What Truly Motivates Us

Daniel Pink (source)

If you don't already know it, paying people more money - at least beyond a certain point - will not result in better performance. In fact, the old carrot-and-stick approach to management is broken.

That's what bestselling author and careerist Daniel Pink claims. According to the motivational speaker and writer, higher financial incentives only work for traditionally mechanistic roles - manufacturing tasks, book-keeping, software programming and the like.

In numerous studies conducted by behavioural scientists from leading universities like MIT and the London School of Economics, results show that the more you pay for a relatively simple and straightforward task, the better the performance. However, in cases where creative problem solving skills are needed, better monetary rewards resulted in poorer performance.

Why is this so? Well, Daniel claims that the true motivators for knowledge workers in the 21st Century are Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose.

Autonomy pertains to providing sufficient empowerment and independence to one's workers to allow them to solve creative problems on their own. In organisations like Google, 20% of the time is given to engineers to do whatever they wish to do. Often, the most inventive and impactful products (eg Gmail) are created. Self direction is a key to encouraging people to work towards their peak.

Mastery, on the other hand, is about providing workers with challenging tasks that help to stretch their capabilities while providing learning opportunities. It is about giving them an opportunity to refine and hone their skills and competencies in specific areas, while being tasked with a good-sized challenge.

The final driver, Purpose, relates to a higher goal and reason for an organisation's existence. This goes beyond merely generating more money to achieving something more noble - solving the world's food crisis, reducing one's carbon footprint or eliminating discomfort amongst hospital patients.

Together, these drivers help to steer workers towards achieving results in more cognitively challenging occupations.

Do check out Daniel's RSA-animated talk on "The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us" below for more information.

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