Daniel Pink's "Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us" has some great insights for business owners about employee motivation.

Daniel Pink's "Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us" rejects the traditional idea of how to motivate employees — namely that carrots (incentives) and sticks (punishments) are the keys to driving people to action. Based on decades of scientific research and data from organizations around the globe, Pink argues that what enables employees to give their best efforts to employers is the basic human desire to control their own lives, to learn and create and to help make the world a better place.

The traditional "extrinsic motivators" — to win incentives and avoid punishment — are nothing in comparison to the motivating force of these "intrinsic motivators."

Why Carrots and Sticks Don't Motivate

In several scientific experiments described in "Drive," workers actually performed worse under the incentive of higher rates of compensation. The pressure and stress of needing to hit higher goals in order to earn a bonus, for example, can inhibit rather than unleash superior performance. Carrots and sticks can also foster unethical behavior, where employees "rig the game" in order to extract more "carrots." For example, sales people might ask customers to purchase a new product, when both understand the customer doesn't need the product and will return it for a refund later on. If the salesperson gets a bonus triggered by a "fake" sale, there's a bad incentive in play.

Carrots and sticks can thus kill intrinsic motivation and foster short-term thinking. At the most basic level, extrinsic motivators treat workers like children who can't be trusted. As Pink makes clear, once the incentives or punishments are removed, workers simply stop performing in the way organizations want.

How to Motivate Employees: 3 Elements

Pink explains the three elements of employee motivation — autonomy, mastery and purpose — providing suggestions on how to promote them in your workplace.

  1. Autonomy: Employees have a basic human yearning to have a say over what they do. Allowing employees to participate in deciding what they do and how they do it is highly motivating, says Pink. "It requires resisting the temptation to control people," he writes, "and instead doing everything to reawaken their deep-seated sense of autonomy." Simply listening to your employees and seeking their input can do wonders.
  2. Mastery: By nature, people want to master the things they care about. When mastery is the goal, employees will pursue both mastery of a task and the completion of the task itself. Their productivity will increase, and so will their pride and sense of personal accomplishment. Mastery takes time and effort, but well-managed employees will naturally seek it. When you support employees as they learn and grow toward mastery, everyone wins.
  3. Purpose: Employees want to know "why" they do what they do, how it fits into the organization's goals and how it impacts the wider world. "Because we need to make a profit" is not the answer, notes Pink. Organizations need to help employees connect with a larger purpose and a sense of mission and meaning. As Pink explains, "The richest moments in our lives are [when we're] doing something that matters, doing it well, and doing it in the service of a cause larger than ourselves." Talk about your purpose before your profits.

Pink ends his examination of human motivation by offering organizations a valuable toolkit of tips and strategies for bringing out intrinsic motivators in employees. Pink brilliantly presents a balanced, comprehensive look at what behavioral science says about employee motivation. And what it says is that you should dump the carrots and sticks, seeking instead to tap into what truly motivates workers.

Tags: Employee Engagement