Monday, May 16, 2011

Motivate Me

There is nothing like picking up a book or an article and feeling affirmed by what you read.  You nod your head in agreement and feel a sense of connection with the author.  Someone else has a similar view.  My ideas and convictions are valid.  I'm not crazy after all!

This is the experience I had this weekend after reading Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel Pink.  Pink is the author of Free Agent Nation: The Future of Working for Yourself and A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future.  If you haven't *met* Daniel Pink yet, you're in for a real treat.  He has a fundamental understanding of the new knowledge economy and what hinders and prepares us for success.  In Drive, he weaves a powerful narrative about what motivates us, why, and how we can do more of it.

I was nodding my head in response to this great book because it affirms something that I've felt for a LONG time: MONEY is not the be all, end all.  And, work can and should have much more meaning than it often does.

Here's a question:  If I offered you a job as an Architect making $75,000 a year vs. a job as a Toll Booth Operator making $100K, which would you choose?  According to Pink, and the researchers he interviewed, many more people (in wealthier countries) would choose Architect - the lower paying, more creative job. 

This resonates with me.  Once we've met our basic needs for shelter, food and clothing, our desire for creativity, meaning and purpose at work is key.

If Pink is right - and I think he is - then cause-oriented organizations - like nonprofits - should have a serious leg-up when it comes to attracting new talent.  Boomers in their third act and millennials who are full of enthusiasm and optimism should be drawn to organizations with a social purpose.  How can we be sure that we're ready for them?

According to Pink, keeping and retaining the highest caliber employees and building a high-performing work environment means adhering to three basic principles.

First: Give people autonomy over their work.  Don't prescribe all of the tasks, techniques and timelines that people must observe.  Give people the tools that they need to do their jobs and then trust and encourage them to be their best.  In short, hire well and then get out of the way.

Second: Provide the environment and tools for people to achieve mastery on the job.  This means giving people an opportunity to practice, practice, practice at work and get into "flow" or the "activity of being fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and success in the process of the activity."

Third: Make sure that people know and are working toward a larger purpose.  Raising 25% more money than last quarter is not meaningful [enough] for many of us.  Why are we raising money?  How are we changing the world?  What difference do all these late nights make?  These are the questions we need to answer. 

I've been a "knowledge worker" for a while now.  Success in my job depends on my ability to forge, nurture and maintain good relationships while providing constructive consultation and advice.  Like everyone else, I have to engage in boring, rote activities during the week (I too have to do data entry:)).  However, my primary job is more nuanced and complex.

Pink's right that what keeps me motivated is mostly the intrinsic rewards that I receive from my work.  Meeting new people, being helpful, resourceful and smart!  My employer can't mandate this behavior. But they can give me the support I need to be a solid performer.

Are you a good employer?  Do you help your employees to feel empowered--really empowered--to do their work?  Do you trust them to get the job done, even when they are not in the office?  Do you ask them about their goals for the year?

We are not living in the Industrial Age.  The issues we work on and the problems we are trying to solve are extremely complex.  It's going to take much more than an "assembly-line" approach to work to achieve our goals.  The best employees and the best employers recognize this seismic shift and are moving toward a new "operating model" of motivation.  This involves treating employees as partners and ENGAGING them in meaningful work.



Valerie Strong Knight said...

Thanks, Jocelyn, for the wonderful blog post - it was just what I needed to start the day with creativity in the lead. It's great to have found you via Katya's blog - I can see why she includes you among her recommended resources.



Mazarine said...

Dear Jocelyn,

I read Pink's "A Whole New Mind" and while I agree that we have to think differently about our jobs and be creative, one of the things that he talked about was how "people in foreign countries should be doing our grunt-work for us" and that REALLY doesn't sit well with me.

Even though you and I both have blogs and love to write, Americans are not just knowledge workers. Not everyone is like us. Some Americans really do need to work in factories. Some of us really were hurt by outsourcing customer service jobs and web programming jobs to India and other countries. The reason that 25% of Americans are unemployed is because there is no penalty for companies that outsource all of our jobs overseas.

Of course we want companies to succeed. But what we don't want is zombie corporations sucking all of the money out of our pockets and lining their own beyond any imperative other than "make as much money as possible." Apple is finding out by the suicides and strikes in China that this model doesn't even work in other countries.

There is something seriously flawed about the premise of this book, and I find it racist as well. Do you see what I mean?



Jocelyn said...


Thanks for your very thoughtful comment. You always leave such great comments on my blog and I appreciate it!

I didn't read Dan Pink as being racist in his portrayal of workers in the developing world but maybe I read him wrong. Maybe I'm being both classist and racist. You've given me good food for thought.

I wholeheartedly agree with you that many (most?) people working in the U.S. are not "knowledge workers" and thus his rules for motivation may not apply.

Working in a dead-end job with very little opportunity for autonomy, creativity and purpose has to be very difficult.

How do we make more jobs more meaningful for more people?


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