When Traditional Motivation Doesn’t Work

The HBR IdeaCast on “What Motivates Us” will be very relevant to people struggling with how to motivate their employees, their kids, or themselves.  In this 16 minute audio session, Daniel Pink (Author of the new book Drive) explains why much of what we know about motivation doesn’t work.  Some of his key points include:

1)   Strong emphasis on carrot and stick motivators are good for simple tasks, but not good for complex cognitive tasks or tasks that require creativity

2)   More powerful motivators for complex or creative tasks include assuring people feel that they have a sense of purpose, are making a contribution, are seeing progress, and are growing and getting better at something.

3)   De-motivators include doing the same thing over and over without a sense of purpose or progress.

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In several turnaround situations, I have found the key to motivating and engaging employees is to:

  • Make them feel valued as people and that they belong
  • Help them see how what they do makes a difference, and
  • Find a way for them to monitor their own contributions on an ongoing basis.

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This is especially true now as companies try to re-engage their people after multiple rounds of layoffs, furloughs, and salary cuts.  If they don’t, they risk losing their best people when the economy and job market improve.

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