What really motivates us at work

I posted two months ago on the subject of beliefs about work performance. In this post, I am going to discuss what really motivates us at work. Surprising, what really motivates us at work is AMP. No, I am not using it as an abbreviation for amphetamines, and I am not suggesting a measure of electrical current is involved. AMP stands for Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose. Let me explain and take you through the research.

AMPAutonomy – the desire to be self-directed. Organisations place much emphasis on management, and much is spent on “management training”. Management is fine if you want compliance. Stephen Covey writes about managing people to cut down trees in a forest, about organising rotas, dividing tasks, taking care of logistics to complete a pre-determined task. Management works where we need compliance. If compliance is not enough, and we want engagement, self-direction is better.

Atlassian, an Australian software company, illustrate the point. One work day in each quarter, four days a year, all employees are told “today, you can work on whatever you want.  You can decide what you do; all we want is for you to share the results the next day.” The company arranges things that will make clear the day is different. I’ve heard they provide cakes, and beer, entertainment and all sorts of cool stuff. One day of undiluted autonomy leads to improvements in their products (such as bug fixes) and creates new ideas and new products that wouldn’t be achieved during the rest of the “normal” days. The management message is “You probably want to do something interesting, we’ll get out of your way.” Worth trying in your organisation? It doesn’t need to be everyone on the same day and you might have different ideas than beer – stopping internal email for a day and ensuring there are no pre-arranged meetings should help.

Mastery - AMPMastery – the urge to be better at stuff. Mastery is why we do things, like learning to play a musical instrument or learning another language, without any financial reward. It’s fun and we get great satisfaction from our improvement. It is not just things that are unrelated to work. People do work-related activities for free in order to strive for and achieve mastery, and not only for charitable reasons.

This brings me to Purpose. More and more organisations want a transcendent purpose. It makes going to work better and helps to attract the best talent. Skype is a good example of this overarching sense of purpose. Their goal is to be disruptive in the cause of making the world a better place. Organisations must have more than just the profit motive. Where the profit motive overrides or becomes detached from the overarching purpose, bad things happen. People get disengaged, products and services become worse, customer satisfaction and retention declines, sickness absence increases, there are more workplace accidents and it is just not fun.

Organisations should maximise purpose as well as maximising profits. There is a very good reason for this. Organisations employ human beings, and we are meaning-making machines. Have you ever experienced anything at all without attributing meaning to it? I remember a TV advert a while back. A man is running down the street and the crowd of people behind him are shouting. We attribute meaning to this – perhaps we attribute anger to the crowd, maybe we think that the man has just stolen something and is running away, maybe he is running to catch a cat about to fall out of a tree. We could attribute many things, but we will attribute something. The next time you meet someone for the first time, check out what you are attributing to them by the way they are dressed – even before they speak (when they do, even more attributions kick in.)

We need more AMP. Organisations that enable all their stakeholders to get more AMP are the ones that will be rewarded with tangible and measurable benefits in an increasing competitive “War for Talent.”

War_for_talentThe alternative is to do nothing and hope for the best. I do not think that is a viable option. It is time for you to take action in your organisation because others are already doing so. If you want to get ahead of them, you’ll need good programme design and management, and the experience of delivering cultural and behavioural change. If you want help in designing and delivering your programme(s) of action, let me know at piw@wttresults.co.uk or contact me via www.wttresults.co.uk