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08
Feb
2010
A different perspective on motivation

Dan Pink's book 'Drive - the surprising truth about what motivates us' is a great read.

I heard Dan speak about his book.  I liked his style and his book is well researched and there is plenty of thought provoking material in there for leaders and HR practitioners.

Imagine giving your employees a 'Fed-Ex Day' (so-called because they have to deliver something overnight) - one day a quarter when they can work on any project they want, however, they want, with whomever they like.  This is what the Australian software company Atlassian does and it has led to ideas for new products and resolution of problems with existing ones and their employees love it.

We respond more to carrots, less to sticks, but most of all we do things because they are interesting, engaging, we like them, we're part of a community or because they give us some kind of purpose.  Businesses often use money as a prime motivator but that's wrong - it doesn't work nearly as well as we think.

Dan points to scientific research on rewards on various continents.  This includes Redgate, the Cambridge software company, who decided to eliminate commission for their salesforce.  Their CEO, Neil Davidson, said that each time they tried to devise a new commission structure, the sales workforce found ways round it.  So they had to make changes which resulted in increased complexity and generated cost rather than benefit.  "Our previous sales salary system ..... centred on an assumption that wasn't true."

The research, according to Dan, highlights 3 elements of true motivation:

Autonomy - the desire to direct our own lives (this is where the Atlassian example fits in)

Mastery - the urge to get better and better at something that matters to us

Purpose - the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves.

Dan suggests that the best strategy for organisations is to 'get compensation right and then get it out of sight.  Effective organisations compensate people in amounts and in ways that allow individuals to mostly forget about compensation and instead focus on the work itself.'  You can achieve this by:

- ensuring internal and external fairness

- paying more than average and

- if you use performance metrics, make them wide-raning, relevant and hard to fiddle.

This is food for thought in these days of organisations exploiting people in return for a job, such as unpaid graduate internships and British Airways asking their crew to work for nothing.

Dan's book offers some interesting alternatives to current management practices in many organisations and useful information for parents and educators too.  Take a look.  You can see an animated version of Dan's talk here.

 

 

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