A Mixing Bowl of Metaphors on Motivation

A Mixing Bowl of Metaphors on Motivation


Motivation is a funny thing. Just ask a personal trainer. What works to get one person doing push-ups may not even prompt the next guy to push anything but the buttons on the TV remote.

It’s the same with motivating employees. The things you think will definitely incentivize your workforce to work harder, think smarter and be more profitable may actually lower their performance.

Take money. Traditional business wisdom might lead you to believe that offering hefty bonuses or boosting commissions would improve results. But you’d be wrong. In a TED Talk a few years back, career analyst and author Dan Pink cited decades of experiments run at institutions like MIT and the London School of Economics that proved financial incentives often have a negative impact on results.

So, at the risk of totally mixing my metaphors, what is the “secret sauce” for keeping employees engaged, energized and consistently enhancing their performance?

The ultimate recipe is no doubt different for every enterprise. Just like personal motivation depends on unique, intrinsic forces that come from within each individual, employee motivation is dependent to some extent on the nature of the work and the culture of the organization. But, like the butter, sugar and flour that begin almost every batch of cookies ever made, Pink believes there are three essential ingredients for managing and motivating 21st century knowledge workers:

  1. Take one part autonomy — the self-directed freedom to carry out your tasks in the way that you think is most effective.
  2. Add one part mastery — the opportunity to get better and better at your work and take pride in it.
  3. And stir in a heaping portion of purpose — the chance to contribute by doing something meaningful and in service of something bigger than yourself.

It’s not a simple or easy recipe to pull off. But concocting a business environment based on this powerful mixture can really sweeten engagement and motivate employees to innovate and excel. Some thoughts to chew on while you’re on your way to the gym!

Diane Landsman

Written by: Diane Landsman

Diane Landsman is familiar to many in the HR community as a former editorial director at Human Capital Media. Now an independent communications strategist, writer and editor she helps enterprises educate, engage, influence and sometimes even entertain their audiences. Her specialty is crafting original content across media channels, from websites that attract searchers and keep them engaged to email campaigns, articles that put organizations on the map, and executive-level whitepapers, speeches, and op/ed pieces.


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