Want the best? Daniel Pink says pay up – and pay well

The influential business thinker says best methods for motivating staff have changed

Daniel Pink in his popular YouTube video: “You’ve got to pay people well. Money is a motivator. If you don’t pay people enough, people will not be motivated.”

Daniel Pink in his popular YouTube video: “You’ve got to pay people well. Money is a motivator. If you don’t pay people enough, people will not be motivated.”

 

High pay is a dirty word in Ireland. But if you want the best you have to cough up. That’s the take-home message for HR executives from business thinker Daniel Pink.

The American motivational expert, whose Ted Talk on the science of motivation is one of the 10 most-watched of all time, says the business world has changed, and that companies are scrambling to keep up.

Pink (53), who also served as chief speechwriter to vice-president Al Gore, says the old school “reward” approach to motivating workers is outdated. “There’s a certain kind of reward that we use in organisations,” he says. “I like to call it an ‘if and then’ reward. As in, if you do this, you get that. This type of tactic is very effective for simple tasks with short-term horizons.

“It’s fine if the task is algorithmic, but the trouble is that a lot of work is not routine and requires much more judgment and discernment, and they turn out not to be very effective at all for more complex, creative tasks with longer-term horizons.

More conceptual

“As more and more organisations become more complex, more creative and more conceptual, we have to start looking for different motivational mechanisms inside organisations.”

Pink will address the Talent Summit, an HR conference at Dublin’s Convention Centre on Wednesday.

He says the solution to the puzzle of motivating people starts with decent pay: “You’ve got to pay people well. Money is a motivator. If you don’t pay people enough, people will not be motivated.”

In terms of whether companies have to pay more than their competitors, Pink says the evidence is mixed. “It certainly helps. Generally what happens in most labour markets [is that] there is a range. You have to be within that range and ideally towards to the top end.”

Once you’ve lined the pockets of your staff, he says, what comes next is a three-pronged approach: “autonomy, mastery, and purpose”.

“Giving people some kind of control over what they do is important. Human beings don’t do their best work under conditions of control. One way to do this – and it’s spreading all over the world – is carving out a certain amount of time in the work week, during which people can do whatever they want. That purely autonomous period has been incredibly fertile for generating improvements.”

Pink gives another example, which he says Facebook does in the US. “When you hire somebody, you let the person pick the team they work on. Another method of imparting autonomy is not restricting the amount of holiday time for staff. The rule is: take as much time as you need. We’re not even going to measure it. Do your work, take your holidays when you want, and sort it out yourself.”

Meaningful work

On what Pink calls “mastery”, he says the biggest day-to-day job motivator is making progress in meaningful work.

“When we make progress and get better at something, it is inherently motivating,” he says. “In order for people to make progress, they have to get feedback and information on how they’re doing.

The feedback mechanisms inside most organisations are completely antiquated, if not fully broken,” Pink adds. “You have massive companies all over the world that are getting rid of performance reviews. Annual performance reviews are absolutely inadequate. They are being replaced now with weekly one-on-ones with the boss.”

Finally, he says, “purpose” is about showing people where they fit into the bigger picture.

“There is a huge body of evidence showing that people do better in their work when they know why they’re doing it in the first place,” he says. “They do better when they see what they’re doing contributes to something in the world.”

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