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“Control leads to compliance; autonomy leads to engagement.” – Daniel Pink

For decades, our model of motivation in the workforce has been the carrot and stick approach. Incentivising employees to push themselves at work either out of a desire for a reward or to avoid repercussions has been the de facto mode of motivation for so long that most of us don’t even stop to wonder if there could be another way.

In his bestselling book, Drive, author Daniel Pink argues that not only is there another way, but there is a much more effective way, and switching how we look at motivation is essential for creating a happy and successful workforce. Motivating your team, he says, comes down to understanding what truly drives them to do and be better.

In the old way of thinking, we might say, “We need to increase sales by 10% this quarter. Anyone who reaches or exceeds these numbers will receive a bonus, and anyone who drops below ‘x’ will be fired.” Classic carrot and stick, and sounds pretty motivating, doesn’t it?

Studies show, however, that the opposite is true. Creativity, motivation, and ultimately, results, are paralyzed under these kinds of incentives.

Why? Making more money or getting fired seem like pretty good reasons to achieve results, right?

In reality though, they don’t work because they are external motivations, and we thrive when we are motivated internally. A sense of pride in our work, the freedom to explore our creativity and reach our own personal best- these are the things that really drive us to reach for more.

daniel pink how to motivate

Pink takes the example of Microsoft Encarta vs. Wikipedia. In the mid-’90s, Microsoft decided to invest heavily in creating an online encyclopedia, Encarta. They hired well-paid experts and dedicated significant time and money into the project, and at first glance, it should have been a sure success.

Around the same time, Wikipedia entered the scene, motivated not by any financial return but rather the simple enjoyment of creating the site. The carrot and stick approach would have us believe that Encarta would come out on top but as we all know it was Wikipedia, driven by the simple internal joy of creating for the sake of it, that went on to dominate.

Of course, there is no one size fits all when it comes to motivation and to truly inspire their team, managers should have at least a general knowledge of how each of their staff is motivated. Also, some positions really do respond well to external incentives. Algorithmic tasks, that is jobs that require a lot of repetition and formula following, can be motivated in the traditional way. Jobs that require more creativity and outside the box thinking, however, are generally motivated more by internal factors.

When it comes to getting the most out of your team, it’s essential to understand what is truly driving your employees. While the traditional approach has been to incentivize with external factors (bonuses, job loss, etc.), this is often not a beneficial factor in today’s job force. Instead, understanding the deeper, internal factors that drive your employees can result in creating a work environment that is happier, more motivated, and gets the job done well.

For more on what drives us, check out Pink’s TED Talk here.

In our next post, we’ll look at another key factor in motivating and empowering your team- creating a Results Only Work Environment (ROWE).

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