HR Management & Compliance

Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us

What really motivates people at work? Is it money? Is it recognition? Not according to Daniel Pink.

Pink, in his book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, maintains there are three things that truly motivate us:

  1. Autonomy – the freedom to choose task, time, technique, and team
  2. Mastery – the desire to get better and better at something that matters
  3. Purpose – the desire to pursue a cause larger than ourselves

It’s a compelling read full of documented research and interesting stories that support Pink’s thesis. A lot of what is covered in the book challenges conventional wisdom. In fact, some of the ideas would cause many business executives to break out in a cold sweat.

Let me give you an example. One of the stories in the book centers on a company that creates computer software and hardware to help hospitals integrate their information systems. The company, Meddius, is run by Jeff Gunther.

Gunther has turned Meddius into a ROWE, which stands for a results-only work environment. Gunther doesn’t care when people show up for work or where they do their work. He only cares about results. Each person has specific goals they must reach, but how they reach them is totally up to them. And if they need help, Gunther is there to provide it.

Now here’s where it gets really interesting. Gunther, who is in his early thirties, says, “My dad’s generation views human beings as human resources. They’re the two-by-fours you need to build your house. For me, it’s a partnership between me and the employees. They’re not resources. They’re partners.”

Gunther is questioning the organizational structure and management approach of almost every company in America. In its place, he’s advocating for a workplace where people can come and go, where they direct their own activities so long as they are meeting established goals.

Not all that far-fetched, but still it’s enough to drive many managers crazy. I, for one, once worked for a boss who was a slave to the clock. How would she react if the clock just didn’t matter any more? How would she manage without the ability to measure her people’s productivity based on hours in the office?

Gunther freely admits that not everyone embraced his approach. “Some people thought I was crazy. They wondered, ‘How can you know what your employees are doing if they’re not here?’” A couple of the employees who had a difficult time adjusting to this degree of freedom left.

So is Gunther right about American-styled management being an old-fashioned idea that should go the way of the buggy whip? Is it true that most companies treat people like cogs in a wheel? Before you answer, think for a moment. Do we tell people when they need to be at work? Do we give them specific tasks to work on and tell them how and where they are to do them? And do we tell them that if they follow directions by working the expected hours and complete the tasks in the manner that is dictated, then they will get paid and will keep their jobs?

Be honest about your approach. If this is how you manage, you’re clearly in the majority. That’s usually a pretty safe place to be, but is it right? Are you treating people like trusted partners or like they’re part of an assembly line that is managed from above?

The key word in the last sentence is “trusted.” I’m big on trust in the workplace. To be a successful manager, you need to develop trust with the people with whom you work. You need to trust that most people want to do a good job and be successful. Most won’t disappoint.

Much of the way we manage is based on lack of trust. We want to control every detail (time, task, technique, and team) to get the results we’re aiming for. We assume that people will do the very least possible to get by. We take for granted the fact that without us driving them and creating goals and incentives, our employees would cease to work.

But what if Jeff Gunther and Daniel Pink are right? What if you could let go and give people autonomy over their work? Could you create a team of innovative contributors, each finding a way to accomplish the task in a way that works for them? Your job would be to get these people the resources necessary for them to succeed and then measure the results. Doesn’t that sound like fun for everyone?

Maybe we should all give it a try!

Dan Oswald is president of M. Lee Smith Publishers LLC and author of The Oswald Letter. Before coming to MLSP, he was president of Lawrence Ragan Communications, Inc. (1996 to 2003) marketing manager at Aspen Publishers, Inc., and a graduate of Westmar College.