rewards, they are focused on providing something that is really valuable for their customers. In fact many of today’s really successful firms are still trying to work out their business models, think Facebook and twitter…. they are still only focused on delivering value for customers.

Dan identified three factors were found to drive individual performance:

  1. Automony/Self Direction – the ability to choose how you spend your time
  2. Mastery – the satisfaction that comes with mastering a skill, developing an expertise
  3. Purpose – understanding the broader purpose and how your work contributes to that purpose.

There are parallels with our research into organizational culture. We have found 7 core behaviors that drive business performance and separate average firms from really great organizations.

I can relate them to Dan’s model for individual motivational drivers as follows:

  1. Autonomy is really about empowerment in an organizational culture setting
  2. Mastery – this is really about getting better, getting better requires feedback and insight. In our case getting better is faciliated by gaining customer, competitor and business environment insights
  3. Purpose – again in an organizational setting this is about vision, why do we exist and what do we want to be when we grow up as an organization? This is the factor we call strategic alignment.

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