Autonomy, Mastery, Purpose: Motivating Employees without Money

As a communication coach, I often work with people who lack motivation in their current job and they seek the people skills to make and effective career change. This is how I’ve learned there are a lot of de-motivated employees out there and a lot of companies which pay a huge cost for this.

Motivation and Money

We are typically taught to believe that money is the perfect motivator, to which all people react very well, every time. If you want an employee to work harder and to be more productive, give them more money for their good work.

Well, reality is not that simple. As modern research in psychology, sociology and economics clearly points out, money can only motivate employees up to a certain point. Beyond that point, we need to consider motivating employees without money, using other incentives.

This doesn’t mean that you can pay an employee a crappy salary and still have them motivated. Some employers need to understand this as well: a decent salary is a hygiene factor.

However, once an employee has a good salary, you often won’t be able to motivate them further with more money. This applies especially in complex, non-linear jobs.

I think Daniel Pink, the author of the book “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us” puts it nicely in this video, when he says (4:55): “The best use of money as a motivator is to pay people enough to take the issue of money off the table”. After you do that as an employer, the next step is mastering motivating employees without money.

Autonomy, Mastery, Purpose: The 3 Keys

There are 3 essential non-financial incentives which modern research consistently points out to work best. Daniel Pink also talks a lot about them.

  1. Autonomy. People want the freedom to work how they like, to set their own rules and conditions. They have the need to direct their own lives and their own work. This is why micro-managing employees is a bad idea.
  2. Mastery. People want to improve their skills, they want to continuously learn and get better at what they do. I’ve seen this many times as a coach: when a person feels they’re no loner growing, it’s the beginning of the end for their present job.
  3. Purpose. People want to contribute to something bigger than themselves. They want to feel their life/ work is meaningful and it serves a higher purpose, aligned with their highest values.

When employees have autonomy, mastery and purpose, extraordinary things happen, both for them and the organization. They are happy with their jobs, they are engaged and they deliver peak performance.

Going Beyond Talk

Autonomy, mastery, purpose – these are some shinny words. In practice, creating a work environment around these three non-financial motivators is not easy. It takes creativity, commitment and overcoming all sorts of obstacles.

I will often have a talk with a manager about people skills and using these motivators with their team, and I will hear an objection such as: “I would have to restructure the department to create purpose for my team. I can’t do that! That’s the HR’s job.”

No, it’s the manager’s job! I firmly believe that a good manager goes the extra mile to motivate their team, to help create autonomy, mastery, purpose. If the HR is in charge of restructuring a department, go talk to the HR and do all that you can to get their aid in motivating employees without money.

Many managers need to realize the real degree of influence they can achieve in a company, if they have the confidence, the people skills and the drive to really support their team. In my view, that’s what being a manger is all about.

Image courtesy of cszar

Personal Development Ideas I Can Do Without

I am going to hit the next person who gives one of the following ideas as personal development advice (this is bad, considering I’m an otherwise peaceful person):

  • Just be more confident;
  • Just be yourself;
  • Just be more positive;
  • Just be calmer.

Just, just, just. It just doesn’t work that way! There is a tone of self-improvement advice out there starting with the word “just” and then suggesting some pretty dramatic personal change, as if it’s simple as going to the supermarket.

With most of these ideas, we are addressing something which is more than just a behavior. We are addressing an attitude. Being confident is not just a way you act, talk and look. It’s a habitual way of thinking and reacting emotionally to various life situations, which is ingrained in your personality. To use some big and resonating words, it’s a complex psychological structure.

What does it take to change such psychological structures? Over time, I came to believe there is no magic pill. What works is consciously, gradually and systemically replacing old thinking patterns with new thinking patterns, old associations with new associations and thus, old emotions with new emotions. Plus, using the right tools and methods to do it. Then, you can act confident cause you can are confident.

The fact these personal development ideas do not work isn’t half as bad as the treatment some of the people who talk about them will give you. I’m starting to call them personal development assholes. They have at least one of two traits:

  1. They naturally have these ways of being they give advice on. So for them, “just be confident” seems like solid advice. Because already having the right internal setup, they can do it just like that.
  2. They have a superficial understanding of how human learning happens and the qualities self-improvement ideas require to be applied effectively.

When you try to put their advice into practice but you don’t seem to be able and you don’t get results, they just start accusing you using advanced personal development jargon: of not wanting it bad enough, of having secondary gains or of lacking willpower. So now, you don’t improve and you also feel guilty about it.

Trust me: when for example, every time you go to a party you feel miserable because you’re too shy to talk to anyone and have some fun, you want nothing more on the planet than to “just be more confident”. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. I’m sure a lot of the people giving this advice mean well, but they often do more harm than good.

The answer is not out there. It’s within. Personal development ideas that work take into account not just the external, but also the internal, to create deep and lasting self growth.