Author Daniel Pink on What Really Motivates us at WorkPublished: July 15, 2010 in Knowledge@Emory
According to bestselling author Daniel H. Pink, a crunchier carrot and a sharper stick aren’t as effective in motivating employees as one might suspect. In his latest book, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, he contends that “autonomy, mastery, and purpose” are the intrinsic motivators necessary for success in today’s complex 21st century business environment.
While work in the developed world might have once consisted of rather routine tasks (now largely exported overseas), Pink argues that the creative demands of today’s professional world require a heuristic approach, one that is more inventive and allows workers more freedom in deciding how to accomplish a job. This change, according to the author, means that extrinsic rewards and punishments are less effective than before, while managers are increasingly uncomfortable in a position of constantly punishing or policing employees.
Short-term goals, so common in business, simply haven’t proven to be the most effective, says Pink, who adds, “Greatness and near-sightedness are incompatible.”
To apply his theories, Pink breaks down individuals and companies into Type X’s and Type I’s. Type X individuals are more motivated by extrinsic rewards (money, avoidance of punishment), while Type I’s are driven by three primary intrinsic motivations: autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Employees of Type X companies tend to work in a short-term fashion, while those in Type I’s thoroughly analyze and assess the smaller and larger goals set for a specific task. Type I employees enjoy more autonomy over their activities at work, the opportunity to master a challenge, and the satisfaction of working toward a goal that serves a larger purpose. Type I companies compensate their workers fairly, pay more than average, and set relevant and wide-ranging performance metrics.
Pink believes that companies and individuals are capable of making the shift from extrinsic to intrinsic motivation, arguing, “Type I behavior is made, not born.”
Companies seeking to offer workers more autonomy in their work might need to alter rote tasks to provide them with more challenging situations. When this is not possible, says Pink, rewards and reprimands might be necessary. But in developed, high-tech societies, complex and innovative work is much more common, and it necessitates a creative work culture, he argues. It’s the ability to independently work through a problem and apply a conceptual solution that offers satisfaction and provides results.
Among his many research references, Pink cites a study of U.S.-based employees at an investment bank where managers offering “autonomy support” provided useful feedback, ample communication, and encouragement to approach tasks in an employee’s own way. “The resulting enhancement in job satisfaction, in turn, led to higher performance on the job,” he writes.
Most company managers talk about employee empowerment, says Pink, but the “modern workplace’s most notable feature may be its lack of engagement and its disregard for mastery.” The book notes a study of 11,000 U.S.-based industrial scientists and engineers, which indicated “the desire for intellectual challenge—that is, the urge to master something new and engaging—was the best predictor of productivity.”
Interestingly, intrinsic rewards resulted in the industrial scientists and engineers filing more patents than did a primary motivation of money, even when a similar degree of effort was expended in each scenario. But Pink wisely points out that mastering a difficult task isn’t always a pleasant process. Practice is required, and the path “is not lined with daisies.”
Significant effort, however, can sometimes propel an employee forward, providing meaning to work. “The joy is in the pursuit more than the realization,” he says. “In the end, mastery attracts precisely because mastery eludes.”
Purpose provides employees the ability to return to work day after day. “The most deeply motivated people—not to mention those who are most productive and satisfied—hitch their desires to a cause larger than themselves,” writes the author. Baby boomers, and now the millennials, are on a quest for loftier goals at work. Pink contends that the most productive employees are “doing something that matters, doing it well, and doing it in the service of a cause larger than ourselves.”
Of course, the author’s strategies for success aren’t applicable for every worker. Pink is certainly addressing his theories to white collar professionals. However, the book does provide a flood of convincing research on behavioral science in the workplace and beyond—information useful both to corporate America and to one’s personal life.
While the author’s evidence is strong, the sheer amount of data he provides begins to weigh down the text. He outlines the best books for following his approach, and then he briefly discusses the business leaders and management thinkers who’ve successfully promoted autonomy, mastery, and purpose in their companies and in their research. But Pink is best when he breaks down his basic premise, quickly offers the numbers, and then moves on to layout the most effective approach to establishing a more productive and positive work environment.