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How to effectively motivate your employees, Part 2

Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us

In his book Drive, Pink uses 50 years of behavioral science to overturn the conventional wisdom about how to effectively motivate your employees. Last week (read the article here), we discussed how the underlying theme to Pink’s book is the clash between extrinsic motivation and intrinsic motivation.

To summarize, extrinsic motivation relies on incentives outside of ourselves for motivation. In other words, it’s behaviour that’s driven by external rewards. These rewards can be tangible (money, for instance) or they can be psychological (praise).

Extrinsic motivation has been the usual ‘order of business’ for companies and organisations seeking to motivate their team members. However, it isn’t nearly as effective and productive as managers may think.

The reason why? As Pink puts it, motivation has evolved since the beginning of time. Elizabeth Spiers explains in her article on CBS Money Watch:

“The earliest [form of motivation] was a biological drive…a need for survival. But as humans became more social and survival needs changed, “motivation 2.0” emerged and we began to respond to external motivators, or rewards and punishments.  We’re all familiar with bonuses and disciplinary action as modern management tools. But they don’t always work. In fact, they’re far less effective for people who are driven by “motivation 3.0” — an intrinsic motivation characterized by the desire to have autonomy over what one is doing, to master it in some way, and to do in the service of some higher purpose.”

Pink therefore proposes a new approach which may offer companies and organisations a better return on their investment and it’s called intrinsic motivation, or: motivation that’s driven by internal rewards.

Pink has discovered three elements that must be in place for intrinsic motivation to reach its highest potential and today we discuss the first among them, which is: creating an environment that gives employees autonomy.

Research shows that when employees are given the freedom associated with autonomy, job satisfaction rises. It’s theorized that this increased level of job satisfaction in employees stems from a feeling of greater responsibility for the quality of their work. Autonomy has also been shown to increase motivation and happiness, along with decreasing employee turnover.

Many big-name companies already practice workplace autonomy. Best Buy, for instance, has a ROWE (“results oriented work environment”) program, where employees have no schedules and are measured only by what they get done. Google is famous for its ’20 percent’ program, where engineers are allowed to use 20 percent of their time to work on projects that interest them. An Australian tech company called Atlassian gives it engineers a full day each quarter to work on any software problem they wish.

What has compelled these companies to dole out autonomy in these ways? Simply put, it works.

According to researchers at Cornell University, empowering workers drives innovation and expertise in small businesses and in a study of 320 small firms, researchers found that businesses that encouraged autonomy grew at quadruple the rate of those with more rigid rules.

With all the benefits that come with autonomy, you may be wondering how you can start implementing it into your own company culture. Here are 5 simple tips from fellow management experts:

  1. Learn About Your Employees’ Needs. Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh had this to say about autonomy: “Studies have shown that perceived control is an important component of one’s happiness. However, what people feel like they want control over really varies, so I don’t think there’s one aspect of autonomy that’s universally the most important. Different individuals have different desires, so the best strategy for an employer would be to figure out what’s important to each individual employee.”
  2. Create Decision Making Opportunities. “Providing employees with seemingly insignificant decision-making opportunities has a powerful positive psychological impact. So, offer employees an abundance of choices, even if they’re small.” –Jan Fletcher
  3. Minimize To-Do’s and Deadlines. “Autonomy is the antithesis of micromanagement. In order to create an autonomous work environment you have to eliminate micromanagement. Instead of focusing on small minutia-like details, focus more on goals and strategic objectives for each employee. Let them take care of the minor details of achieving those goals and objectives.” –Chase Sagum
  4. Forget the 40-Hour Work Week. “Don’t chain employees to a desk. Having the freedom to control one’s own work flow is more in sync with human nature. Evaluate employees on how well they perform, not on how many hours they spend at their workstations.” –Jan Fletcher
  5. Eliminate Bureaucracy. “Bureaucratic restraints can prevent employees from getting their work done. For example, if an employee must fill out a number of forms and speak with multiple people before getting approval to start a project, that employee might feel discouraged before even starting the process. Eliminating bureaucratic red tape requires a careful analysis of your operation. Monitor typical practices to identify inefficient and redundant tasks, and ask employees for feedback about how you can help expedite their work.” -Stan Mack


Want to purchase a copy of Drive to read along with our series? Visit out bookshelf here and take advantage of the best price online.

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One reply on “How to effectively motivate your employees, Part 2”

Great article Ros. As a leader, one of the benefits of setting goals and aligning people to the big picture is that it frees you from having to monitor people on a daily basis to make sure they are getting stuff done. One of the interesting things I have found though, is that you can go too far with autonomy. You know when you do because the team member starts indicating a desire to have more direction.

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