What’s the best way to motivate employees? Career analyst Dan Pink gave a fantastic presentation at the TEDGlobal 2009 conference titled “The Puzzle of Motivation,” where he discussed the science behind extrinsic vs. intrinsic motivators. His contention is that there “is a mismatch between what science knows and what business does” when it comes to rewarding employees. “Too many organizations,” he says, “are making their decisions, their policies about talent and people, based on assumptions that are outdated, unexamined, and rooted more in folklore than in science.” What does science know? That intrinsic motivators are more effective, especially for information age workers with difficult problems to solve.
I’ve been managing this way for years: When you take salary off the table (pay people fair market value), then your employees can focus on what really rewards them: doing their best, advancing their skills, and making a difference. I blundered across this approach over many years of trial and error running companies, but it’s nice to know that the science is behind me. In a future post I will discuss a total approach to compensation that utilizes these principles. Check out Dan’ short (18 minute) presentation here: