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3 motivating factors far more powerful than money

Motivating employees is not only a great way of boosting self-confidence but it is also a tool that can help you increase business profitability.



When it comes to motivating your employees, there really are some things money just can’t buy.

Conventional economic wisdom tells us that the more you pay someone, the harder they work. According to Daniel Pink, however, nothing could be further from the truth.

In a TED Talk on the power of motivation, the acclaimed business author sought to shed light on something social scientists know, but managers seem hesitant to accept. Motivation can come from a number of places. For unskilled labor, money is a fantastic motivator, but when it comes to skilled workers, countless experiments have proven that an unreasonably large paycheck often results in lower quality work.

So what’s the best way to motivate your employees, if bonuses aren’t cutting it? Here are three motivating factors in the workplace, according to Daniel Pink:


Autonomy, or our desire to direct our own lives, often seems out of place within the traditional management model. After all, most companies structure themselves around the notion that people are most productive when they are kept accountable within a hierarchy.

If you want your employees to really engage, however, Pink argues that a little freedom can go a long way.

In his book, Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us, Pink uses the example of Atlassian, a software company from Australia. Once a quarter, the company gives its developers a “ShipIt Day,” in which they have 24 hours to create and deliver an original project.

The result? This brief, burst of autonomy has generated incredible solutions for the company, ranging from software fixes to ideas for new products. No pay increase necessary—just unstructured time.

If you want your employees to really engage, give them the freedom to work on their own projects.

If you want your employees to really engage, give them the freedom to work on their own projects. (Source)


Mastery, or the itch to keep improving at something important to us, is another great motivational tool.

Many people, for instance, probably practice musical instruments in their free time, regardless of their vocation. Why? After all, learning the piano won’t help them get a bonus at work.

The fact is, the satisfaction we gain from mastering skills we value is ultimately a more powerful motivator than even the most jaw-dropping bonus. Not convinced? Just look at Wikipedia: thousands of people expending time and effort toward a well-finished product, not a paycheck.

One way to use mastery as a motivational tool is to provide clear progress markers so that employees can see how far along on a project they’ve come. Seeking mastery requires engagement, and with benchmarks signifying progress, employees are inclined to be more actively engaged and in turn productive.


Finally, Pink claims that purpose—the sense that our actions contribute to something larger than ourselves—is a better motivator than money.

Every company has a mission statement. The key to motivating your employees is making that mission statement something they want to strive towards.

At Apple, Pink explains, they want to put a “ding” in the Universe. At Skype, they want to disrupt the status quo and make the world a better place by doing it.

We might be profit-maximizers in business, but we are also purpose-maximizers. Giving your employees a sense that their work makes a difference is an enormous motivator to come to work each morning ready to give their all.

Of course, Daniel Pink isn’t advocating that you stop paying your employees. In order for this kind of motivation to work, Pink points out, you have to pay employees well enough to keep money-related concerns off the table.

But when it comes to truly motivating the troops, dial back the carrot and stick motivators. Instead, focus on the ideas of autonomy, mastery, and purpose to maximize your employees’ creative potential.

DISCLAIMER: This article expresses my own ideas and opinions. Any information I have shared are from sources that I believe to be reliable and accurate. I did not receive any financial compensation in writing this post, nor do I own any shares in any company I’ve mentioned. I encourage any reader to do their own diligent research first before making any investment decisions.

Ken is the Senior Vice President and Chief Learning Officer at BigSpeak. Ken's main focus is marketing and partnering with Fortune 1000 clients to create specialized consulting programs with effective leadership development objectives. Ken is also responsible for BigTechnology, an initiative to develop best-of-breed learning management systems for BigSpeak's clients. Ken's background includes working with KPMG as a technology and management consultant, co-founding a technology company (cloud computing), co-founding an international, vertically integrated manufacturing company and working as Executive Vice President at a boutique asset management firm charged with operating real estate and hospitality assets. Ken holds a Ph.D. in Organizational Leadership from the University of California, an M.B.A. from Babson College and earned his B.A. in Communication and Applied Psychology from the University of California.