Motivation in the workplace is an on-going challenge for managers and employees alike. From my experience there is a widespread belief that people are only motivated by:

  • Money (more pay = better performance)
  • Public accolades (employee of the month)
  • Fear (be creative or get sacked)

While these factors are real, history and research suggests that they are not enough.

In his best-selling book 'Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us' [1], author Dan Pink has described the differences between the (hopefully) motivational techniques of businesses and (actual) behavioural outcomes of people. If you can't find the book, there is an animated summary of some of the main points from the RSA Animate video series [2].

The Short Version

More money doesn't improve performance. Really. No, really, really!

Giving your employees some control and a worthwhile vision is your best bet.

The Slightly Longer Version

As a motivator, money matters up to the point where it's no longer an issue. If I'm worried about paying the bills I may not have the capacity or willingness to take risks or innovate. Once I have enough, more wont improve my performance - the is not the same as saying that I wont be happier, only that the research shows I wont be better (and of course 'enough' varies between individuals)

What does work is giving people:Frame from RSA Aminate video

  • Autonomy - some control over their own efforts
  • Mastery - gaining or improving some skill or ability
  • Purpose - a worthwhile goal

Read the book, or at least watch the video for the full story.

What to do about it

In practice, what can you do? Here are some suggestions.

  • Pay people enough. Make money not an issue - there are relative as well as absolute amounts here. I might be paid 'enough' but if the person sitting beside me gets twice as much for doing the same job I'm not going to be impressed.
  • Clear guidance and certainty. Don't move me in and out of projects so I can't know what I'll be doing from one week to the next; don't promise time or resources that you can't deliver.
  • Get out of the way. Don't micro-manage; if I make a mistake, tell me and let me get it right, don't just take the job away from me.


[1] Dan Pink's web site.

[2] Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us video from Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce.