What REALLY Motivates People? The Answer will SHOCK YOU!


Daniel Pink’s book, Drive, is a great read.  

The prevailing “carrot and stick” approach that we presently use to motivate employees is totally wrong.  We think that people are motivated by positive reinforcement such as money.  Wrong!

In many studies, if the task involved mechanical skill, the higher the pay, the better the performance.  But when more in depth thinking was involved, a larger reward led to lower performance.  This has been replicated over and over in different cultures and economic conditions.  It was even studied by the Federal Reserve Bank.  For complicated tasks, people who were given the highest reward performed the worst.

The first thing we need to do is pay people enough so that they are not thinking about money, but thinking about their jobs.  Once that is accomplished, there are 3 main areas that truly motivate people.

Autonomy:  Companies who have let their employees work at their own pace and determine for themselves what they want to do and how and when they want to do it have produced better products and services.  Are there some areas where you can let your employees choose?

Mastery:  People want to excel at something.  This level of satisfaction with mastering a certain task or skill motivates people more than money.  When employees were given challenges to do without pay and on their own time, they put the time and energy into that challenge.  Can you find ways to challenge your employees to master something?

Purpose:  People must know that their work serves a larger purpose.  We have lost sight of that in the construction and engineering industry.  We have lost sight of that big picture.  People want to make the world a better place.  We build roads and bridges that get us from place to place, the schools that educate our children, the sports and entertainment venues that give us joy, hospitals that heal our sick,  wastewater treatment plants that contribute to our overall health and well-being, the list is endless.  But we very rarely reinforce this bigger picture to our workforce.  I walked up to a project near my house and asked the workers on the corner about the project.  They didn’t even know what they were building.  Talk about a lack of purpose!

So remember those three ways to drive people and find ways to do that in your business! 

Here is a great summary of Pink’s book:




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