jeff meyers blog


Ever wonder what motivates people?  Really motivates them?  I’ve debated this question regularly with some of my colleagues in our hardwood lumber business.

Daniel Pink’s book Drive provides some surprising answers to this question.  Surprising because most experienced industry veterans think it comes down to one thing:  money.  Show me the money, they say.

While money does matter, Pink has a different view about what truly motivates people and drives results.  In fact, Pink argues that relying on money (or any external reward) can actually diminish performance, crush creativity, and foster short term thinking.  So what does motivate people?

Three things:  autonomy, mastery and purpose.  While money is not unimportant, according to Pink once people have a comfortable level of compensation these three things are what really matter.  Let’s unpack them one by one.

Pink says organizations tend to either “control” their people, or let them operate “autonomously.” Businesses that offer people autonomy have historically grown at a faster rate.  The dictionary defines “autonomy” as being independent, or self-governing.  In other words, giving people the freedom to decide what they should do, when they do it, how they’ll do it and with whom they will do it.  Sound scary?  Think it will lead to chaos?  Pink gives multiple examples where giving this kind of freedom to people led to intense engagement, and ultimately extraordinary business results (including the invention of Post-It Notes at 3M).

The second motivator Pink points to is “mastery”, or the desire to get better and better (even be one of the best!) at something that really matters.  When people are given the freedom to master a particular skill or field, they report getting into “the flow.”  I’m sure you’ve experienced being in “the flow” when you’re doing something you love, whether it’s skiing, hunting, baking, gardening, walking in nature, meditating or doing something else you really love.  When people are in “the flow”, they live deeply in the moment, they feel utterly in control, and their sense of time and place melts away.  Oh, and yes, they become more productive workers.  All this happens when a person feels they’re on the road to mastering something, becoming an expert in something that truly matters.

The final motivator comes from linking autonomy and mastery to a purpose people can see and buy into.  Pink provides a simple test to determine whether your people feel they’re working for a purpose.  Do they refer to the company as “we” or “they?”  If they refer to the company as “we”, they generally feel engaged by a purpose beyond a paycheck.  Pay attention for a week, and see how people refer to your organization or business.

I know you crusty, battle scared veterans are skeptical, probably even a bit cynical, about relying on anything other than money or external rewards to motivate.  But why not try it in a small part of your organization and see if it works.  It certainly worked for the several organizations Pink studied and describes in his book.

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"In the hardwood lumber industry, we can think of what we do as cutting logs and processing boards, or instead we can see our work as rearranging the raw materials of creation (trees) into useful products (chairs, tables, cabinets, floors) that help people to live better and more productively.

For me, viewing our work as rearrainging creation's raw materials is more motivating and inspiring, and brings dignity and meaning to all kinds of work."

Jeff Meyer

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