What really Motivates Employees

I came across this excellent video (below) the other day – content from Dan Pink and animation by The RSA.

The main thread is that businesses have been ignoring for years some very credible and scientific research on motivating employees.  Most companies believe that if you want to increase the performance of your employees, you should create some incentive-based system.  But research conducted over many years in different countries shows that if the job requires even the most basic level of cognitive skill (aka using your brain), then the incentive had the opposite effect.

It appears that a reason for this is because the incentive narrows the focus.  If you are performing a basic task such as assembly, then you need focus and an incentive/performance-related reward works well.  But if you need to think creatively or analytically, then you need more scope and too much focus will act like blinkers.

Dan goes on to describe three factors that lead to better performance and personal satisfaction.

1. Autonomy. If you hire smart people and then micro-manage them, you will suck the life out of them pretty quickly.  Knowledge-workers are at their best when self-directed.  They are more engaged with your clients, your business and will have a far greater impact (aka Performance).

2. Mastery. Smart people need to be challenged and they need to know that they are getting better at it.  It’s about having a job/career where each day they are a step closer to mastery / to excellence.

3. Purpose. The vision and mission statements of the past have proven to have no effect on their employees.  They were just another part of the corporate marketing machine.  The truly great companies today have a transcendent purpose – something that really makes a difference in the lives of their customers and employees and/or society as a whole.  For example – Google’s “do no evil” or Whole Foods has “to improve the health and well being of everyone on this planet”.  These are reasons for working somewhere beyond money or the daily grind.

Watch the video – highly recommend it.  As a result, I just purchased Dan’s book and will review it here when complete.