A few weeks ago, I was at a conference and found myself engaged in a debate around what motivates people at work.
The colleague I was talking to was from a large public sector organisation and seemed to be a Theory X thinker, assuming that people would rather be anywhere than in the office and only go to work for money.
My perspective is that whilst people ultimately work because they have bills to pay (who wouldn’t prefer to be on the beach or in the garden), once that basic need is met, money ceases to be the main motivator. In this sense, Theory Y is where I sit as I assume that people want to work and manage my people with this in mind.
Most of my thinking has developed from a concept set out in Daniel Pink’s book called ‘Drive’. This book is so recent that it was not covered in a recent management course I attended. We were told in the session that ‘there hasn’t really been any theory developed on motivation since Maslow’.
But some of us know different.
Pink starts off with an argument that book that generations coming through today are not motivated by money. He believes that the model of performance related pay where people are set targets which are rewarded with bonuses is out of date and actually those joining the workplace over the last couple of decades are driven more by values than money. With this in mind, according to Pink, the first thing employers have to get right is to ‘pay enough to take money off the table’.
Once the basic financial need has been met, we can move away from Maslow’s basic needs of food and shelter and move towards the top of the hierarchy to achieve esteem and self-actualisation.
So to bring it back to Pink’s ideas, achieving motivation requires leaders to allow our employees to achieve the following three things:
Autonomy – Mastery – Purpose
Basically, to motivate people we need to trust them to do things their own way, setting the direction and letting them get on with it. This is AUTONOMY.
We need to give them the space and support them where necessary, allowing them to get really good at what they do. This means that they are able to learn and improve until they achieve MASTERY.
And we need to be clear about why they are doing what we have asked them to do so that they know what they are doing is for a good reason. This means they understand their PURPOSE.
Applying this to the way my team works completely changed my focus and delivered some fantastic results. Of course it didn’t mean I left them on their own completely, it just changed the way we worked together. Instead of telling people what to do and how to do it, this approach requires leaders to set the direction and support individuals to achieve. It requires managers to ask more questions and find out where you can add expertise to improve the outcome. What you will find is that the team checks in with you more because they want to get things right. It’s definitely worth adopting because the rewards of empowering people are immense.
Go on try it! I dare you…
If you want to hear it from the man himself, check out this TED talk: https://www.ted.com/talks/dan_pink_on_motivation?language=en
Or you can buy the book here: