Daniel Pink: The surprising truth about what motivates us.
Some days ago, talking about work climate and engagement with a colleague, he told me that a frequent complain among employees at several companies he knows is about not being properly recognized for their work, while their boss takes the credit.
An Italian proverb came to mind: il sangue del soldato fa grande il capitano1 (It’s the blood of the soldier what makes a captain great.)
Recognition being important, it’s not a high-grade motivator. But I can’t avoid sensing some injustice when someone presents the results of a team as his own, without giving proper recognition. I think that what irks an employee is not so much the part about not being recognized for what she has done, but the one about the boss taking the credit for her work.
Giving proper recognition can be a blind spot of some managers. It can be one of our blind spots. You can take the credit for other’s work without fully realizing it. So, some practical advice: when talking about something your business has achieved, start by giving credit to your team, by name.
According to a study of 1500 CEOs, 8 out of 10 expect the business enviroment to grow in complexity. The CEOs see a lack of customer insight as their biggest deficit in managing complexity.
(…) many companies are turning to customer research that is powered by big data and analytics. Although that approach can provide astonishingly detailed pictures of some aspects of their markets, the pictures are far from complete and are often misleading. It may be possible to predict a customer’s next mouse click or purchase, but no amount of quantitative data can tell you why she made that click or purchase. Without that insight, companies cannot close the complexity gap.
In the rush to reduce consumers to strings of ones and zeros, marketers and strategists are losing sight of the human element. Consumers are people, after all. They’re often irrational, and they’re sometimes driven by motives that are opaque even to themselves. Yet most marketers cling to assumptions about their customers’ behavior that have been shaped by their organizational culture, the biases of the firm’s managers, and, increasingly, the vast but imperfect data stream flowing in.
Customers are people, after all… You need to understand their needs, and what motivates them.
(An Anthropologist Walks into a Bar… by Christian Madsbjerg and Mikkel B. Rasmussen. HBR March 2014, subscription required)
Recognition is important and has its place. If you have responsibility over people you should be giving proper recognition when recognition is due.
However, if you want highly motivated people in your team, you should choose people that accept recognition thankfully, but do not depend on it for doing a great job and exceeding expectations.
(Something similar can be said about incentives.)
(…) when you expect applause, when you do your work in order to get (and because of) applause, you have sold yourself short. When your work depends on something out of your control, you have given away part of your art. If your work is filled with the hope and longing for applause, it’s no longer your work —the dependence on approval in this moment has corrupted it, turned it into a process in which you are striving for ever more approval.
If it’s finished, the applause, the thanks, the gratitude are something else. Something extra and not part of what you created. If you play a beautiful song for two people or a thousand, it’s the same song, and the amount of thanks you receive isn’t part of that song.
- Seth Godin, The Icarus Deception. How high will you fly?, p. 71. ↩
Thanks to a friend, I recently rediscovered Simon Sinek’s talk How great leaders inspire action. Sinek explains a pattern inspiring leaders and organizations follow when communicating ideas, which he calls the golden circle. Great leaders don’t talk about what they are doing, but about why they do it.
Why? How? What? This little idea explains why some organizations and some leaders are able to inspire where others aren’t. (…) Every single person, every single organization on the planet knows what they do, 100 percent. Some know how they do it, whether you call it your differentiated value proposition or your proprietary process or your USP. But very, very few people or organizations know why they do what they do. And by “why” I don’t mean “to make a profit.” That’s a result. It’s always a result.
By “why,” I mean: What’s your purpose? What’s your cause? What’s your belief? Why does your organization exist? Why do you get out of bed in the morning? And why should anyone care? Well, as a result, the way we think, the way we act, the way we communicate is from the outside in. It’s obvious. We go from the clearest thing to the fuzziest thing. But the inspired leaders and the inspired organizations — regardless of their size, regardless of their industry — all think, act and communicate from the inside out.
It is important to know what motivates1 you —why you do things– not only because it is a great way to communicate and inspire. Knowing why we do things affects profoundly how we do them and what things we do and don’t do.
- Why you do things is sometimes called external mission in organizations. ↩