Does motivation still work? Susan Fowler’s new book, Why Motivating People Doesn’t Work and What Does: The New Science of Leading, Energizing, and Engaging challenges how organizations have traditionally “driven” people to perform. If motivation is purely carrots, she is right: it‘s not enough.

In an interview in Forbes, Fowler points out that “people have three psychological needs that need to be satisfied, and if those three psychological needs — which are every bit as important to our thriving as our biological needs — are not satisfied, then people will be sub-optimally motivated. Motivating people is about finding ways to help people satisfy their three psychological needs for autonomy, relatedness, and competence.”

In their work Driven: How Human Nature Shapes our Choices , Paul Lawrence and Nitin Nohria suggested that psychological needs are just as important as the more basic needs in understanding, and hence changing, human behavior. Lawrence and Nohria suggested the acquisitive side of human nature, represented by the drives to acquire and defend, is only half of what explains human behavior and motivation. Yet, these drives continue to be the basis of most efforts to motivate and engage people.

There’s a higher level of motivation that is more powerful than pure transactional motivation, or even than intrinsic motivation. Lawrence and Nohria call these the drives to bond and to create.  It’s not too radical to suggest that our desire to make connections and to contribute to something bigger than ourselves creates levers for inspiring higher performance and better outcomes. As Fowler states,

“When you’re doing something and you can directly align whatever you’re doing to a value that’s really important to you, that brings a sense of meaning to your work.”

Having a strong sense of meaning and purpose related to one’s work is a recurring and important element of motivation. Authors such as Dave Ulrich (The Why of Work) and Dov Seidman (How) have suggested that organization purpose centered in creating something bigger than oneself, and inspiring people with a mission worthy of their commitment, trumps almost every other lever of motivation. One can be intrinsically motivated, but alignment with a higher purpose ensures you show up as your best self.

The role of Animate Growth Partners is to bring design as a purposeful step in the process of building more human-centered and more effective motivation approaches.

Not only will AGP help companies identify the best rewards and technology, but we’ll go a step further and make sure that there is alignment between a company’s values and those of the people who sell and interact with customers. We help identify the behaviors and the emotional levers that contribute to a higher sense of autonomy, relatedness and competence. Along the way, we hopefully will help foster connection to a higher sense of purpose: the opportunity to “contribute to something greater than myself, beyond my own self interests.”

We’ve already asked in this space if incentives still matter. Susan Fowler’s work promises to add to the conversation in a way that reinforces that incentives are much more than “do this, get that.” To be effective, motivation requires design thinking that can help to unlock the path to higher autonomy, relatedness and competence in your audience.

How can you make sure your higher purpose is captured in how you motivate people?

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