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Sunday, 25 November 2018

What Do Our 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 shape of the final outcome.

I frequently hear members of my Vistage CEO peer group discussing how to motivate their people or at least some of them. The quick answer is that you can’t.  The best that you can achieve is to provide an environment in which people can motivate themselves should they so desire it.

Coincidentally I am currently 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.  We all know that it is sensible to motivate people by offering some sort of reward to encourage them to work harder or more effectively.  Right?

Wrong.  A myriad of experiments have been conducted to show that frequently this is just not the case.  

However, and it is a very big however, if there is only a small need for some sort of cognitive input to accomplish a task then the science shows conclusively 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 just isn’t true.

Dan Pink proposes the concept, repeated by many eminent psychologists worldwide, that intrinsic drivers are far more effective than extrinsic or those imposed from outside inwards.

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 at 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.

Leaders can take great lessons from this book.  Instead of continuing to use the sterile 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.

Be astonished.  Read Dan Pink’s book, “Drive”.  Take a look at the YouTube video, “RSA Animation Dan Pink” and start to change your life for the better.


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