Workplace Culture and Motivation: A review of Daniel Pink’s Drive

The most recent CIPR Inside #ICBookClub discussion focused on Daniel Pink’s Drive, which explores how culture in business or society is often at odds with the science on what motivates us as humans, and makes a compelling argument for change. Committee member Fa Mafi has written a fabulous summary of what you can expect from the book, enjoy!

Pink notes that there are different types of motivation – extrinsic and intrinsic. Extrinsic motivators come from external sources – the ‘carrot and the stick’ approach – if you perform an action, there is a consequence – which can be positive (e.g. a raise) or negative (e.g. reprimand). Intrinsic motivation comes from within the individual – you do something because you want to do it. One example that Pink draws in the book is that of Microsoft’s Encarta Encyclopaedia software, discontinued since 2009, comparing it to the thriving Wikipedia. Microsoft paid professionals to write Encarta, whereas Wikipedia is built on contributors who don’t get paid. But Wikipedia created higher quality than Encarta at no cost, with contributors gladly giving their time and efforts for no reward because of intrinsic motivation.

So how does this play out in the workplace?

Many workplaces are built on extrinsic motivation (which Pink also calls Motivation 2.0 – Motivation 1.0 being biological drive – our will to survive and biological needs). The assumption that we seek rewards and avoid punishments. We regularly see ‘the carrot and stick’ in effect at work, and, as internal communicators, deploy it ourselves sharing messages such as “Complete the survey and be in with a chance to win a prize!” or “Complete the mandatory training by 1 November” with the subtle indication through the ominous ‘mandatory’ that if the training isn’t completed on time, there will be consequences. Work culture in general can arguably be described as being built on a culture of Motivation 2.0 – we work for positive appraisals, for good bonuses. We avoid behaviours that would result in a poor review, officially warned, or fired.

But what about Motivation 3.0?

Pink argues that businesses need to upgrade to Motivation 3.0, which recognises the power of intrinsic motivation, built on the assumption that, besides biological urges and extrinsic motivation, humans also have a desire to learn, to create, and to make the world a better place. If companies create environments where this drive can come to the fore, their employees will be happier, more productive, and fulfilled. Pink notes the three elements of intrinsic motivation as being autonomy (the desire to direct our own lives), mastery (the desire to improve at something that matters) and purpose (the desire to serve something larger than ourselves).

Regarding autonomy – Pink argues that people need autonomy over the task itself (i.e. what they do), time (when they do it), and the technique (how they do it). As employees are intrinsically motivated, they won’t abuse this autonomy – the task will be completed, on their own terms. In terms of mastery, where rewards and punishments no longer motivate employees, businesses need to offer their employees something different – the opportunity to continuously improve. This will keep them in what Pink calls ‘flow state’ – where tasks aren’t too difficult, but are still adequately challenging. Finally, regarding purpose: in the 21st century, people care about the work that they do and don’t simply work for personal gains anymore. People seek meaningful work, with companies that they can connect with – and if employees cannot connect, it will be difficult to motivate them.

So how can Internal Communications support this shift to Motivation 3.0 at work?

It’s part of our gift to articulate the vision of a company in a way that will appeal to colleagues and make sense to them. I often think of the story of JFK and the cleaner at NASA. When JFK came across the cleaner, who was mopping the floor, he asked the man what his job was. He responded, “I’m helping put a man on the moon”. This worker had clear connection with his purpose – and NASA’s vision.

Moreover, when we work with stakeholders on their communications, we have the opportunity to highlight where they may be incentivising simply for incentive’s sake (or rather, trying to put lipstick on a pig). If we are only tenuously asking people to think, feel, behave a certain way (and by behave, I mean perform a certain action) and are covering the rationale up with a giveaway, we can flag this ‘carrot and stick’ approach. We can ensure that we’re also addressing other factors that motivate people in the communication, sparking Motivation 3.0 (although it’s arguable that if we are encouraging intrinsic motivation, it was never intrinsic in the first place!).

Finally, when working with stakeholders, we can flag when intrinsic motivation may be hampered by other factors in their plan. Looking at autonomy as an example – is your stakeholder setting an unrealistic deadline for some training? Are they only giving people one option to attend an employee learning session that may be of interest to a wide group – or is it only being held in one office? Even if the decision isn’t for Comms to make, we can (and in my opinion, should) act as the voice of the employee and use our influencing skills so that the communication around a certain activity does not hamper intrinsic motivation – such is the power of the ‘seat at the table’.v

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