Written by
Changeboard Team

Published
12 Mar 2015

Motivational drivers? Lose the carrot & stick, says Dan Pink

12 Mar 2015 • by Changeboard Team

Changing workplace patterns

Here he explains why you need to lose the carrot & stick and how leaders can move into the 21st century.

Q. What is driving changing patterns in the workplace?

A. There are a bunch of big changes that are transforming the substance and structure of work. 

First, with the rise of powerful technologies and the fraying of the old loyalty-for-security social contract, there's a move toward greater risk, responsibility, and independence on the part of the workforce. People have much more autonomy over their work lives, but also much more responsibility.

Second, it used to be that the most valuable skills in the workplace were ones we associate with the left side of the brain – the logical, linear, spread-sheet sorts of capabilities. Today, those abilities are still necessary. But they're no longer sufficient. In the new world of work, people have to be able to do things that are difficult to outsource (that is, send to workers in low-cost locales) and challenging to automate (reduce to software).That means the abilities that matter the most now are the hard-to-outsource, hard-to-automate more right brain abilities – such as design, storytelling, empathy, inventiveness, and big picture thinking.

Finally, our motivational mechanisms haven't caught up to these changes. We're still relying on carrot-and-stick motivators, which worked well for 19th and 20th century work. However those techniques, 50 years of social science tells us, just don't work very well for the more complex, conceptual, and creative work most people are doing. The inadequacies of this old approach is forcing organizations to upgrade their motivational operating systems. 

On the boardroom agenda

Q. How would you sum up 2011 and the challenges leaders of businesses faced?

A. Most of 2010 was about survival. Most of 2011 was about making sure that survival wasn't ephemeral.

Q. What should be on every boardroom agenda for 2012?

A. Now, in 2012, business leaders can turn their attention perhaps less to cost-cutting and retrenchment and more toward growth and innovation.

Masters of our own destiny

Q. How can leaders create an environment that encourages productivity, creativity and loyalty from their employees to drive growth and productivity?

A. By abandoning their heavy reliance on an endless arsenal of ‘if-then’ motivators: "If you do this, then you get that", and taking a new approach. This involves paying people enough – and then providing ample amounts of autonomy (control over what they do, how they do it, and when they do it), mastery (the opportunity to make progress and get better at something that matters), and purpose (the chance to make a contribution). For creativity, autonomy, mastery, and purpose are far more effective than carrots and sticks.

Keeping pace with technology & social media

Q. What advice would you offer to leaders to equip their people to keep up pace with technology & social media?

A. Two ideas:

1. Pick one technology, and just one, and begin using it. For me, the only way I began to understand Twitter was to begin using Twitter.

2. Find a reverse mentor – someone far younger than you who can teach you about the form, function, and grammar of these new technologies.

Q.  From a leadership perspective what are you most excited about working on in 2012? Why?

A. Well, for me, I'm most excited about working on a new book. For leaders, I'm most excited that some seem willing to shed the old orthodoxies about what really motivates their employees.

Q. What does the future of the workplace look like to you?

A. It's more independent, because today talented people need organizations less than organizations need talented people. It has many more women than ever before. (For instance, women outnumber men in the US workforce).  And globally, it includes an incredible mix of ages – growing older in Europe and to a lesser extent the US, while being astonishingly young in places like India. Also, I don't think we've even seen the beginnings of how smartphones will transform the workplace.

Q.  From a leadership perspective what are you most excited about working on in 2012? Why?

A. Well, for me, I'm most excited about working on a new book. For leaders, I'm most excited that some seem willing to shed the old orthodoxies about what really motivates their employees.

Q. What does the future of the workplace look like to you?

A. It's more independent, because today talented people need organizations less than organizations need talented people. It has many more women than ever before. (For instance, women outnumber men in the US workforce).  And globally, it includes an incredible mix of ages – growing older in Europe and to a lesser extent the US, while being astonishingly young in places like India. Also, I don't think we've even seen the beginnings of how smartphones will transform the workplace.