Pink’s Motivation Principles

Behavioral research has taught us a great deal about what motivates people.

August 1, 2011

Behavioral research has taught us a great deal about what motivates people. But, unfortunately, most organizations have ignored the research and continue to practice terribly outdated methods of employee motivation.

That’s the message author Dan Pink shared with attendees at CUNA’s 2011 America’s Credit Union Conference (ACUC) & Expo in San Antonio.

Most organizations continue to use “if/then” motivators to try to increase employee and organizational performance—“if” employees perform at superior levels, “then” employers will reward them, Pink said.

“If/then motivators were popular in the 19th and 20th centuries, and they work well for simple, routine, mechanical tasks,” he explained. Today’s research has shown if/then motivators don’t work well with complex problems that require innovation and creativity. And most 21st century workplaces are full of complex problems that require innovative solutions.

To move beyond if/then motivators, Pink proposed credit unions practice three principles of motivation:

  1. Autonomy. Give staff more independence to invent their own solutions to company issues.
  2. Mastery. “People love to get better at things,” Pink said. So, give constant feedback.
  3. Purpose. Tell employees why they’re doing certain tasks, using

the purpose motive, not the profit motive.

‘Fear is normal’

Adventurist Alison Levine told attendees that when approached to lead the first American Women’s (Mt.) Everest Expedition, she turned it down, doubting herself.

“But if I didn’t step up and try, I wouldn’t find out if I could do it,” she said.

So whether running a business—or climbing amountain—Levine’s advice:

  • Pick team members wisely;
  • Break down overwhelming tasks;
  • Accept that sometimes you must backtrack to move ahead;
  • Know fear is normal, but complacency can kill you;
  • Be ready to react to a changing environment;
  • Build relationships, because you may need help one day; and
  • Evaluate risks thoroughly.

Explore stimuli

Credit union members are “here to challenge you,” said author Doug Hall. “If your organization isn’t meaningfully unique, you’d better
be cheaper.

“Use innovation to reboot and restart your growth curve,” Hall said. “There’s never been a better time [to do so] than now.” The average member is aging and in the continual changes going on today, management hasn’t adapted.

How to be more innovative, according to Hall:

  • Explore stimuli, instead of dwelling on brainstorming;
  • Leverage diversity of ideas;
  • Turn employees into marketers who can solve problems; and
  • Inform customers why they should care.

Be yourself

Through his travels and interviews, Eric Saperston sought the importance of meaning in everyday living from people “who get up in the morning excited, and who go to bed at night fulfilled.”

“People are afraid to speak their possibility out loud to others for fear of judgment, being ostracized,” Saperston said. “Be yourself, because everyone else is taken.”