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Pink: Three keys to ‘enduring motivation’

April 16, 2012
by Nick Zubko, Associate Editor
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Opening the second day of the 2012 National Conference & Expo, author Daniel Pink spoke to attendees about the “surprising truth about what motivates us.” Looking at many of the tactics currently employed by organizations, Pink noted that while they might work in the short term, they are not “enduring strategies.”

He introduced three factors that can lead to more long-term motivation.

1. Autonomy

To understand autonomy, Pink said one needs to understand that it is an "invented construct" designed to get compliance in an organization. “It didn’t emanate from nature,” he said. “It was invented to get people to do what you want them to do, the way you want them to do it.”

The point Pink was making is that organizations need to focus less on management and more on engagement. “You need people to be engaged because that’s how people do their best work,” he said.

Pink cited perpetually falling engagement scores over the last 30 years, he attributes to “using the wrong technology.”

“You can’t manage people into engagement; it doesn’t work,” he explained. “If you want engagement, you have to use a different technology. And that technology is self direction.”

2. Mastery

One of the biggest motivators in the workplace, according to Pink, is making progress in “meaningful work.” When people make progress in meaningful work, they “feel more motivated, more engaged, and more loyal to their organization.”

“It feels good to make progress,” Pink said. “When you're making progress you come back every day even more motivated than the last.”

The challenge, he explained, is that most aren’t very good at putting people in positions where they can make progress. As a result, organizations need to start focusing on how to “celebrate progress and allow others to see it.”

“Progress depends on feedback,” he said. “Unfortunately, most workplaces are profoundly feedback deprived.”

In a world that is enriched with regular, rich, and robust feedback, Pink noted that annual performance reviews are becoming increasingly inadequate, encouraging management to find new ways to “increase the metabolism” of feedback.

3. Purpose

Lastly, Pink noted that the “appeal to purpose” also can be effective,” pointing out that mental health and substance abuse treatment professionals do “such good work in such difficult circumstances, for basically no credit and a lot of the blame.”

Pink told the audience to remember why they do the work they do. Looking at groups that are “undeniably doing good work,” he said his impression as an outsider is that “you don’t talk about that enough.”

“Compared to other fields, you don’t have to manufacture a transcendent ‘why’—you’re saving people’s live,” Pink said. “But you need to bring the ‘why’ the surface.”