I just finished reading “Drive” by Daniel Pink. It has changed how I think about motivation and morale in the workplace.
In his book, Pink introduces what he calls Type-X and Type-I personalities. A Type-X person is externally motivated and responds well to things like performance bonuses, sales quotas, gold-stars on their report card, and carrots dangling on sticks. A Type-I person is intrinsically motived and responds well to things like meaning, purpose, doing-something-cool, building things people love, and making the world a better place.
In my experience, most developers are Type-I personalities.
So what does Pink’s book tell us about motivating developers?
The Not Surprising Things
- Developers like to work on software that people actually use.
- A development team will work harder on something that they believe will improve the world.
- Learning new things and a chance to stretch their technical skills makes Type-I people happy.
- Using cool technology makes the job more rewarding.
- When Type-I people are encouraged in a Type-X manner, their work is of lower quality.
- Poor salary can cause you to lose employees (Type-I people like money too), but a high salary is not sufficient to retain a Type-I person.
The Surprising Things
- Focusing on Type-X things (sales this quarter, lines of code written) is not harmless. It can actually drain the intrinsic value out of an activity. In short, these things are de-motivating for Type-I people, even if the messages are constantly positive.
- Type-X behavior is natural. Type-I behavior is learned.
- Type-I motivation results in far more powerful and long-lasting effects than Type-X.
- There is a right time for carrot and stick motivation, but it is pretty narrow.
- Common motivation techniques often have the opposite effect.
One of the strong focus points we’ve had at GenoLogics lately has been on our quarterly bookings numbers. Keeping a close eye on bookings is critical for a growing company. However, by shining a bright light on our financial performance Pink argues that many Type-I employees will begin to lose sight of the intrinsic reasons they work for GenoLogics (such as the desire to help cure disease and improve the standard of health worldwide). In short, by trying to motivate people by showing how their work will help increase our numbers, we may be achieving the exact opposite: turning things into a Type-X activity and draining our Type-I employees of their desire to work.
That’s a pretty sobering thought.
If you manage people who fall into the Type-I category (nearly all knowledge workers and creative types) I urge you to give Pink’s book a read. It just may change the way you think about motivation.