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How do we motivate people in a purpose-led organisation?

To become a purpose-led organisation we must accept that we can’t motivate people to become enthusiastic about the things we choose on their behalf (see: "What is wrong with the normal approach to motivation?"). We can, however, create an environment that allows people’s internal drive or intrinsic motivation to rise and to the surface.

So, how do we tap into intrinsic motivation?

In his bestselling book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, Daniel Pink famously shows how behavioural science has established human beings need three things in order to be intrinsically motivated:

Autonomy - to be in charge of our work.
Purpose -  to have meaningful work that’s in service of a higher purpose.
Mastery - to feel we are going to grow in the process.

This approach is a big shift from the status quo. It puts the onus on the individual and not the organisation. Pursuing this will expose other challenges - like hiring the right people and creating a culture of freedom and self-management (see: “What holds people back from freedom when they’re offered it?").

But, the opportunities offered by more autonomy, mastery and purpose significantly outweigh the issues. And, for Senior Leaders, who spend so much of their time considering how to get people to get things done, the shift will release them to focus on what many of them really want to be (and should be) doing (see: “What is the role of Senior Leadership?”).

Here are some practical suggestions others have used to help create the right atmosphere:

  • Organise into small teams with full ownership over projects from beginning to end.
  • Create a sense of meaning in the work
  • Build peer to peer accountability through promises and commitment
  • Have regular opportunities for authentic and honest discussion.
  • Acknowledge risk and see ‘failure’ as learning.
  • Provide a high level of disclosure - default to open.
  • Look to centralise only when local teams specifically request it.
  • A leadership focus on results and not tasks.
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  1. John Featherby

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