Daniel Pink on mo­ti­va­tion

The best way a man­ager can use au­ton­omy is to get rid of the whole no­tion of man­age­ment.

The Washington Post Sunday - - BUSINESS -

The old carrot-and-stick no­tion of mo­ti­va­tion is fail­ing— in large part be­cause it works very well for a type of work that most Amer­i­cans aren’t do­ing any­more. It’s very good for sim­ple, al­gorith­mic, rou­tine, rule-based sorts of tasks: adding up col­umns of fig­ures, turn­ing the same screwthe same way. But there’s 50 years of sci­ence that says it’s in­ef­fec­tive for cre­ative, con­cep­tual, com­plex work. And that’s what most peo­ple in both the blue-col­lar and the white-col­lar work­force are do­ing to­day.

We’re not mice on tread­mills with lit­tle car­rots be­ing dan­gled in front of us all the time. Some­times we are. There’s no ques­tion about that. But in the work­place, as peo­ple are do­ing more com­pli­cated things, the carrot-and-stick ap­proach doesn’t work.

What’s frus­trat­ing, or ought to be frus­trat­ing, to in­di­vid­u­als in com­pa­nies and share­hold­ers as well is that when we see these carrot-and-stick mo­ti­va­tors demon­stra­bly fail be­fore our eyes— when we see them fail in or­ga­ni­za­tions right be­fore our very eyes — our re­sponse isn’t to say: “Man, those carrot-and­stick mo­ti­va­tors failed again. Let’s try some­thing new.” It’s, “Man, those carrot-and-stick mo­ti­va­tors failed again. Looks likewe need more car­rots. Looks likewe need sharper sticks.” And it’s tak­ing us down a fun­da­men­tally mis­guided path.

We for­get that mas­tery is some­thing hu­man be­ings seek be­cause we’re hu­man be­ings. We like to get bet­ter at stuff be­cause it’s in­her­ently sat­is­fy­ing. That’s why peo­ple do recre­ational sports, why peo­ple play mu­si­cal in­stru­ments on the week­end, why peo­ple do crafts and things.

The prob­lem is that, in our or­ga­ni­za­tions, our or­ga­ni­za­tions aren’t re­ally ar­chi­tected for that. If you look at the mod­ern work­place, I would say it’s one of the most feed­back-de­prived places in Amer­i­can civ­i­liza­tion. You see this very much gen­er­a­tionally. Th­e­seGen Y’s— mil­len­ni­als— com­ing in hav­ing led these in­cred­i­bly feed­back-rich lives. Press a but­ton, some­thing hap­pens. Play a game, you get a score. Send a text, and a sound in­di­cates that it suc­cess­fully went out. Then they get into the work­place, and feed­back comes in the form of a once-a-year, awk­ward, 45-minute con­ver­sa­tion with your boss. It’s a feed­back desert. And I think that the more there are mech­a­nisms to en­rich that level of feed­back, peo­ple be­come more sat­is­fied and they ac­tu­ally get bet­ter at stuff. And that has this kind of re­new­able en­ergy of mo­ti­va­tion.

We tend to think about man­age­ment as some­thing that em­anated from na­ture or was handed to us fromGod. When, in fact, it’s just some­thing that some guy in­vented. GaryHamel, the man­age­ment thinker, has said this very well. He says man­age­ment is a technology. The prob­lem is, it’s a technology from the 1850s. There are very few tech­nolo­gies from the 1850s thatwe use to­day. It’s a technology that is de­signed to get com­pli­ance— that’s what it’s for. And even if you sand off the rough edges, it’s still a technology meant to get peo­ple to com­ply.

We want some mea­sure of com­pli­ance in or­ga­ni­za­tions, but whatwe want more than any­thing else is en­gage­ment. And if you look at the polling data on these stag­ger­ingly low lev­els of en­gage­ment in the work­place, I think it’s be­cause we’re de­ploy­ing the wrong technology. Peo­ple don’t en­gage by be­ing man­aged. They don’t en­gage by be­ing con­trolled.

The­way that peo­ple en­gage is if they get there un­der their own steam, and that re­quires some­times enor­mous amounts of au­ton­omy over peo­ple’s time (when they do what they do), over their tech­nique (how they do it), over their team (who they do it with) and over their task.

There are some very in­ter­est­ing ex­am­ples out there of some prac­tices that pro­vide what seems to be a rad­i­cal amount of au­ton­omy as a path­way to bet­ter re­sults. One ofmy fa­vorite ex­am­ples— and I think in many­ways the most ac­tion­able for or­ga­ni­za­tions— is what this com­pany in Aus­tralia called At­las­sian, a soft­ware com­pany, does. Once a quar­ter, on Thurs­day af­ter­noons, it says to its soft­ware de­vel­op­ers: “Go work on any­thing you want. Do it the way you want. Do it with who­ever you want. Only thing we ask is that you show what you cre­ated to the rest of the com­pany on Fri­day af­ter­noon”— in this kind of fun, free­wheel­ing, Fri­day af­ter­noon meet­ing. It calls these things “FedEx days,” be­cause you have to de­liver some­thing overnight.

It turns out that this one day of in­tense, undi­luted au­ton­omy— it’s in­cred­i­ble, this one day— has led to all these ideas for new­prod­ucts, fixes to ex­ist­ing prod­ucts, im­prove­ments for pro­cesses within the firm. One day. And it’s so bizarrely rad­i­cal in that it’s not say­ing, “Hey, if you come up with some­thing great, I’ll give you a lit­tle carrot.” It’s say­ing, “Let me get out of your way, be­cause you’re a tal­ented hu­man be­ing and you prob­a­bly want to do some­thing good.”


“ The way that peo­ple en­gage is if they get there un­der their own steam, and that re­quires some­times enor­mous amounts of au­ton­omy.”

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