These are my summary reflections from the Catalyst East Conference in Atlanta, GA.  The theme this year was “The Tension is Good”, so the speakers mostly used their talks to explore various tensions we all feel in Leadership.  I don’t summarize every speaker.

Session two featured Dan Pink, author of the very excellent Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us.  His talk was sort of an executive summary of the findings he presents in Drive.

Every leader has a motivating tension that emerges from one of three spheres:

  1. Biological drives (Andy’s appetites)
  2. Rewards/punishments
  3. Contribution to the larger world

What’s surprising is that the second drive is only effective in a small range of circumstances.

The best way to motivate someone is to make him/her feel as though s/he is contributing to the world at large.

Caveat: Money is a motivator.  If you don’t pay someone enough, you won’t get quality work.  But more isn’t more.  Once someone is earning ‘enough’ (whatever that looks like), a higher salary isn’t an effective motivator.  So pay your people enough to take money off the table.

So what does motivate people?

1. Autonomy

We think management is a force of nature, but it’s not.  Management is a technology from the 1850s.  How many other technologies from the 1850s are we still using?

Imagine that you had the best, most functional telegraph (built in the 1940s) in history.  You still wouldn’t use it because an outdated technology you refine is still outdated.

Management achieves compliance.  But we want engagement, not compliance.

We want autonomy over our time, tasks, teams and techniques.  How can we create systems that encourage autonomy in our people?

Examples: Google, Dell, Best Buy (corporate)

2. Mastery

Being able to see that we’re making progress is what motivates us, and feedback is the best way to chart mastery.  The younger generations live in a feedback rich world – everything we do from turning on the TV to sending a text gives us immediate feedback.

Even so, our work environments are feedback deserts.  What the older generations often perceive as a deep-seated insecurity is actually a hunger for feedback in one of the places it matters the most: our work.

Annual performance reviews are a joke, and almost completely ineffective.  Consider the DIY Performance Evaluation.  At the beginning of each month, create clear, measurable goals for yourself and then at the end of each month, evaluate yourself.

3. Purpose

A great person has one simple sentence that states his/her purpose, not a convoluted paragraph.

Examples: “Abraham Lincoln preserved the Union and freed the slaves.”
“FDR led us out of a depression and helped us win a world war.”

So ask, “Am I better today than I was yesterday?”

Carrots & Sticks are so last century.  For the 21st century, we need to upgrade to autonomy, mastery and purpose.

BONUS! Here’s a sweet video of a similar talk:

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