Motivation 3.0: what drives you?

Posted September 1, 2010 in Latest News & Insights

I just finished reading Dan Pink’s book “Drive” and had a bit of an epiphany about my Gen X paradigms about motivation and “pay for performance” and my own personal motivation.  For most of us who’ve been programmed to believe in the “carrot and stick” method of motivation, Drive can be a real brain bender.  And, if you’re a bit “control-freakish” (like yours truly), Drive’s premise may definitely push you out of your comfort zone.

Although most leaders would acknowledge that command and control approaches to management no longer work, many grumble that they wish it would (it’s much easier to dictate direction than to engage in dialog). Thankfully, over the last twenty years, we’ve been moving steadily from autocratic to democratic; from directive to participative.  But most of our organizational systems, especially rewards, haven’t kept up.  In Drive, Pink asserts that “carrot and stick” approaches (such as bonuses and incentives) work when the task is straight forward, but as soon as it requires creativity and more complex thinking, the “if you do this, then you get that” approach to rewards doesn’t work…and worse, it can backfire.  This might be overwhelming news to managers who are already cringing at having to have “coaching sessions” and “dialog” with their direct reports.  Now everything we thought we knew about rewards, may be wrong.  Yikes!

I saw this contrary reality to traditional rewards when leading a sales team for a consulting company.  We had everyone so focused on individual targets that we actually had to figure out how to pay people to work with each other (which in our field was absolutely crucial… one person could never win a sale because of the complexity of what we were selling).  There’s something wrong with a system that forces you to incent behaviours that are core to your business strategy.

So back to Drive.  Pink goes on to talk about motivation coming in two forms: intrinsic and extrinsic. Intrinsic motivation comes from three main things:  autonomy, mastery and a higher purpose.  Extrinsic comes from things that have an effect on you vs. from within you.  In organizations, we tend to focus most on extrinsic rewards to motivate performance (money is the big one).

According to Pink, people who are driven by intrinsic motivators (think Oprah) are more successful over the long-term than people who are driven by extrinsic motivators (think Kenneth Lay & Jeff Skilling of Enron).

If you’re interested in figuring out how to tap into your own intrinsic motivation, Pink suggests following the advice given to JFK by Claire Booth Luce, the first woman to serve in the US congress.  She went to Kennedy one day and told him “A great man is a sentence.”  Abraham Lincoln’s sentence was “He preserved the union and freed the slaves”.  She was worried that Kennedy was trying to do too many things and wanted him to focus on his “sentence”.

Pink suggests that to get to the core of your personal motivation, ask yourself “what is my sentence”?  (Mine is “She was someone who got leaders excited about leading.”)  Figure out your sentence and then each day do something that moves you closer to that goal.  Each night, before you go to sleep, ask yourself “Was I better today than yesterday?”

By keeping your motivation in focus, and consciously pay attention to it, day by day and step by step you’ll get better.  Give it a try.  See what happens and let us know.

If your team is mostly churning out widgets, then the carrot and stick method is probably a great tool for your kit bag.   For everyone else leading teams in complex environments that require “out of the box” thinking and engagement vs. compliance, check out Drive and see what it inspires you to do differently.  And, if you hate reading business books, check out this great animated video that covers all the major points in 10 minutes:

Happy leading!

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  1. Mark Godenho says:

    I particularly like the point he makes about “paying people enough so that pay is not an issue”. The is a paradox senior management must overcome if they are to get the most out of employees. Pay enough so that pay is not an issue. Further, don’t pay too much (since it costs) but offer days off to work on individual projects (at a cost).
    We’ve started doing something similar at my place of work. Every couple of months people are encouraged to have a “bacon day” (I have no idea where the name came from!) where we work on whatever we like as long as it’s related to work. As a result we found new revenue streams that we never thought existed. Further, staff are delighted to be working on projects they can take ownership of. This is brilliant. After all isn’t that what we want from our employees? To work like they own the company?

    • LeaderTalker says:

      Hi Mark… Completely with you on the “pay people well and take the money off the table.” I think, as leaders in organizations its so easy to get caught in short-term thinking at the expense of longer term consequences (low ball the new hire and then deal with it later when they find they’re getting paid 20% less than others… Not good). I love your Bacon days (bringing home the bacon perhaps). I’m trying out the unlimited vacation days in our firm. I’ll let you know how it goes!

      Thanks so much for reading and contributing!