What motivates you?

I bumped into this very clever video the other day. Actually, one of our engineers posted the link on Yammer – but that’s another story…

It’s a 10 minute presentation by Dan Pink, author of the much acclaimed Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, which contains some really interesting insights drawing on four decades of scientific research on human motivation.

Most experts agree that money is never at the top of the list of factors which motivate people. Dan Pink agrees with this with one notable exception; higher pay equals better performance provided the job being performed involves only mechanical/repetitive tasks. Where work calls for anything beyond this, such as rudimentary cognitive skills, creativity and decision making, larger rewards can actually lead to poorer performance.

Personally I think there is a very simple sociological issue exposed here which does not get discussed. People who perform jobs that are very mechanical and repetitive tend to be less well paid.

Poorly paid people will respond to financial incentives. It’s blindingly simple. They need the money. People who routinely need to exercise their cognitive skills, creativity and make big decisions are by default paid much higher salaries. When you are paid a lot, financial incentives are far less compelling. They don’t need the money quite so much.

He does not exclude money completely as a work place motivator. If you don’t pay enough, people won’t be motivated. Pink’s fundamental premise is that provided you pay enough, and thereby take the issue of money off the table, then autonomy, mastery and purpose become the three main forces for motivation and engagement. I guess this is not inconsistent with Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, which most psychologists and sociologists seem to swear by.

The content of the video is very interesting in its own right, but what makes it a truly great find is the very clever and ever so engaging use of animation as an alternative to death by PowerPoint. I think they call it scribing, and a British company called Cognitive Media appear to be pioneering this stuff.

Honestly, it really works. Judging by the number of ‘likes’ and positive comments on the Yammer thread, people really enjoyed the experience. I found the technique quite riveting. Give it a bash; it is 10 minutes well invested if, like me, you are turned on by interesting new ways to communicate.

I was delighted to see Atlassian get a mention as well. Atlassian are right up there with Netflix and Zappos when it comes to promoting the importance of a strong company culture as a differentiator and source of genuine commercial advantage. In this context, Atlassian are held up as an example of the importance of autonomy at work.

Once a quarter, engineers at Atlassian are given 24 hours to work on whatever they want, with whoever they want, however they want. The only ask is at the end of the 24 hours they show the rest of the company what they have been up to. According to Dan Pink, that one day of “pure undiluted autonomy” has led to a whole array of fixes to existing software and a whole array of ideas for new products that otherwise would never have emerged. Instead of paying an innovation bonus, they take the view that “you probably want to do something interesting, let me just get out of your way.”

Google famously do the same with their 20% time and Yahoo call them Hack Days. I like!

Freedom and Responsibility at Netflix

Up until last September I’d never heard of Netflix. Then I stumbled across these slides which set out the key aspects of their corporate culture. Every now and again I return for a quick refresher to see how my own appreciation of the slides has changed.

It hasn’t. I love so much of what Netflix stands for. Especially the value they place on communication as a valued colleague behaviour (slide 11).

I recommend spending 15 minutes reading the whole slide deck. And stick with it – I almost stopped reading at slide 6 where they made a crude reference to Enron’s core values. If I had a pound for every time I’ve heard Enron’s core values used to highlight the danger of having a lovely sounding value statement that has no grounding in reality blah blah blah.

Persevere and you will be rewarded. Here are some of my personal highlights:

  • Some companies tolerate brilliant jerks – for us the cost to teamwork is too high
    (slide 34)
  • Good processes help talented people get more done – bad processes try to prevent recoverable mistakes
    (slide 61)
  • Netflix vacation policy and tracking – “there is no policy or tracking”
    (slide 68)
  • There is no clothing policy at Netflix, “but no one has come to work naked recently”
    (slide 68)
  • Netflix’s expenses policy – “Act in Netflix’s best interests”
    (slide 71)
  • No bonus, no stock options, no philanthropic matching – instead pay big salary and give staff the freedom to spend it as they think best
    (slide 106)

If it all sounds a little fanciful take a look at their 5 year graph. Looks to me like they’ve been riding out the global recession pretty well!