Motivation for Higher Performance: The Purpose Motive v. the Profit Motive

02.07.2011 | Lindsey Turner

The “Purpose Motive” is a novel concept that purports that people are not motivated to perform at a higher level by money, but rather that performance is only driven by having a sense of purpose. Dan Pink, the author of four bestseller books on the changing world of business, claims the Profit Motive doesn’t work and that more stock should be placed in the Purpose Motive.

Why is any of this important? With rising costs due to longer learning curves, and larger investment in employees, it becomes critical that those costs can be recovered by the individual’s ability to create value for the company. Without motivation to go beyond the status quo, companies will sit idle. The companies that are thriving are the ones that are building environments that feed off of a common purpose, beyond profit margins. It is vital that managers have the ability to inspire their employees to do challenging and significant work with the potential and goal of mastery.

Dan Pink points out that there is overwhelming evidence that “more and more organizations want a transcendent purpose. It makes coming to work better, and that’s the way to get better talent.”  He goes on to say that observed through the research of MIT, several other universities, psychologists and economists, there are three factors that lead to better performance and personal satisfaction:

  1. Autonomy
  2. Mastery
  3. Purpose

 

The Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufacturers and Commerce (RSA) published an animated video (above) from Dan Pink’s speech, “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us.” I originally saw the video in Professor Ruth Huwe’s Management class at the University of Washington. I have now watched it dozens of times and showed it to many people who all have similar reactions, such as, “Wow that is so true” and “That’s exactly right.”

The concise 10-minute video accurately outlines what motivates us as human beings to perform at higher levels. In his talk, Pink debunks the idea of bonuses and raises to encourage or even affect performance levels. He goes against the basics of economics, but it is backed by study after study showing that performance is only driven by money for tasks involving mechanical skill. Once a task involves any level at or above rudimentary, cognitive skill, money no longer can drive performance. If you don’t pay people enough, motivation is decreased, but pay people enough to take the issue of money away, and now the fundamental motivators will determine performance levels.

I was most intrigued by the example given of an Australian software company called Atlassian that gives employees 24 hours of “undiluted autonomy.” Once a quarter this company throws an office party and tells the employees to work on whatever they want for the next 24 hours as long as they show what they have done. The Results: That one day of autonomy produced answers to software dilemmas and innovations that would have never came to be otherwise.  Pink explains it this way, “You probably want to do something interesting… let me just get out of your way.”


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