I recently read Dan Pink’s book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, and it made me realize (1) this is how we ideally manage people in technology already; and (2) what he describes is what Generation Y and Millenials expect, making it the future of people management in general.

Daniel Pink’s Drive: a summary

Pink says that people are no longer motivated by traditional carrots and sticks. Rather, they are increasingly motivated to do great work by three factors:

  1. Autonomy: Control over WHAT you do and HOW you work, while retaining accountability for results.
  1. Mastery: The opportunity to improve performance through learning, practice, and feedback.
  1. Purpose: A bigger and meaningful reason for doing what you’re doing.

With these three factors, employees are intrinsically motivated to do their work, and are thus happier, more engaged, more creative, more productive, and more satisfied.

And that’s it! The rest of the book is bloated anecdotes and a few do-it-yourself ideas, but if you want more, you should just watch Dan Pink’s SUPER! AMPED! TED talk.

Do the techniques in Drive really increase motivation?

I think they help, but not for all workers.

For some workers and some industries, the “Drive” principles are excellent. For those of us in knowledge industries like technology, I think managing this way is second nature, and it creates better, more creative outcomes.  Also, young people — the Generation Ys and Millennials — expect to be managed this way.  Older folks may consider them whiners, but in reality, they’re just ahead of the curve: they want to have a real say in what they do, and why not?

Yet there are still many workers for whom the “carrots and sticks” approach — or more strictly speaking, a top-down management approach — is still quite important. Certain individuals with less formal education or from more hierarchical cultures may be bewildered by a great deal of autonomy and flexibility. Certainly these principles would lead to a great deal of unhappiness in many international contexts I know. Thus a clever manager should always gauge how much autonomy, mastery, and purpose will motivate an individual, while shoring up gaps with direct instructions and incentives.

Finally, increased internal motivation — for any type of worker — cannot make up for poor compensation or inconsistent management. If workers are underpaid or executives keep changing the goal posts on them, then they will lose hope and eventually leave.

In any case, this style of management does correspond with how I like to manage people and how I’ve been successful managing others.  Plus, I think it’s more human and humane way to manage people.  And anything that can improve the humanity and creativity of our business culture is a good thing.

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