If money doesn’t buy motivation, then what does?

by Noah, Nuer, Chief Learning Officer, Culture Change Partner, LaL

You want your employees to be motivated and outperform themselves. It’s good for the company and it’s good for you. One could argue, in fact, that it’s an intricate part of your job as a manager and a leader.

Yet how can you influence that when you can’t control other people’s motivation? I wish I could just tell them: “I command you to be motivated!” But at least we have ‘carrot and sticks’, rewards and punishments, and you know it works. That is so much a part of our education. And you go for the self-evident solution: I’ll promise a performance bonus — that will take their collective performance to the next level!

But it didn’t. Maybe it even made them worse. How does that make sense?



According to Daniel Pink, the best-selling author of Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, it does. In the video above, Pink presents what will motivate (or demotivate) your people, according to his research. This is a RSA Animate presentation, which takes the voice-over of a fascinating presentation and brings it to life by illustrating it with drawings and animation. The result makes for an entertaining, engaging and thought-provoking experience, at least in my experience.

In this video, Pink explains that the commonly held belief is that rewards bring more motivation while punishment brings less, and therefore, rewarding accomplishment with more money is the most effective way. However, research shows that this is only true for the basic rudimentary, straightforward tasks. As soon as a job requires conceptual or creative thinking, decision making, strategizing or leadership, then a larger financial reward doesn’t lead to a better performance but a poorer one!

Money is a motivator but in a counter-intuitive way, he says: You need to pay people well enough so that they don’t worry or think about their compensation anymore.

Then what are the real incentives here to better performance (and personal satisfaction)? The three following factors:

Autonomy (desire to be self-directed)
Mastery (urge to get better at stuff, to get challenged)
Purpose (he who only looks at profits, watches them shrink)

Interestingly, this discovery would also explain why people leave our workshops with so much energy. Without them realizing it, our methodology directly affects people’s sense of empowerment vis-a-vis these three factors. For instance, we look at the places in our life where we feel “At the Mercy” of events or people, and we explore how we can regain a sense of Autonomy (or be “At the Source”). We help people look at what is challenging for them, places they may have even concluded will never change, and we help them be on a path of learning and Mastery about them. And we always look at why we do what we do or why we would want to do something different as we find being connected to this deeper Purpose one of the strongest engines of motivation.

When have you felt particularly motivated or demotivated? Is it aligned or different with Daniel Pink’s presentation? And if you have known about these ideas, what has worked in applying them? What challenges have you faced?


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