Monday, January 30, 2012

Driving motivations at work

I occasionally have to interview people for new roles in the company and some of my questions revolve around what motivates you to do your job. Interestingly the answers are all over the board from the obvious things like being at the cutting edge of technology to working as part of a team. These answers of course are mostly a response to the situation and the nature of the interview. The thing I am most curious about is that once the first few weeks are over, what then are the real motivations in your career as the long hours get longer and the projects get harder and more involved, what then motivates you to get out of bed and be energized to come up with just one more idea, to add to the hundred or so you have already worked on. Daniel Pink, thinks he might just have the answer. In his book, "Drive - The surprising truth about what motivates us" he puts forward three important motivations that he believes are at the base of what leads to real motivation and drive.

The concept to keep in mind that he suggests is that when it comes to manual tasks that require not much thinking, such as factory labor and piece work, that can be learnt and repeated easily, then money is the most powerful motivator. Raising production levels is done easily in this instances with more money. The real problem comes when the task at hand requires more thinking skills or creativity, then it seems that money actually to a point gets in the way. At first, money can produce more effort, but once the monetary amount gets to a certain high level for the subject then their performance starts to deteriorate and they have more of a mental block as a result of the monetary award available. Now don't get me wrong, I am not advocating reducing people's salaries, I think people should be paid for their skills manual or mental. In fact, if the amount you earn is less than you would wish then most likely this would also affect performance because you feel unappreciated. So I think the point is to take money of the equation first, give people what they want within reason.

The question is really what are the intrinsic motivations for those of us that have the luxury of thinking jobs that challenge us not for survival but because they want our thoughts and knowledge. This is where Daniel has some very interesting ideas and insights. Let's look at each of these.

1.Give People Autonomy
This first point is all about being in control of your destiny, nobody likes to be told what to do. So allow people to solve problems in their own way. Of course there maybe constraints on a project, but allow the individual to solve it in their way. Giving them more a sense of achievement and control.

2. Allow them to become Experts
Most people want to learn and through learning become better at what they do. Especially in the realms of business, development and creativity people that have these kinds of jobs want to get better at what they do. It fills in some of the needs to grow as an individual and have a sense of challenge. This is part of what finding what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi would call "Flow" those moments between challenge and skills that make the time speed by as they are neither to boring or too hard.

3. Give them Purpose
Finally there is purpose, which is basically following on the concepts of Maslow's Heirarchy of needs, which I wrote about here. Purpose in this case is all about achieving self fulfillment. Working on something that is going to have an impact on other people or make you feel better about yourself is a huge motivator for an individual or a group of people.

And there we have it three guiding principles to having a more fulfilling career, and maybe making a company or manager have more satisfied workers and colleagues. I think all three of these concepts are grounded in very real psychology and they make a lot of sense when you think about them. People fortunate enough to be a wealthy country are no longer thinking about work to make money anymore and are looking for something higher on the needs ladder that leads to greater satisfaction. These three ideas are a great step in the right direction.

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