In his book ‘Drive – The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us’ Daniel Pink describes a new approach to understanding motivation and engagement, and argues that there is a big difference between what the science says motivation is and what businesses do in practice.

Clearly humans have a biological or fundamental drive to satisfy hunger, thirst and to reproduce and need these need to be satisfied first. However, once those needs are met what drives us forward?

Traditionally many businesses and organisations have relied on ‘carrot and stick’ methods to motivate their staff. These are often called ‘extrinsic’ motivators, i.e. they are based on current research. Pink describes how these types of ‘if then’ motivators (i.e. if you do this, then you get that), can actually diminish performance, crush creativity and extinguish intrinsic motivation, (i.e. our internal motivation).

Interestingly in some circumstances ‘if then’ rewards can encourage greed and even unethical behaviour. One therefore wonders if one of the root causes of the banking collapse was the huge bonus culture that was prevalent in a number of banks.

Instead Pink describes our true drive or intrinsic motivators to be:

  • Autonomy – a desire we have to be self-directed and have a level of control over our work and life.
  • Mastery – the desire we have to ‘get better at what we do and be able to do tasks that are a challenge but within our capability
  • Purpose – seeking a purposein what we do, having meaning to our work, to serve something larger than ourselves

The challenge for leaders therefore is to create a working environment that embraces the intrinsic motivators we all have.

It’s time for leaders and managers to break free of the ‘carrot and stick mentality’. To think deeply and clearly about what the purpose of their organisation (or team), how they can give real autonomy to their staff (and not keep control) and finally how they develop the capability of their staff to achieve ‘mastery’. Only then argues Pink we will gain the true motivation and commitment of our people.