What motivates startup employees? Lessons from Daniel Pink’s “Drive”

Dan Pink's DriveSummary: Dan Pink’s “Drive” explores the roots of motivation, and can help in recruiting, retaining, and developing startup teams. E-mail. Tweet.

After my last post on evaluating startup personnel, I was referred to Daniel Pink’s book, Drive. Here, Pink explores the major factors that underlie our motivation, and applies them to the workplace context.

He asserts (with supporting research) that for basic, rudimentary tasks money can work as a motivator; however, when tasks get more complicated, requiring conceptual and creative thinking monetary incentives no longer work. That said, you need to pay people well enough to take the issue of money off the table…or said another way, a fair salary is “table stakes” for a highly functioning team.

Applying this to the startup context, makes enormous sense, as people who join those teams are motivated by something bigger, and their tasks are never “routine”. In Drive, Pink’s findings and suggestions are directly applicable to tangible mechanisms that can be used in a startup, or any other innovation management context.

The Three Factors of Motivation

In the video below, you’ll see a great visual, from RSAnimate, over a talk he gave. In it he describes the three major factors that lead to better performance & personal satisfaction:

  1. Autonomy: The desire to be self-directed
  2. Mastery: The urge to get better at stuff
  3. Purpose: Making a contribution to something larger than oneself

I’d add one more: “collaboration”

If I had to add one more element of motivation to Dan’s list, I’d add that of “collaboration”, or another word to represent the social aspect of working in a team. When we commit to one another, even in an informal and personal way there is more than just an internal factor to align us; we are now accountable to the people we work with on a daily basis. You can call this “social pressure”, if you want to view it negatively; however, I’d look at it as working with people that you connect to on a social and personal level and wanting to do right by them. Startups have legendary cultures of collaboration and this is no accident.

Keep up with Daniel Pink’s Work

I previously had a chance to read another of Pink’s books:
A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future, which is also a great read. You can also keep up with him, as I do, on Twitter.

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