Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose

Autonomy, mastery, purpose – I’ve used these words a lot recently, it seems that barely a day goes by without a conversation coming around the these three words.

The words come from a book by Daniel Pink called Drive. This is the Cocktail Party Summary which gives most of what you need to know for this post:

When it comes to motivation, there’s a gap between what science knows and what business does. Our current business operating system–which is built around external, carrot-and-stick motivators–doesn’t work and often does harm. We need an upgrade. And the science shows the way. This new approach has three essential elements: 1. Autonomy – the desire to direct our own lives. 2. Mastery — the urge to get better and better at something that matters. 3. Purpose — the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves.

The reverse is also true; if you motive people by giving them autonomy, mastery and purpose, you demotivate people by restricting their autonomy, utilising them in tasks that don’t extend their mastery and by disconnect them from any sense purpose.

Recently Forrester posted this image on their twitter feed:

I’ve not had chance to read the research that generated this picture, other than a short summary which says:

Research in worker productivity reveals that the top 1% of performers in high-complexity knowledge work, such as engineers, systems analysts, and project managers, are 127% more productive than average performers and up to 47 times more productive than the bottom 1% of performers. We believe that firms that favor strict, centralized policies and control of technology resources will fall farther behind their competitors in employee motivation, customer service, and employee retention. Firms that instead favor investments in autonomy and improving information access on the go will have the advantage by increasing employee motivation and performance.

If you look at the picture and apply to it those three words – autonomy, mastery, purpose – you’ll soon recognise the similarities about what is being said.

Many of the conversations that I’ve been having recently have been about people on the road to burnout. What I find is that many organisations recognise the cost of stress and burnout but don’t recognise the activities that are driving people towards that burnout. There’s a common misconception that a major part of burnout is the quantity of work that people are expected to do but I’m starting to realise that it’s got a lot more to do with a lack of motivation which is created by the removal of autonomy, mastery and purpose.

Remember: “When it comes to motivation, there’s a gap between what science knows and what business does.”

Daniel explains a bit more in these videos:

The TED version:

The Animated version:

The Extended version:

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