Daniel Pink is one of my favorite authors. His new book, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, will be out in December.
However, if you don't want to wait, you can watch him present an overview at the TED Conference.
What is so "surprising" about what motivates us? Pink's main point is that incentives or extrinsic rewards are ineffective. In fact, he cites research that shows how incentives can actually reduce performance. Specifically, as work gets more complicated, incentives become less helpful and actually become harmful.
Pink is concerned about the mismatch between what social scientists have discovered and the way that managers attempt to influence behavior. "There's a mismatch between what science knows and what businesses do." He argues that organizational "decisions about talent and people are based on assumptions that are outdated, unexamined and rooted more in folklore than science."
For example, research shows that "intrinsic motivation beats extrinsic motivation every time." But how can managers use that knowledge to get the job done? How can they align their motivational strategies with scientific principles? Pink has three suggestions:
- Autonomy - "If you want engagement, self-direction works better."
- Mastery - People's skills, interests and talents have to match the work.
- Purpose - The work has to be meaningful.
He cites examples, like Google, that allow their employees to use up to 20% of their time to work on projects of their own choosing. Not surprisingly, when given this freedom, employees naturally choose tasks that are meaningful and that fit their personal style and strengths.
He also praises Best Buy for pioneering the Results Only Work Environment (ROWE), which encourages employees to work when, how and where they want to as long as they achieve the necessary results.
Pink's presentation fits nicely with The Freak Factor. As our daily work becomes more and more complex, organizations can't simply employ external rewards and punishments to force employees to do work that doesn't match their strengths and weaknesses. Instead, companies need to adapt the work environment to match the natural motivations of employees and look for the intersection of the company's goals and their employees' talents.
"The solution is not to do more of what we've already done. We need a new approach." That new approach starts with an understanding of our employees' unique needs and motivations, not with efforts to make everyone the same.
Are you ready to try this new approach? Are you ready to move over and let your employees drive?