Three little words that can ignite a workforce

A small change in the way you think about motivating your team could have a big impact on results. We count down the power of understanding and acting on your people’s autonomy, mastery and purpose.

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In the early days of Apple, Steve Jobs wanted John Sculley as his CEO. As the story goes, Sculley was reluctant to leave his highly successful career with PepsiCo
 until Jobs asked him: “Do you want to spend the rest of your life selling sugared water or 
do you want a chance to change the world?” Jobs had tapped into one of our most powerful motivators – the desire to do meaningful work. Sculley couldn’t resist – he took on the role of Apple Chief Executive in 1983.

It’s not all about the money

We tend to think of motivation in terms of a pay rise or a bonus, and it’s true that money can be an effective motivator for basic, repetitive tasks. But as early as the 1950s, psychologist Fredrick Herzberg dismissed a competitive salary as a way of eliminating dissatisfaction rather than inspiring achievement.

Since then, studies have compared the impact of extrinsic rewards such as money with intrinsic rewards such as personal satisfaction and accomplishment. In his book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, author Dan Pink says science shows there are three factors that lead to better performance: autonomy, mastery and purpose.

1. Autonomy: This is the desire to direct your own life and work – the opposite of being micromanaged. Pink gives the example of William McKnight (past president
and chairman of American multinational conglomerate 3M) who believed in hiring good people and leaving them alone. He gave technical staff time and the autonomy to work on projects of their own – and it was in downtime that, in 1974, 3M scientist Art Fry came up with the idea of Post-it notes.

2. Mastery: We’re programmed to get better
 at things that matter to us – we might play golf, learn the piano or dance the tango
for the sheer satisfaction of mastering 
a skill. At work, mastery can also be a powerful motivator when employees have the opportunity to develop their expertise. The challenge for employers is finding
 what Pink calls the ‘Goldilocks tasks’ – the ones that are ‘just right’, like the porridge Goldilocks eats in the fairy tale. That means difficult enough to be challenging but not so difficult employees lose heart and give up.

3. Purpose: Most people work to earn money for the things they need or want. But, according to a 2016 study by PwC, millennials are
 5.3 times more likely to stay loyal when they also have a strong connection to their employer’s purpose. The study also found that many employees crave an understanding of how the products and services they help
to create make a difference in the lives of others, especially through stories told by their colleagues and the customers themselves.

Build a loyal and productive workforce

When it comes to managing people in your own team, the first step is to find out what motivates each individual when they might not have given it much thought themselves. Tina Gaarn Christensen of talent development and coaching firm Leadinspire suggests the following open-ended questions can help identify both people’s drivers and how employers can best respond.

Mastery

  • What in your work do you find most inspiring and how can you become even better at that?
  • What do you need from your leader and colleagues to become even better?

Autonomy

  • What types of decisions do you feel comfortable making yourself?
  • What would it take for you to have a feeling of freedom and autonomy in your daily work?

Purpose

  • Is it important for you to feel you can recognise yourself in the company’s goals, and what areas of your role link to those goals?
  • Where does your contribution most inspire you?