Motivation – It’s Not About The Money

Dan Pink knows something about what motivates us. In this RSAnimate video he shares some surprising findings about what really moves us to perform better, to do our best, to stretch ourselves.

The most general finding is that for all but purely mechanical tasks – anything that requires a bit of conceptual or creative thinking – higher rewards do not improve performance. In fact, they actually reduce performance!

Pink goes on to say that when people are paid enough that the issue of money is off the table – that is, so that they are thinking about the work, and not the money – performance is improved by three primary factors: autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Not surprisingly, these factors also improve personal satisfaction. And not surprisingly, a sociocratic organization supports these factors in multiple ways.

Autonomy is our desire to be self-directed, to choose our own course. In a sociocratic organization, circles – equivalent to divisions, departments, working groups, committees, teams, and so on in conventional organizational language – have considerable autonomy. They make their own policy decisions within their domain of work – they decide how to best do whatever it is they do, as well as how to measure and improve their performance, and they elect their fellow members to roles and tasks within the circle.

Contrast this with organizatons where a team, group, department or division is “managed” by some other person or part of their organization. Their autonomy is considerably more limited, if they have any at all. They do not get to decide how to best do what they do – someone else tells them, and performance (as well as possibly morale and collaboration) suffers.

Mastery is, as Pink puts it, our “urge to get better” at doing things. This is, for humans, satisfying, or what we might simply call “fun.” We actually like a challenge, at least some of the time. In a sociocratic organization, getting better at what we do is built into the organizational system. In a circle, we continually measure what we’re doing, and look for ways to do it better (whatever “better” means for us and what we do). This is true for the circle as a whole, and for each member of the circle.

These opportunities for mastery are further leveraged by the circle’s significant degree of autonomy. It’s not some other person or group that is telling us how to do what we do better – it’s us satisfying our own “urge to get better” at what we do. We may even contribute to mastery for others, by discovering some improvement in our work that can be adapted to what other circles are doing – and likewise they may contribute to us.

Purpose in an organization provides multiple benefits. For one, it attracts people who identify with that purpose, who have some similar idea of what is important and why. They are then working for more than just money – they are working for something they themselves “believe in,” thus often working with more committment and energy. Further, there is empirical evidence aplenty that when profit and purpose get separated – or when profit is the only apparent purpose – businesses actually do worse, not better, financially and otherwise. Pink points out several ways this may happen, and readers can no doubt identify more from their own experience.

A sociocratic organization explicitly pays attention to purpose, through the organization’s vision, mission and aim. And, each circle in the organization has clear aims which all circle members have consented to. Collectively, the aims of the circles within an organization fulfill the organization’s overall aim. In other words, everyone knows what the purpose of the organization is, as well as their piece of fulfilling that purpose.

Structures and processes that provide members with autonomy, mastery and purpose are built into sociocratic organizations. Such organizations by their very nature invite us to do our best, to perform better, to excel at whatever we do as a part of them.