Pink’s Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose Framework
Why do you work? What’s your motivation? Is it the prospect of that end-of-year bonus? The promotion that you’ve been promised? Or do you just, quite simply, love what you do?
Many people work in environments that are dominated by “stick and carrot” motivation: do well and you’ll get a reward, but do badly and you’ll be punished. However, with this approach, the satisfaction of doing a job well can often get lost in the drive for praise and promotion.
Research on employee engagement suggests that people perform better when they are motivated. But there’s still widespread debate about whether traditional motivational strategies, like “stick and carrot,” really work.
So, in this article, we explore a model that casts away the idea of reward and punishment as motivational tools and, instead, focuses on what it takes to make people really care about what they do.
What is Motivation 3.0?
In his 2009 book, “Drive,” Daniel Pink sets out a new vision for workplace motivation, which he labels “Motivation 3.0.” So called, he explains, because it’s an upgrade from primitive survival (“Motivation 1.0”) and from the culture of reward and punishment that we find in most businesses (“Motivation 2.0”).
Pink’s theory is drawn from research undertaken by psychologists Harry Harlow and Edward Deci in 1971. They discovered that rewards can fail to improve people’s engagement with tasks, and may even damage it. Another study was carried out by professors at MIT in 2017, and recorded similar findings.
Pink argues that traditional “carrot and stick” approaches to motivation are becoming outdated, and do not adequately address the needs of the creative and innovative workplaces of the 21st century. Despite this, extrinsic motivation, or “Type X” behavior (motivating people using rewards external to work), is often deep-rooted, particularly among older employees who are accustomed to it.
In contrast, intrinsic motivation, or “Type I” behavior (when people are self-motivated because they are given the freedom to do the work they enjoy), is increasingly common in modern workplaces, where routine work is often outsourced. In these kinds of environments, innovation and creativity are key. So, it’s essential that people are allowed to thrive by doing work that they are truly passionate about.
You can learn more about the different approaches to motivation in our article, Motivation.
The Three Key Components of Intrinsic Motivation
According to Pink, intrinsic motivation is based on three key factors: Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose. Let’s look at each factor in more detail:
Autonomy is the need to direct your own life and work. To be fully motivated, you must be able to control what you do, when you do it, and who you do it with.
According to Pink, autonomy motivates us to think creatively without needing to conform to strict workplace rules. By rethinking traditional ideas of control – regular office hours, dress codes, numerical targets, and so on – organizations can increase staff autonomy, build trust, and improve innovation and creativity.
Motivation by autonomy is often used by software companies, many of which give their engineers time to work on their own development projects. This gives them the freedom to try out and test new ideas, which can deliver benefits to the organization, such as improved processes or innovative solutions.
Mastery is the desire to improve. If you are motivated by mastery, you’ll likely see your potential as being unlimited, and you’ll constantly seek to improve your skills through learning and practice. Someone who seeks mastery needs to attain it for its own sake.
For example, an athlete who is motivated by mastery might want to run as fast as she possibly can. Any medals that she receives are less important than the process of continuous improvement.
People may become disengaged and demotivated at work if they don’t understand, or can’t invest in, the “bigger picture.”
But those who believe that they are working toward something larger and more important than themselves are often the most hard-working, productive and engaged. So, encouraging them to find purpose in their work – for instance, by connecting their personal goals to organizational targets using OKRs or OGSMs – can win not only their minds, but also their hearts.
Offering staff the chance to use their skills to benefit local non-profits, for example, can foster a strong sense of purpose. As can developing a value- or ethics-led company vision that encourages people to “buy in” to its key organizational goals.
How to Build an Intrinsically Motivated Team
Making the change to a culture that focuses on intrinsic motivation can be daunting, particularly for organizations that are built on traditional reward and punishment models. But, Pink argues that – over time, and with practice – Type I behavior can be learned.
The following four strategies can help you to encourage your team to become more intrinsically motivated:
1. Try Out “10 Percent Time”
Give team members the chance to spend 10 percent of their working time on a project of their own choice.
These projects should fall outside of their day-to-day work, but offer benefits to your business. Fixing a software bug or finding ways to improve a process, for instance.
A team that’s already very busy and overworked, or that is facing a crisis, may not welcome 10 Percent Time, and may even see it as an additional burden. This view could be shared by senior management – if you are currently behind on your core targets, for example. So, think carefully about whether this strategy is feasible for your team and when best to introduce it.
2. Take Steps to Give Up Control
Relinquish (some) managerial control in favor of giving your team members more autonomy. You can do this by:
- Involving people in setting their own goals – individuals will likely be more engaged in their work when they pursue goals that they have helped to create.
- Reducing controlling language – instead of saying “you must” or “you should,” use terms like “consider doing” or “think about doing.”
- Having open-door hours – set aside time when people can come and talk to you about business or personal issues, without fear of judgment or censure.
3. Develop “Goldilocks Tasks”
“Goldilocks tasks” are, as the name suggests, tasks that are neither too hard nor too easy, but “just right.” They are team projects that encourage focus and flow, and which can aid the development of mastery.
These types of tasks resemble stretch goals – ambitious targets that challenge what people deem possible. They should stretch your team members and enable them to develop their skills.
Goldilocks tasks often involve collaborative work and have clear end goals. This helps to promote a sense of purpose. For example, you could ask your team to resolve bottlenecks in a product distribution system, or to improve your organization’s customer service interface.
4. Promote Collaboration and Cross-Skilling
If your team has lots of skills to offer, you can put them to good use by allowing your team members to move between functions. And you can promote cross-skilling or up-skilling by encouraging them to share their skills and collaborate with others as part of your wider learning culture.
“Hot desking” (where people have no fixed desk and can sit in a different place each day) is a good way to facilitate this. It enables people to choose who they work with, and promotes knowledge sharing between members of different teams.
However, think carefully before introducing hot desking. There may be competition for space, and noise levels can sometimes build up and cause distractions. So, consider setting some ground rules before introducing hot desking.
For instance, you could ask people to clear their desks at the end of each day to avoid a build-up of clutter. And, if a team is working on an important project where communication is essential, make sure that they are able to sit together.
Make sure that these strategies don’t go against your organization’s objectives or policies, and that you get signoff from senior management before introducing any of them. Otherwise they could end up being disruptive rather than helpful.
Avoiding Potential Pitfalls
In many organizations, developing autonomy, mastery and purpose will likely involve a cultural shift. So, think carefully about how the framework fits with your organization’s activities and structure before introducing it.
Organizations that work to strict deadlines and protocols, and which consequently have a very strong Type X culture, may find this kind of motivational framework difficult, or even harmful. These could include, for example, law firms where professional standards are very important, or large production or manufacturing plants where process is key. Similarly, companies or teams that already have bonus schemes in place will likely find it hard to make the switch.
Even in the creative industries, which are Pink’s primary focus, your people still need to know that their basic needs, such as security and safety, will be met. Avoid interpreting Pink’s focus on intrinsic motivators as a green light to forget extrinsic ones.
Bear in mind that causes of satisfaction and dissatisfaction can be complex, and that Pink’s framework isn’t a “fix-all” remedy. Even if your team members love their jobs, they may still be demotivated by other factors, such as poor working relationships, for example.
In his 2009 book, “Drive,” Daniel Pink proposes a new motivational model that he believes is a better fit for today’s creative and innovative workplaces.
Pink’s model focuses on enabling people to become intrinsically motivated – that is, using internal drives as a source of motivation. He calls this behavior “Type I.” It contrasts with the traditional model of extrinsic motivation, or “Type X” behavior, which focuses on motivating people through reward and punishment.
To build an intrinsically motivated team, you need to focus on three key factors:
- Autonomy – people are trusted and encouraged to take ownership of their own work and skill development.
- Mastery – people see no limits to their potential and are given the tools they need to continue to improve their skills.
- Purpose – people are encouraged to use their skills to achieve a “greater” purpose – for instance, getting involved in a “good cause” that they are passionate about.
*Content published with permission pending from Riverhead Books.