What drives behavior? Daniel Pink, authoritative career analyst, explores this question in his bestselling book “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us”, on which he based his illuminating Ted talk “The Puzzle of Motivation”. The highlights are…

“There is a mismatch between what science knows and what business does.”

Said by Daniel Pink, this statement points to the fact that, while scientific research has demonstrated that intrinsic motivators, such as the desire to learn and feel fulfilled in general, are much more powerful than their counterparts, the current business operating system is built around extrinsic motivators, rewarding top performers and ignoring the rest.

So, what does “science know”?

  • The carrot-and-stick motivation scheme typical in most organizations, in which performance is incentivized with rewards, usually monetary bonuses, leads to increased performance ONLY when the tasks involved require mechanical skills.
  • When the tasks involved require rudimentary cognitive skills, the carrot-and-stick scheme is not only ineffective, but also DETRIMENTAL, leading to poorer performance.
  • Humans have an “inherent tendency to seek out novelty and challenges, to extend and exercise their capabilities,” which comprises the ”third drive”– the joy of the task itself.

The conclusion: extrinsic factors, such as material rewards, do not carry enough motivational weight to increase job performance when critical and creative thinking are required. Instead, intrinsic factors that contribute to how much we enjoy our jobs, are what drives performance in these instances.

A novel approach

Based on the notion of the “third drive”, Pink suggests a revised motivation scheme focused on three intrinsic factors that are vital to feeling fulfilled in the workplace.

They are:

  • Autonomy: permit employees to direct their own work lives by providing a few freedoms such as how and when a project is completed. Give guidance, but avoid micromanaging, and focus on output rather than schedule.
  • Mastery: provide employees with opportunities to develop and improve skills in areas that interest them so that boredom is not a possibility. However, include clear goals and feedback in order to support this form of professional growth, and ease anxieties about the learning curve.
  • Purpose: allow employees to fulfill their natural desires to contribute to a greater cause by emphasizing the organization’s overarching goals, not just profit goals, and ensuring that each and every individual understands his or her role in accomplishing these goals.

And about the $$$: pay employees enough so that the issue of money is off of the table, and work is at the forefront.

At the heart of the issue: the drive to work hard stems from the opportunity for personal growth. Provide this to your employees instead of the proverbial carrot-and-stick, and top-notch job performance will be a given.

How do you or your business provide autonomy, mastery, and purpose, as well as other factors contributing to intrinsic motivation?

Let us know @gosirvo.