If we pay people more money or give them a big bonus, they’ll work harder for us, right? Hi my name is Bernie Heine, and I’d like to talk right now little bit about some of the modern science on motivation.

Is Money a Good Incentive?

I have this conversation with a lot of senior leaders that believe ‘well, we just have to pay our people more money and they’ll do all the things we want them to do’. But, as Daniel Pink talks about in his book Drive, there are other factors that motivate today’s knowledge workers. While dollar incentives still work very well for people that are doing algorithmic work or manual labor type things – if I pay you a little bit more money will you work a little bit faster to build this wall or paint this room, etc. – sure, those incentives still work and you can get people to work harder and do more work if you pay them a lot more money. But when we talk about knowledge workers, it actually works the other way.

How to Motivate Employees Without Using Money

There has been a lot of experimenting done with people to find out that the more money I incent people with to do creative work, the lower their performance. What really drives people, the number one thing, is autonomy. Knowledge workers want to know that they can pick their own teams, their own work schedule, their own way of going about setting up the work. The second thing that’s really important is mastery – am I able learn new things on the job? Is my employer putting me through a training program allowing me to learn new stuff, maybe cross-functional, maybe learn about a different department, getting involved with people from another part of the organization? – so, mastering new things. That motivates people. That’s why people learn how to play musical instruments. Most people don’t learn to play the guitar or the piano because they want to be a professional musician, they do it because it’s cool to learn new stuff and it gives people motivation to know that they’re getting better at something every time they try. The third motivational factor is purpose. People want to know that what they’re doing has real purpose in life. It’s something that aligns with their own values, their own purpose for being. And if they can get behind the purpose of the company, if they know it well, if they believe in it, that’s really motivating to them.

Worker Autonomy

So it’s not always about paying people an extra dollar for something, or paying them the innovation bonus, or raising their salaries that’s going to get people out of bed in the morning and excited to work in your company. But it’s giving them a certain amount of autonomy so that they can pick and choose the things they want to do maybe, and the way they want to do it, giving them some leeway. The other one is mastery, or giving them the opportunity to learn and experience new things and get better at what they’re doing, excel in their own job. Then finally it’s about maximizing purpose, what do we believe in, what do they believe in, the mission of the company, and really wrap their heads around it to do great things and experience a life that they want to live.