The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Employees

I’m not a big follower of Dan Pink and his book Drive, but I am intrigued by his premise  – that everything we know about what motivates people is completely and totally wrong.

This is important stuff if you are managing people, because how those people are motivated is an important component to your job. If you can focus on the right motivation to get the maximum result, you’ll not only have happier and more engaged employees, but you’ll also improve your organization’s bottom line.

That’s what pulled me into this video animation that essentially summarizes Pink’s talk in January before the RSA – the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce .

According to its website, for more than 250 years, “the RSA … has been a cradle of enlightenment thinking and a force for social progress. Our approach is multi-disciplinary, politically independent and combines cutting edge research and policy development with practical action. In the light of new challenges and opportunities for the human race our purpose now is to develop and promote new ways of thinking about human fulfillment and social progress.”

Pink’s surprising truths about what motivates people to work harder, and the subsequent incentives that far-too-few organizations provide, are fascinating and thought-provoking. This condensed, animated white board version of Pink’s talk to the RSA that was produced by Cognitive Media is something that anyone in HR or managing talent should watch. It not only gives you some great food for thought about how YOU should be managing and motivating your staff, but it makes you want to investigate this topic a little more.

Article Continues Below

If you’re like me, you’ll want more information before you start to put any of Pink’s philosophy to work. I guess that’s as good a reason as any to go out and buy the book.

John Hollon is Editor-at-Large at ERE Media and was the founding Editor of A longtime newspaper, magazine, and business journal editor, John has deep roots in the talent management space. He's the former Editor of Workforce Management magazine and, served as Editor of RecruitingDaily, and was Vice President for Content at HR technology firm Checkster. An award-winning journalist, John has written extensively about HR, talent management, leadership, and smart business practices, including for the popular Fistful of Talent blog. Contact him at, connect with him on LinkedIn, or follow him on Twitter @johnhollon.


6 Comments on “The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Employees

  1. Brilliant! This 10 minute video does an awesome job characterizing what I have witnessed on various performance culture projects around the world. Given autonomy, purpose and mastery, work teams have been able to produce 300% more on average than when burdened by the barriers to productivity that have merged over time and are intrinsic to modernized industrial management. Great share.

  2. Dan Pink's ideas are revolutionary yet simple. Employers that engage people are those that show they value autonomy (trust in employees' judgment), encourage mastery (invite development and achievement) and offer a sense of purpose (meaningful work, activity that has an impact). A lack of these values is a powerful recipe for demotivation: don't trust employees to do the right thing, don't invest in their potential and require employees to do things that don't truly matter or don't serve a greater good. Something Ben Bradlee, former legendary editor of the Washington Post, wrote in his memoirs sticks out here: “Children seek belonging. Adults look for signs of effectiveness.” Who in the workforce wants to be treated as a child? Who doesn't want to feel the job they do matters to somebody? Powerful stuff. Employers and HR pros take heed.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *