If you’re like me, you’ve given thought over the years about the best way to motivate people. Pay them more? Give them line of sight to goals? Provide interesting work? Emphasize career growth? Terrorize them?
I’ve tried them all. I can say with authority that the bookends on that list – more pay and terror – don’t work. But I still don’t have a precise formula for motivating people.
But I got a good insight from “Drive,” the bestseller by Daniel Pink. He argues that the best rewards for employees are intrinsic, not extrinsic. He describes one particularly interesting experiment where different groups were given a challenging, fun task. The ones who were promised no reward whatsoever for completing it did better than those who were expecting a reward. This suggests that interesting work is a reward in itself. Humans love to be challenged and may do better when there’s no carrot or stick attached to a task.
That doesn’t mean we don’t have to pay people, of course. But it does suggest that for many tasks – particularly those that require complex, creative “right brain” thinking – we’ll get better results from our people if we DON’T try to motivate them by saying, “When you complete the job we’ll give you a pay raise or a bonus.”
Warning: If you’re a big proponent of “pay for performance” you’ll hate “Drive.” Pink demolishes the concept.
His formula for motivating people might look something like this: Hire people who are ideally suited for a job and who’ll love doing it. Give them the resources and support they need to master the job. Help them see why doing that job is important for the company, for the community, for the world – in sum, something bigger than them.
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