Our work has become more creative and less routine than ever. Offshoring and technological advances only support an increase in demand for creative thinkers for the emerging jobs. Self motivation is a must for those right-brained jobs in which you have daily goals but flexible routines.
Working in a modern newsroom where the stories change daily is a good example of the heuristic job. You have goals for the day (your deadline) but your routine varies. You may head to a fire, spend a day on research or chase a breaking news event. I once had a boss that wanted to reward reporters with cash prizes for an innovative coverage idea or a newsroom workflow improvement. I politely explained why I did not think that was a good idea. Journalists (and most creative-types) are not motivated in that way. They would rather be rewarded with trust and creative space. Money is nice and necessary but studies on creatives show that commissioned pieces are far less creative and more arduous for artists than pieces that evolve without financial incentive.
That’s not to say that money isn’t important. No one would envy an entry-level reporter’s bank account…it hasn’t changed much in decades. The salary I made for my first on-air job in 1989 is not much less than what a starting reporter makes today. As you move up in market, salary is increasingly important and will always be whether you are in a heuristic or algorithmic field. One of the world’s leading business thinkers and author, Daniel Pink describes the role money plays in motivation. “Salary, contract payments, benefits, a few perks are what I call ‘baseline rewards’. If someone’s baseline rewards aren’t adequate or equitable, her focus will be on the unfairness of her situation and the anxiety of her circumstance. The best use of money as a motivator is to pay people enough to take the issue of money off the table.” (Pink, 2009 p.33). Another author calls money a “hygienic” issue. Its something that must be addressed and fair or it gets in the way of how creative an employee can be. It’s tough to be creative when you are so focused on not being able to pay the bills. That is a real issue for many young people in my industry.
Pink says there are three pillars of REAL motivation: autonomy, mastery and purpose.
Creating a sense of autonomy for employees takes a bit of creative thinking on the part of managers but there are several things that can be done and great examples of companies granting employees more autonomy. My father used to call this, “…giving you enough rope to hang yourself”. Since 2004, Netflix has given employees unlimited vacation days and managers remain confident that the people they hire won’t abuse the policy. LinkedIn, General Electric, Virgin, Grant Thornton are a few others that offer this time off autonomy. Why does autonomy work?
Freedom gives people accountability and a sense of ownership. There is no better feeling at work than when your manager/boss trusts you. I remember as a young reporter, I was assigned to cover the inauguration of President Bill Clinton. It was my biggest assignment yet and I was surprised they gave it to me when our newsroom was filled with strong veteran reporters. My boss at the time pulled me into her office and told me how much she trusted that I was the right reporter for the assignment. I attacked the assignment girded by internal and external confidence. Never underestimate the impact of your words as a leader.
Another way to help employees establish autonomy is to reign in workplace bullies. I have no idea why some companies teach their middle managers that intimidation is the best motivator. I once had a manager gather a newsroom to announce a new initiative. She said to everyone, “There are 6 doors in this building. If you cannot execute this new initiative…use one to leave”. Wow. I’ve seen perfectly reasonable people become tyrannical as middle managers. Sometimes its tied to a sense of control and sometimes its the pressure of being squeezed by corporate demands and employee demands. Nothing hurts someone’s sense of autonomy more than a supervisor that insults, belittles or condescends. That old saying about people not leaving bad companies but leaving bad managers is true today.
Finally, autonomy is built by giving employees a chance to make decisions. As a reporter in Denver, I was heading out to a big breaking news story when I stopped by my news director’s office half expecting him to replace me on the assignment with a veteran. He stared at me for a few seconds as I stood in his office doorway and gruffly said, “I trust you to do whatever you need to do to get it right. Go get a good piece”. That sent my confidence soaring and I brought back what would be my first EMMY award winning story.
Mastery is that “in the zone” feeling you get when the work feels as if it is channeling through you. This can happen when you are working by yourself or in a team of like minded and finely focused colleagues. There is a reason the phrase “military precision” is used to describe a well orchestrated event. To get there you have to view your own intelligence as something changeable. “If you believe intelligence is a fixed quantity, then every educational and professional encounter becomes a measure of how much you have. If you believe intelligence is something you can increase, then the same encounters are opportunities for growth” (Pink, 2009 p. 119). I love this quote by Pink because it applies wherever you stand in your organization. The leader must believe in the ability for mastery in the employee as much as the employee believes it is possible for himself.
Purpose in life is what gets us out of bed each morning whether we are fulfilling a personal, educational or vocational goal. Simon Sinek calls this your “why” and he suggests starting with why when it comes to exploring your purpose for work. The why or purpose is so central to how we feel about our careers. Its helpful when our managers can define it in the form of a vision and even more magical when that vision coincides with the internal purpose of individuals. When that happens, teams and companies can overcome any odds. When the why becomes murky or lost in change that makes no sense, the whole dynamic of the workplace changes almost as if furniture has been moved into odd places. The internal purpose is left starving for oxygen and motivation wanes as employees wonder about their place in the overall plan. Secrecy breeds uncertainty and a lack of vision drains purpose. When that happens, managers have led employees into a dark place.
The best managers I have worked for (and I’ve had MANY) are those that understand their employees gifts and talents and harness those to hone their own vision. They give employees autonomy, understand and recognize their employees mastery (or help employees achieve mastery) and create a vision for the company that inspires purpose.