People and Purpose:
I remember a story that my father used to tell of a traveller in thirteenth- century France who met three men wheeling wheelbarrows. He asked in what work they were engaged, and he received from them the following three answers: the first said, ‘I toil from sunup to sundown and all I receive for my pains is a few francs a day.’ The second said, ‘I am glad enough to wheel this wheelbarrow for I have been out of work for many months, and I have a family to support.’ The third said, ‘I am building Chartres Cathedral.’ ―Ben Shahn, The Shape of Content (1957, 1985)
I had a conversation with a developer not so long ago, I asked them why they did what they did. She responded that nothing really drove her to be a software developer other than the money, in fact she would sooner do another type of job if it paid as well.
What she said dwelled on my mind. To be truthful, this made me a little sad. I was sad that a person who’d chosen a particular career path that required higher education and a relatively long period of time as a journeywoman, did a job purely for the money.
I realise there are many people who have to take what work they can in order make ends meet. We often have external drivers which means enjoying our work comes second to the pressures of being the provider for a family, or repaying a mortgage or both. Sometimes we compensate by offsetting our lack of fulfilment at work with a trip we have planned or a new “toy” we intend to purchase.
Salary, bonuses, health care (especially for those that don’t live in countries that have public healthcare), company cars and other rewards help us satisfy our extrinsic drivers – whether providing for us and our families, or otherwise.
However, many of us spend at least 40 hours a week at work, a major portion of our waking lives. If we’re not doing something we enjoy, are the things it enables us to do outside of work enough to allow us to feel compensated? In my experience as a knowledge worker, probably not – the bunch of smart, well educated, technology savvy people we are – once we have those things, we will start to look deeper for satisfaction. This is when our intrinsic drivers start to come into play.
Our intrinsic drivers are the things that naturally motivate us. Our choice of hobby often reflects what intrinsically drives us. When work is combined with inner drive, our sense of job satisfaction increases. If we are lucky enough to work in our chosen field, intrinsic drivers are what get us out of bed in the morning.
Dan Pink in his Tedtalk nails much of it – once the question off money has been taken of the table, the common things that many people seek at work are:
Mastery: Early on something in this industry peaked our interest and this is what started us on this journey, probably initially as a hobby, it laid down a challenge. We then spent long hours of study and modern apprenticeship in pursuit of mastering this craft – a craft that is evolving at a such a rapid pace that it will provide us with a life time of learning and challenge.
Autonomy: Independence n the way we carry out our work is important because knowledge work is creative and creativity is unique person to person.
Purpose: Our deep down need to do something in this life that makes a difference. Something that either sets us apart from the crowd or gives us a sense of belonging.
Jurgen Appello, based on the works of Dan Pink, Steven Reiss, and Edward Deci, takes this a bit further and has identified 10 “moving motivators”; curiosity, honour, acceptance, mastery, power, freedom, relatedness, order, goal and status.
He created a card based game which you can play to help you identify what drives you, Moving Motivators. Best played with others so you can compare and discuss results. This is a great game to play as a team so you can see what makes each other tick.
It also allows us to play out different scenarios and see how our motivators would change accordingly.
What’s interesting is that if we are rewarded based on our intrinsic drivers, we are far more likely to have a sense of satisfaction and less inclined to ask for extrinsic rewards.
As employees, if our intrinsic drivers are aligned with our role, we’re likely to attain job satisfaction with less need for extrinsic reward. We feel “got” as individuals and as a result are more motivated towards obtaining good outcomes at work.
As employers, we are more likely to get better results if our people are happy in their work, feel trusted and able to do the best work they can. This has the additional benefit that satisfied employees are less likely to be on an insatiable quest for reward. Therefore they are less inclined to seek increasing compensation for being in an unsatisfactory role, or worse still, go else where.
As an industry we’re starting to tap into mastery and autonomy fairly well. Providing professional development and environments that encourage individual thinking and contribution. However, if we were able to align an individual’s purpose with an organisation’s, we’d have a very powerful thing indeed.
In this series of blog posts, I want to explore this hypothesis in more detail. In particular to determine how employees and employers can align their purposes. In the next blog post, part 2 of this series, I’ll take a look at organisational purpose.