What Motivates You?

Earlier this week I spent some time talking to a recruitment agent. It wasn’t for a new job – I was providing a reference for a friend who used to work for me. It was an interesting conversation – not the run of the mill kind of discussion, but one which delved deeper … into motivation, needs and how they manifest for us in the workplace. It made me think about success – about why some people achieve things that others don’t or can’t.

Whenever I have been in charge of teams, I instinctively seek out those who have the type of energy that I can work with. I am attracted to those who have  intrinsic motivation – a sense of drive – and tend to make a hiring decision based on the way that people walk into a room.

In this video, Dan Pink, talks about autonomy, mastery and purpose – and how they combine in an individual – and what this means for those of us who manage, direct or energise teams as part of our daily work. Sure there are times where we can take the standard managerial approach – offering rewards for good performance and disincentives for poor performance, but Dan Pink suggests a need to adjust our management styles according to the type of work being performed.

Mark McGuiness also points out, that while the carrot and stick approach works for simple working arrangements, when it comes to complex problem solving and challenging or creative industries, we need to think outside the box:

… the rules are mystifying, the solution, if it exists, is surprising and not obvious – [for this kind of problem] those ‘If… then’ rewards, the things around which we have build so many of our businesses, DON’T WORK!

This is not a feeling… this is not a philosophy… this is a FACT!

There is a double edged sword here, of course. We all like to be paid handsomely for the work that we do – but few of us are willing to prioritise our desire for autonomy, our mastery and skill and our sense of purpose above income. Or am I wrong?

What’s your motivation for doing what you do? And what would you change if you could?

8 thoughts on “What Motivates You?

  1. Gavin
    I have also recently posted on why I don’t believe in business plans (every wannabe consultant’s bogeyman). Whilst the thinking part and the writing part of the planning process is necessary, the formulaic approach to business plan is based on an assumption of more -of-the-same which is right now one of the worst assumptions you can make, I think?

  2. The iterative approach that has been so successful in software development works equally well in other areas of business. So no matter whether you are looking at business planning, marketing strategy or product development etc – there seems to be broad changes afoot.

  3. Gavin – while the “story” Dan spins is very exciting and interesting – it is nothing new – also, other studies and data refutes some of what he says.
    I posted a rebuttal here http://tinyurl.com/ldchl3 (check the comments – there is a link to another post from another blog with more info.
    We cannot approach management issues with only one tool. Try to build a house with only a hammer – doesn’t work.

  4. @ Gavin “There is a double edged sword here, of course. We all like to be paid handsomely for the work that we do – but few of us are willing to prioritise our desire for autonomy, our mastery and skill and our sense of purpose above income. Or am I wrong?”
    I don’t see it as an either/or choice – you need both. In fact, you need a balance of several different kinds of motivation for a really sustainable enterprise – as well as intrinsic/extrinsic, there’s an axis of personal/interpersonal motivations.
    I outlined a balanced matrix of motivations a while back: http://www.wishfulthinking.co.uk/2008/12/09/balance/
    (If that’s of interest, I’ve written a whole free e-book about the 4 fundamental types of motivation: http://www.wishfulthinking.co.uk/2009/01/05/how-to-motivate-creative-people/)
    @ Paul Herbert – I agree we can’t take on management problems with one tool. My take on Pink’s video is that he’s challenging the almost exclusive focus on extrinisic motivators in many businesses. He does say that you need to reward people sufficiently for it not to be an issue.

  5. Gavin,
    Interesting point about interviewing a candidate and watching for the way they walk into the room in addition to everything else. I’ll remember that.
    In my experience when someone is telling me what motivates them to do what they do, it quickly becomes obvious whether they are really driven and have a passion for it.
    Your post reminded me of this tweet I posted yesterday, showing a very inspirational talk by teacher/poet Taylor Mali – such passion on display!

  6. Keeping in mind what keeps you going is a good way to reach your goals efficiently. In my office, employees are asked to write a phrase that motivates them and are posted on their PC monitors. This way, we are constantly reminded of what we’re aiming for and we are motivated to work harder and smarter.

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