During our company retreat earlier this year, we watched Dan Pink’s TED Talk on The Puzzle of Motivation.

Team members unanimously decided that I must have studied the concept espoused by the author and decided to design our business systems around it. But that’s not true. I had no knowledge of Dan Pink’s work until I chanced upon the video while browsing through YouTube the night before our retreat.

In summary, the research shows that contrary to standard business practice, extrinsic motivators (e.g. higher pay, commissions, bonuses etc.) often destroy creativity instead of enhancing it. They are still necessary and could in fact prove useful, but only in a surprisingly narrow band of circumstances.

The secret to high performance is not rewards and punishments, but an intrinsic drive — the drive to do things for their own sake. The drive to do things because they matter. This intrinsic motivation is a composite of three elements.

1. Autonomy: The urge to direct our own lives.

2. Mastery: The desire to get better and better at something that matters.

3. Purpose: The yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves.

In business, it is important to have a clear reward system that people can easily relate with. However, no matter how high the extrinsic motivators are, the results will decline at some point. It is intrinsic motivation that enables us to go the distance and sustain a culture of high performance.

We can enhance intrinsic motivation by designing our work and business systems to encourage autonomy, mastery and purpose. [Click to tweet]

The specifics will vary for every organisation and in each context. But if we take time to think through the situation and request feedback from the people we’re working with, we will begin to find ways to implement a system that enhances intrinsic motivation.

Team of Rapporteurs at Feast of Esther Conference

Let me give a few examples from The Plenipotent Company which may be adapted in other contexts.

1. Flexible work arrangement
By creating a system where people can work from anywhere, at any time and in a manner that suits their personality/lifestyle while adhering to quality standards, we are giving team members autonomy. They determine how they work and they have control over their time.

Interestingly, we later found out that two American scientists have codified this into a human resources management strategy known as ROWE — Results Only Work Environment. And it is beginning to gain popularity across the world.

At The Plenipotent Company, we had implemented ROWE when we only knew it intuitively. Among other things, this has enabled us to build an organisation where work does not have to get in the way of life, but actually enhances it.

2. Training and feedback
Team members are provided with training opportunities that help them to build capacity. We also assign tasks and provide feedback at various levels including self-assessment, peer review and one-on-one feedback. This provides opportunities for hands-on experience and continuous improvement both of which culminate in mastery.

3. Adopting the whole person paradigm
We take genuine interest in our people, deliberately helping them to develop their potentials and cultivate the greatness that resides in them. We don’t just cater to their work, we facilitate all-round development.

As a result of this, team members begin to do things that they had not done before and achieve results that had earlier seemed beyond their reach. They understand themselves better and make more meaningful contributions within their immediate environment and the world at large.

Many of our team members have found their voice, established their personal brands, amplified their influence, developed impactful relationships and achieved other goals that give them a sense of purpose.

The approach to enhancing intrinsic motivation will vary across teams and organisations, but the principles remain the same. By adopting the practices, processes and systems that encourage autonomy, mastery and purpose, we will be able to create a culture of high performance instead of relying on the carrot and stick approach.

If you would like to know exactly how we do this and how you can adapt our systems to your own business, initiate a conversation in the comments.

We can also facilitate a training at your organisation if you like the idea but you’re not in a position to implement it or directly influence the decision makers.