Science says: it’s what’s inside that counts.

How cool would it be if every time we worked we felt a sense of accomplishment, deep satisfaction and excitement about that work? Several intrinsic motivators–three in particular–can make it so. Autonomy: we use our talents, skills, abilities in pure self-direction, supported and coached to be our best. Mastery: we work knowing that we are perfecting what we do. And Purpose: our work, whatever it is, connects us to the reason we’re here–we contribute to something larger than ourselves.

I know lots of people would settle for even one of these. And I know others who have all three. Before work happened in big boxes, those who practiced a craft or a trade most certainly had all three. Not so much today.

While you can do a number of things to engage these drivers for yourself, it’s just as important that anyone who is responsible for business success understand this: these three intrinsic motivators are shown to produce work outcomes that more money and bigger rewards cannot.

You owe it to yourself to watch this video.

Dan Pink’s recent presentation on TED is worth many times the 18 minutes it will take you to watch. He’s very clear when he says “There’s a mismatch between what science knows and what business does.” Business doesn’t put much stock in common sense, but I wonder if they might consider science?

Scientists have shown many times over 40 years that business motivators (i.e. rewards and punishments) don’t necessarily create the outcomes we think. Paying ‘x’ to do ‘y’, in other words, doesn’t always get ‘y’ and the ‘x’ may even get in the way of doing ‘y.’ The “carrot & stick” approach to getting the best from workers isn’t very effective, and especially not in today’s service/information economy.

A knowledge economy

A knowledge economy

You see, what scientists have found is that very simple tasks with a very narrow focus requiring mechanical skills may actually get better performance with a bigger reward. However, this is how work was done in the Industrial economy; it’s not how it’s done today.

Today’s work requires innovation, synthesis and collaboration to respond to constantly changing economies and customer needs. This higher cognitive level thinking doesn’t respond to bigger sticks or bigger carrots, but soars with the challenges of intrinsic motivators like autonomy, mastery and purpose. Science says!

So, how much science does it take to change a business ideology?

Much of America’s corporate world is still mired in the “scientific management” approach, not to be confused with the science of what motivates people to be–and give–their best. This muck holds tight to many managers because it is known and comfortable. Even in the face of evidence to the contrary, for businesses to shift to a management model that recognizes and utilizes intrinsic motivators is a huge change: one even bigger than adapting to a global economy.

So what’s realistic?

Change yourself; change one person at a time. Recognize that if each of us changes a little, then the overall transformation will eventually happen from the inside out, for us as individuals as well as for the organizations with which we partner. Here are a few ideas to help you reconnect with your internal motivations:

1. Autonomy: autonomy is about self-direction. Don’t wait to be picked any more. Don’t wait to be told what else your job description holds. Let your manager know where you can make a difference and offer to take on the tasks. In this economy, how can you cut expenses? How can you volunteer or step into a gap in your department? What can you do to solve a customer’s problem without waiting to be asked or given the solution? How can you be a better, more collaborative project member? How can you truly become a partner with your organization to make it better and provide more value to customers?


2. Mastery: mastery is about becoming your best. So decide if you need to re-purpose or reinvent yourself. Either way, you’ll need to determine what new or advanced skills or knowledge or attitudes you need to best develop your talents. Whatever it takes, go after it. You are fooling yourself if you think your employer is responsible for your development. Recognize the new rules of employment and make your own security. Pay for your training, classes, and skills upgrades: it’s one investment you can’t afford not to make!

3. Purpose: more than any other desire, my clients want to know their purpose–what they are on earth to do, how they will make the world a better place. This is a purely human desire, and goes to however you define spirituality: belief, connection, energy, religion. So find yours. Start by finding a coach who can guide you through the process (yes, there is one) of becoming clear on your Foundation: who you are and what you’re about. Your purpose is within.

And, why not send the link to the TED video around to your coworkers and your manager? Ask to have a discussion on its content in your next staff meeting or department gathering. Take responsibility to get a conversation going on what would motivate those in your workplace and how you might work together to make that happen.

7 Responses

  1. Thank you Janine! The video is PRICELESS and should be an essential ‘must show’ for any business that wants to succeed. It’s what I know and what I believe – I’ve seen it in action over and over and it always works.

  2. It always works–that’s what is so unreal about how organizations continue to ignore it!

  3. Based on your experience, what do think are the reasons businesses fail to embrace this attitude/philosophy?

  4. So many things come into play, Marie, that it’s impossible to pinpoint any one or two. Management development fell out of vogue in the 1990s, so there are many, many managers who don’t recognize and don’t have the competencies that make for effective management. As organizations have become “lean and mean,” management layers have evaporated yet the amount of “reporting” and paperwork has probably doubled, if not tripled. Since many managers have been “promoted” because they are wonderful individual contributors, and they haven’t learned how to manage people to accomplish the work of a manager, they continue doing the same things that made them successful and worthy of promotion.

    There is no positive reinforcement for developing the people who report through a manager, and the only expectation most organizations have with respect to managers providing feedback and support to their employees is during an annual performance review. While a broad statement, I believe this to be true: leaders consciously choose to treat “human capital” as an expense (including upgrading and maintaining them), expendable when short-term numbers are the gauge of business success, and interchangeable–one for another. (And preferably a cheaper one for a more costly, experienced one.)

    And, finally, without really examining the alternatives, organizations like to be in control–and carrots and sticks allow them to call the shots. People cling to their jobs–paranoid in this economy that they will be out on the street–working for bad managers and organization with antiquated business models and waiting to be told what to do. As long as people stay in jobs doing work they hate, an organization’s pain isn’t great enough to change.

  5. I suppose it’s a ‘can’t see the forest for the trees’ perspective or the old definition of insanity ‘doing the same thing over and over expecting different results’ (not to bury you in clichés) – but it’s just amazing to me that businesses continue to dig a deep hole – chipping away at their foundation. If you knew that your business could produce more and better results by throwing off the shackles of brick and mortar, 8 to 5, butts in the seat, and managed to the nth degree mentality, why wouldn’t you do it? If US businesses are such proponents of free market capitalism, why do so many manage with a style that is much closer to controlled socialism?

    This blog post – and particularly the embedded video link – has fired me up in a way I haven’t been for a while now. I’m sure it’s going to be the impetus for me writing a new one of my own – using yours as a jumping off point.

  6. Excellent…I’ll look forward to reading it, Marie!

  7. […] It’s What Inside that Counts, Janine discussed ideas to help us connect with our internal motivations. The three ideas revolved […]

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