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Sunday, 26 November 2017

What Do Your People Want? It’s Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose!

Many years ago I went to a presentation in London by the renowned Professor of Marketing at Harvard, Theodore Levitt.  One of his maxims has lived with me ever since:

“If you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you there.”

I thought this to be brilliant until I recently fell across the following:

“If one does not know to which port one is sailing, no wind is favourable.”

This was said by the Roman philosopher Lucius Amaeus Seneca (4 BCE - 65 CE) so there isn’t much that is new under the sun.

It is perhaps self evident that if we start on a journey either physically or metaphorically, to a geographical destination or an objective of any sort it at least makes sense to have an idea of the final outcome.

I am in the process of listening to the audio version of an amazing book, Drive by Dan Pink (https://www.amazon.co.uk/Drive-Daniel-H-Pink/dp/184767769X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1511438548&sr=8-1&keywords=drive+by+dan+pink)

He demolishes the long held methodology that makes sense to encourage and reward good performance and punish poor performance.  On the face of it, it is better to motivate people by offering some sort of reward, be it monetary, other tangible or intangibles to make them work harder or more effectively, right?

Wrong.  A myriad of experiments have been conducted to show that this is just not the case.  Actually it is the case only if the task to be undertaken is purely mechanical and needs an algorithm to determine the rules for accomplishing the task.

In that case financial incentives can work and again this has been demonstrated in many psychological tests.

However, and it is a very big however, if there is only a small need for some sort of cognitive input to accomplishing a task then the science shows that not only do financial incentives not work but they can actually have a negative response.

This is counter-intuitive.  We can live with the idea that people are coin-operated because it seems to be logical but in fact, it isn’t true.

Dan Pink offers the theory, repeated by many eminent psychologists worldwide, that while we conventionally think that there are only two motivational drive both of which are extrinsic, that is, they operate from the outside inwards like financial reward, there is another far more significant driver that is intrinsic, that is, within all of us.

We all want and need three outcomes to give us satisfaction in work, play and indeed life itself:

  • Autonomy
  • Mastery
  • Purpose

Autonomy says that we much prefer and operate more effectively if we have control over what we are doing with the freedom to check and perhaps ask for assistance as necessary.  It has been said very sagely that it is demeaning to expect people to accomplish other people’s objectives.

Mastery means that we all want inherently to become expert at something whether in work or play, whether it is relevant or not.  Typical is the person who is learning to play the piano.  They don’t normally expect to become a virtuoso but are doing it for pleasure and for another step on the road to mastery.

Purpose  results from the achievement of autonomy and mastery.  We all need some purpose in our lives and not necessarily through the adoption of pure objectives.

In any case it has been found that short term objectives tend to subsume purpose.  They distract us from the greater good in the race to demonstrate achievement.

Leaders can take great lessons from this book.  Instead of using the sterile old fashioned methods that intensify the need for “management” of people we need to give our people the respect that they deserve by offering them autonomy in their working practices, the ability to achieve further steps to mastery and to encourage them to have purpose in their lives.

Take a look at the YouTube video, “RSA Animation Dan Pink” and start to change your life for the better.


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