Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Dan Pink on Drive at the HCI Summit


  I’ve (nearly) completely missed out on posting on Dan Pink’s book, Drive, previously somehow.  I don’t know how that happened – it’s certainly something I talk about a lot.  I accept most of Paul Herbert’s case (which I still think are the best constructed arguments) against Pink’s thinking.  But I also still think it’s the nearest thing like a hand grenade lobbed into the middle of the HR community that there’s been.

And although I’ve heard Pink talk and seen his animated presentation, I’ve not seen him present live (even virtually) before.  So having done so, I thought I’d share a few perspectives here.

The basic argument is that incentives don’t work for doing complicated and creative things - creating rather than adding to existing categories.  And it’s this sort of work – non-commissioned rather than commissioned work – that’s going to be the future of organisations.

Or at least they don’t work past a certain point.  yes, you’ve got to treat them fairly, to pay them adequately.  People are finely tuned to fairness.  You violate this norm and people will find it profoundly demotivating – basically you’re toast.  So you’ve got to pay people enough to take the issue of money off the table.  And focus on recognition after the fact rather than just incentives.

Instead, we need to focus on meeting peoples’ needs for autonomy, mastery and purpose.  (I’d just add relatedness to this list – Pink writes about this in his book when he discusses self determination theory, but he doesn’t make it one of this key themes).

Autonomy is the pathway to accountability.  Management may give compliance but more and more we need engagement.  Pink talked about:

Netflix which pays its people well to take the issue off the table but (rare in Silicon Valley) doesn’t give its people stock options as it wants people to think about customers not stock.  And also allows people to take as much vacation as they want.

Facebook where new hires attend a 5 or 6 week boot camp before individuals decide in which team they want to work

Atlassian’s ‘FedEx Days’ where every Thursday, people are told to go and work on anything they want, with whoever they want, in what ever way they want, but need to come back to show people their ideas on Friday afternoons in a free wheeling session.  This one day has led to a whole variety of ideas for fixes, new products and internal processes.  The principle is that employees want to do things for the organisation and these days get the organisation out of their day.

Intuit which announced a new strategy to focus on mobile technology.  None of the departments were able to change direction on a dot, but individual employees created 7 mobile apps in their 10% time before any formal projects even got started.


Mastery is about getting better at stuff.  People are most engaged and feel most loyal when they’re progressing.  But for this to work they need to have feedback, and have their work recognised by the organisation.  Annual performance reviews are useless except as cover for litigation.  Ideally, you need to engage people to do their own performance reviews – get the to set out their own performance goals and at the end of the month, invite themselves into their office and ask themselves what they need to change.


Purpose – it’s really worth reminding people about the organisation’s purpose, especially if it’s naturally compelling, and focuses on why as well as how (what I call mojo).


OK, most of you will know a lot of this already, but I still think it’s an important issue that a lot more HR teams need to consider in more detail than they have.

Alternatively, we can go on wasting money paying people to do stuff without getting any impact on what they do.  And demotivating them in the process.  Your call!



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