Top Talent Motivated by Autonomy, Mastery, Purpose over Money

Carrot & man jumping

Dangling carrots like salary and bonuses may not be enough to capture the attention of the brightest, most dynamic talent. Instead, businesses should tap into intrinsic motivators like autonomy, mastery, and purpose, according to motivation expert Daniel Pink.

Pink goes as far as to say businesses “have it all wrong” in his fascinating TED Talk called “The Puzzle of Motivation.”

Many businesses such as Google and Wikipedia have proven his ideas right, using these principles to sustain employees long-term and inspire their most productive work.

Autonomy, Mastery, Purpose for Business

Like children who love to play, we are all built with an internal drive. This is called self-determination theory, developed by psychologists Edward Deci and Richard Ryan.  The need to self-motivate is part of our DNA and should be applied to motivating today’s workforce.

Autonomy: Employees want to take ownership of their own work, and when allowed to, they become self-directed and more engaged, leading to better performance and retention.  Autonomous employees become responsible for their own success or failure.

  • Practical applications: Managers must trust employees instead of micromanaging them, give employees choices on how to work best, allow employees to participate in decision making, and encourage employee feedback.

Mastery: Employees need to know they can learn and grow in their position without limits.  They need feedback from managers to know they are always getting better.

  • Practical applications: Businesses should provide mentoring and learning opportunities so employees can feel that they are able to continuously improve their skills. Celebrate new skills with positive feedback.  “Employees have different core skills, different values and individualized approaches to completing tasks. Giving employees the opportunity to choose assignments best matched with their personal preferences and areas of strength is an internal motivator. Employees feel their skills are being used in the most effective way and the ability to select projects of personal interest increases the chances the final project will be successful,” says Lisa McQuerrey of Chron.

Purpose: employees feel their work allows them to use their skills for a greater purpose.  This may be through the company mission itself or through involvement in personal passions.

  • Practical applications: Companies can help employees understand their personal missions or tie profits to causes employees care about. This may be encouraging volunteering or charity work that has a personal connection.

Why These Motivators Work

When employees receive extrinsic rewards, they receive things that other people control (Pink names these contingent motivators).  Intrinsic rewards tap into an individual’s psychology in a different way.  Extrinsic rewards work better for simple tasks with a narrowed focus, but intrinsic rewards are proven best for cognitive skill tasks, Pink says.  Businesses should always pay adequately and fairly, but they cannot neglect intrinsic motivators.

For example, in the early 2000s, Google implemented a 20 Percent Rule where they allowed employees to use twenty percent of their time to “work on what they think will most benefit Google,” says cofounders Larry Page and Sergey Brin. “This empowers them to be more creative and innovative,” they said. Google credits Google News, AdSense, Gmail, Google Cardboard, and Wear OS as results of this initiative (Bill Murphy Jr, Inc).

In his TED Talk, Daniel Pink also references Wikipedia as an example of intrinsic motivation and autonomy.  Wikipedia is the world’s largest online encyclopedia with more than six million self-published articles, according to TechCrunch.

Recruiting Using Intrinsic Motivators

Recruiters with Artemis Consultants know that extrinsic motivators alone are not enough to woo top talent.  If companies truly value and implement intrinsic motivators, these values should be advertised to potential candidates throughout the recruiting process.  Job descriptors should “dangle” autonomy, self-motivation, continuous learning opportunities, company vision and higher purpose in much the same way other extrinsic motivators are advertised.

Artemis Consultants understands what motivates top talent around the country.  Let us help you connect to employees who will be motivated to thrive long-term.

Newsletter Signup

Recent Articles