Friday, August 06, 2010

Leadership Summit 2010 – Session 4: What Motivates Us? Not What You Think (Daniel Pink)

Leadership Summit 2010 – Session 6: What Motivates Us? Not What You Think (Daniel Pink)

(note: for other notes from the Leadership Summit, please see my other posts on my blog at or see my posts on twitter at - You will also find some great notes from the Leadership Summit at or follow Tim on twitter at

What are the types of human motivation?
1. Biological
2.Reward and punishment
3.To connect and be part of something bigger than yourself

Our organizations today don't speak to this third motivational drive. We don't

Most views within organizations is to restrain the Biological drive and use the Reward and punishment drive. This two dimensional view does not work well.

One study in MIT students asked them to do physical and intellectual tasks. They separated them into 3 groups: each with larger rewards. It did have an influence. If the task only involved mechanical, the larger reward resulted in more productivity. But once it involved even rudimentary cognitive skill, the larger reward resulted in reduced skill.

“If, then” rewards give us tunnel vision. We become focused on the problem. It's great if it is simple, but if it doesn't work well for complex tasks. These “Carrots and Sticks” fail.

We need to understand the 3rd motivator: allow people to connect with something bigger.

Red Gate software in the UK did something radical. The sales people were put on a sales compensation system. They “gamed” the system. So, the company made it more complex. The sales people again “gamed” the system. The CEO said we should eliminate commissions for salespeople. He talked to the top two sales people. He said to Tom: “I'm thinking about eliminating commissions. We would up your salary and give profit sharing at the end of the year.” He talked to one and he said, I would agree, it's a great idea and would be more collaborative, but there is no way James would go for it. Then he met with James and James said, “Sure, it's a good idea, but there is no way Tom will go for it.”

Our first wrong assumption is that humans are machines: simple. But, human beings are complex. You can't follow a formula and expect humans to do what you expect. They are not simple machines.

The second assumption is that people are blobs, lazy, passive, and inert. But, human nature is to be passionate and involved. Find any two year old or four year old that are not active and engaged. That is our default setting.

When he asked the managers if they respond to carrots and sticks, they said no.

There are three key motivators: Autonomy, mastery, and purpose. AMP.

1. Autonomy
Think about management. We think about management like a tree or river. Management hasn't always been here. Gary Hammil said “Management is a technology.” It is from the 1950s. It is technology designed to get compliance. But, we don't want compliance, we want engagement. Self direction leads to engagement. Ask people to tell you about their best boss. They won't tell you it was someone who micromanaged or stood over them or gave no freedom. We need to give autonomy in people's Team (who), Task (what), Technique (how).

Example: Australian Software company Atlasian: once a quarter let their people work on whatever they want. They must show it to the team the next day. They call them Fedex days because they must deliver it overnight. It's resulted in solutions that would not have occurred otherwise. It's worked so well, that they now have 20% time: they can work on whatever they want for 20% time. Google here in USA does the same. Gmail and google news are from 20% time.

How do you employ this in your organization? If Fred has been working for you for 20 years, you can't just tell him on Monday that we're doing 20% time. Richard Ryan (Univ. of Rochester) says you need to use “Scaffolding” - like a dimmer switch you need to start small. You can try a fedex day. You can do 10% time. Maybe it's not everyone, just the most receptive. Do it for only a few months.

2. Mastery
Think about weekend. On a weekend, you'll have someone playing the bassoon. An economist can't explain it, it doesn't make money. Why do they play? Because it's fun and something you get better at. It might be the single largest motivator.
They had a study that looked at motivation recorded each day. Making progress was the largest motivator by far. This recasts the role of the manager: to help people be in positions to make progress and to see progress.
There is the concept of “Flow” where we lose the sense of time and self. You see it in musicians and sports professionals. Leisure is passive, but people like “flow” better. In order to experience “flow” you must have feedback. But, our organizations have bad feedback mechanisms. Performance reviews only occur once a year. Like an americanized Kabuki theater: we're all following a memorized script hoping we'll get it over as soon as possible.
The better way to do this is to set a goal at the beginning of the month and then check at end of month of how their doing. Athletes do this. Our organizations are not set up to do this, we must do it ourselves.

3. Purpose
A page is turning in organizations. We're coming to the end of the profit motive. It's helpful, but is now moving toward the purpose motive. In the last decade we see issues when the profit motive diverged from the purpose motive. When someone in the organization says let's raise our profit by 4% this month, it's not what motivates people to get out of bed in the morning. Robert Reaish, who he worked for, used a diagnostic tool. He'd visit companies and listen to the pronouns people use. Do they use “we” or “they?” What do they use to refer to their church. The “We” organizations are high performing, while the “they” organizations are low performing.

Ultimately we're talking about changing our organization. Can I change our organization? You can't do it alone. That's not the right question. The right question is if you can change what you're involved with tomorrow? Every great thing in life began with a conversation, so the more we have conversations, the more good will come. The small steps of all people involved in improving themselves will result in a changed world and for that I want to thank you for changing the world.

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