In the last few years I've worked for big corporations and small start ups and I've seen two major different ways of approaching employees motivation.

In the big corporations, the main source of motivation was usually through rewards. You work hard and meet the deadline and I'll give you a bonus or I won't fire you.

On the other side, in the start up world, there was no such thing, mostly because there were no big buckets of money. The only source of motivation was the sheer excitement of creating something or solving a challenging problem.

I've also noticed that in the small start ups everybody was creating or playing with new things all the time and there was a certain buzz around, while in the big corporations everyone was afraid to step out of their own comfort zone.

Until now, that was just based on my observations, but then I stumbled across Drive: the surprising truth about what motivates us by Daniel H. Pink which opened my eyes to the scientific side of that phenomenon.

Apparently, the 'carrot and stick' motivational approach works well for routine, repetitive tasks. I'll pay you an extra £10.00 if you can put 100 letters in their envelopes by tomorrow.
For creative, complex tasks it can be counterproductive, driving your employees to focus on getting the reward instead than the task itself, narrowing their creativity, stopping them thinking outside the box. In some cases it will push your employees to cheat, to take shortcuts or to reduce quality because they want to get that promised reward.

Instead, use what in the book are called "Now then" rewards. Don't promise anything beforehand, just reward them when they've finished the task. This unexpected reward can boost motivation as it is received as an unrequested appreciation of the work done. But again be careful as, after a while, these kind of rewards, are going to become expected.

Even better than "Now then" rewards is "Now then feedback". Everyone looks for feedback, to be able to acknowledge that what they've done was correct and solved the problem, and to feel appreciated. It is also really important for personal development as it fullfills an intrinsic desire to be appreciated. Another tip from the book is to give individual feedback in one to one sessions not in front of the whole team as that could undermine the relationship between team members.

Let's explore how we can be motivated:

Type I and type X people

Daniel Pink differenciates between two types of people, type I and type X.

Type I people are motivated by Intrinsic desires, while type X people by eXtrinsic ones. Intrinsic desires are not tangible, they include the feeling you get when you are completely engaged in the activity you are doing, the feeling of solving a problem, the satisfaction of having acquired a new skill, the happiness of helping other people.
Extrinsic desires, on the other hand, are externally driven. You do this because you know that at the end you'll get a reward.

The author suggests that you should aim to get people to be more type I, but he also recognizes that, in our day to day life, we usually fluctuate between the two types. The important thing is trying to be more type I than X.

And this is pretty much true especially in software development. If you look at the open source community, why are these people using their time to contribute to open source projects? Mostly because they are motivated by their intrinsic desires. They want to make a difference, help other people and continuously learn new things. They are not after a big fat bonus.

the 3 ingredients of genuine motivation

motivation

Motivation is based on three main concepts:

  • Autonomy
  • Mastery
  • Purpose

If, in your company or team, you are able to introduce and apply all of them, you are on the right road to genuine motivation.

Autonomy

Let people solve creative, challenging problems their own way. Do not control them because, if you do so, they will comply with your instructions and not get fully engaged nor own the problem.
People need to feel self-directed, have a feel of responsibility, have the freedom to choose.

To get a connection with the Agile world, we all push for self-managed/autonomous teams.

Mastery

As the author of the book mentions:

Mastery is a pain.

This is true. If you want to get better at something you need to work hard on it, conciously knowing that you will never reach perfection.
People need to feel as if they are mastering their craft, each day learning something new.

Again, from an Agile perspective we can see that continuous inspection and improvement is part of the mastering process.

Purpose

This is the one that hit me recently. When I look at my job I now start asking myself:

  • Why am I doing this?
  • What is the purpose of the things I'm working on?

and the answers to those questions boost my motivation.

Purpose is the context for autonomy and mastery. You are autonomous and you are mastering your craft but why? Purpose is there to answer that question, to give a bigger picture of what you are doing and why.

In an Agile environment I can see this as the constant reminder of the big picture, a process that usually gets left out. We focus too much on the short term (Sprints) and forget about why we are building the product.
I've been there myself, and after a while I forgot the WHY of the project and my motivation started fading away.
So remember to constantly refresh everyone in your team about the purpose of their job and the product they are working on.


I really enjoyed the book and I love how Daniel H. Pink uses version numbers to differenciate motivation perspectives.
He compares it to the upgrade process in software development, hence the Motivation 3.0 title.
Motivation 2.0 emerged during the industrial revolution, and with its command and control, carrot and stick models has been really successful. That seems to be mostly because it was applied to jobs which involved routine tasks, but now the world has changed. Most jobs require creativity, adaptation, they are not just a "follow this script" type of jobs. He suggests an upgrade of the motivation OS to 3.0 which follows the concepts described above.

If you are a team manager, scrum master, agile coach or if you are just interested in this subject, I suggest you read the book which explains the concepts above in more detail and with lots of interesting experiments and examples.

About Author

Simone Vicentini

Simone Vicentini

Creative Agilist, Scrum Master, Tinker, Developer.