A friend of mine recommended "Drive" by Daniel Pink on the golf course the other day. Since there was nothing redeemable about my golf game, I figured I should take his recommendation so I had something to show for the day.

The subtitle for "Drive" is "The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us." As the title would suggest, it's a book about how to motivate people, primarily employees, to do their best work. But, the title is deceiving on some levels: the truth about what motivates us is only surprising to an older generation of employers familiar with a different paradigm. Young executives, companies, and non-profits follow this book's advice almost intuitively.

The long story short: according to Pink the old model of motivation that depended on carrots and sticks are not only not helpful as motivators, they can be harmful. Instead, Pink's research has found that employees are best motivated when they have the ability to direct their own lives, the ability to improve at something that truly matters, and the ability to be a part of something bigger than themselves (autonomy, mastery, and purpose).

So long as pay and benefits are fair and equitable, money and benefits cease to be a good motivator for people over the long-term. They become unquenchable thirsts; they're never enough. At best, they cause employees to care less about doing a good job for the sake of a job well done (what self-respecting person would work harder unless the carrot keeps advancing too). At worst, they cause people to be unethical and dishonest.

Instead, companies with employees who thrive are companies who find a way to empower their employees to be as autonomous as possible, continuously improve their skills, and view the scope of their responsibilities in light of something that truly matters.

Pink's book is good, and based on fascinating research. The primary thrust of the book is on the science behind the theory, but the book isn't highly technical or a difficult read. The last part of the book gives a "toolkit" of ideas for leaders who want to grow in this area. If you are in a position of authority and need to motivate people well, "Drive" is definitely a book you'll want to pick up.


Casey said...

And his TED talk on motivation sums up a lot of his ideas from "Drive."