Do You Know How To Motivate Your Team?

motivation, daniel pink

When I started to build my first team, I was interested in understanding what motivates people. Realizing that every person has a unique personality and a distinct set of personal circumstances, I wanted to know how to motivate each team member in a fair and consistent way while respecting their individuality. I could not think of a better person to help me with my goal than Daniel Pink, and I quickly purchased his book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. The findings in the book were indeed surprising, but not for the reasons one may assume. Everything that I learned in it resonated with me on a deep level. The big surprise was that too many of the ideas the book expressed were still not part of every company and every team.

The reason for that is most organizations do not understand what motivates people. Many leaders have outdated views rooted in management philosophy that originated over 100 years ago. I will never forget when an HR professional told me that the goal of each organization is to get as much as possible from each employee while paying them as little as possible. He cited Henry Ford as the source of this insight.

Although I was surprised that an HR professional in the twenty-first century could still hold such beliefs, unfortunately, I soon found that his views were quite common. It is all ingrained in history, and Pink talked about that at the beginning of the book. Motivation has undergone three major phases of development, or what Pink calls Motivation 1.0, Motivation 2.0, and Motivation 3.0.

Motivation 1.0

Motivation 1.0 existed prior to the Industrial Revolution. It was about gathering food and physical survival, i.e., not getting bitten by a lion.

Motivation 2.0

The Industrial Revolution was the beginning of Motivation 2.0, which is when a system of "carrots and sticks" entered the business practice. It was based on the idea that employees seek rewards and avoid punishment. Many organizations are still stuck in the Motivation 2.0 mode, and that is why they believe that as long as they offer their employees basic salary, some benefits, and a few perks, they are motivating their workforce. These same leaders also believe that management must exert control and require compliance. Those beliefs encompass extrinsic or external motivators, and while that is still common practice at many organizations, operating with a Motivation 2.0 mindset leads to a slew of problems.

The "carrots and sticks" approach crushes individuals' creativity. If you think about how most corporate rewards systems work, you realize that they rely on the "if-then" motivators. If you meet your sales quota, then you will get a bonus. If you process 100 applications, then you will earn a prize. If you comply with our processes, then maybe we will give you a 3% raise a year from now. Contrast these staple stifling business practices with how inventors, artists, and scientists stir creative thinking. Inventors are usually absorbed in their work. They find it interesting and challenging. They are intrinsically driven to produce, rather than being incentivized by a 3% raise.

The rewards and punishment approach promotes undesirable behavior, diminishes performance, and fosters short-term thinking. These outcomes apply to both the work and home environments. When organizations have to meet their quarterly milestones, they are more inclined to pursue initiatives that will produce short-term results at the expense of long-term success. At home, if you pay your child to take out trash as a way to motivate him/her to help out, the child will unlikely ever take out the garbage for free in the future. Further compliance with the household chores will require additional financial incentives.

Ultimately, Motivation 2.0 does not align with the twenty-first-century business models or economics, or where the work is heading. Routine, boring, mundane jobs are getting automated. Creative, interesting, self-directed jobs are the way of the future. In order to create an environment where meaningful work can thrive, organizations must evolve to Motivation 3.0.

Motivation 3.0

Motivation 3.0 is founded on the three psychological needs: autonomy, competence, and relatedness. When those needs are satisfied, employees are motivated, happy, and productive. When the work environment is not conducive to fulfilling those needs, then it is not surprising that employees are unmotivated, unhappy, and unproductive. In his research, Pink discovered:

"The science shows that the secret to high performance isn't our biological drive or our reward-and-punishment drive, but our third drive - our deep-seated desire to direct our own lives, to extend and expand our abilities, and to make a contribution."

Intrinsic motivation is much more powerful than external rewards. Have you noticed that the most successful people do not typically pursue conventional notions of success? They work extremely hard and persist through all kinds of difficulties, all because of their internal desire to accomplish something bigger than themselves, control their lives, and learn about the world in the process.

We need to move away from the "carrots and sticks" approach and adopt a new approach, consisting of three elements:

  1. Autonomy
  2. Mastery
  3. Purpose

Autonomy deals with our desire to self-direct our lives. Instead of having someone tell us what to do it, when to do it, and how to do it, people excel more when they have a choice and when they can complete work their own way. Pink succinctly states, "Control leads to compliance; autonomy leads to engagement." This is why he suggests organizations should focus on what their employees get done instead of how many hours they work.

Mastery ignites a devotion to making progress and becoming better at something that matters. Pink found that human desire for an intellectual challenge is the best predictor of productivity. People are motivated and engaged when they make progress. Without anyone asking, they want to put in additional effort. Effort gives meaning to life because it shows that we are working on something we care about and something important to us.

Purpose is about working towards a goal bigger than ourselves. One way to make someone's job more meaningful is to explain how it fits within a larger purpose. Sharing the mission bonds people and provides them with a deeper satisfaction from work.


If leaders want to motivate their employees, they should look past the external motivation approach of the Industrial Revolution. The "carrots and sticks" or "rewards and punishment" management practices do not work in today's environment, and they should not be a part of the future of work. Intrinsic motivation is what leads to higher performance. A manager’s role is not to control employees and enforce compliance. In contrast, "management is about creating conditions for people to do their best work," says Daniel Pink.

People flourish when they work in an environment where their intrinsic psychological needs are met. They have higher self-esteem, stronger relationships, and better well-being. Embracing Motivation 3.0 will ensure that in the future, all employees can have meaningful work.

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