January 21, 2018


Project management advice, tips, tools and recommended resources for existing and aspiring project managers.

Motivational Theory – What is the Relevance in 2010

What motivates people? As a project manager, it’s very important to understand what motivates your team members for high performance and satisfaction.  If you understand these intrinsic motivating factors, the best you can do is to create the environment where such a person can motivate him/herself.

What really motivates us

Most of us believe that the best way to motivate ourselves and others is with external rewards like money—the carrot-and-stick approach. That’s a mistake, Daniel H. Pink says in, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, his persuasive new book. The secret to high performance and satisfaction is the deep human need to direct our own lives, to learn and create new things, and to do better by ourselves and our world.

According to Dan Pink there is a mismatch between what science knows and what business does. Looking at the results from scientific research on human motivation, the carrot and sticks methods worked successfully in the 20th century, but it’s the wrong way to motivate people for today’s challenges. Extrinsic motivators may still work as a motivator for many kinds of simpler tasks with a simple set of rules and a clear destination to reach. But it certainly doesn’t work for most project tasks and for creative solutions type of work.

Research has proven that financial incentives can cause poorer performance. Rewards narrow our focus and concentrate the mind. Rewards also restrict our potential and harms creative thinking.

I’m sure you can see the problem here. But what is the solution?

Intrinsic motivation

There is a whole new approach built around intrinsic motivation. This relates to the desire to do things because they matter, because we like it, because they’re interesting and because they’re part of something important.

According to Dan Pink the three elements of true motivation are:

  1. Autonomy: the urge to direct our own lives
  2. Mastery: the desire to get better and better at something that matters
  3. Purpose: the yearning to do what we do in service of something larger than ourselves.

An example of these motivators in action is ROWE (results only work environment).

People show up when they want and they don’t need to be in the office at a certain time. They just have to get the work done. How, where and when they do it, is totally up to them.

Where ROWE is implemented, the results are interesting.  Productivity goes up, worker engagement goes up, worker satisfaction goes up and turnover goes down.

In projects it could be called DBOE (Deliverable-based only environment). This means that team members are managed based on their output.

I have been part of this type of work environments and I can testify that it works. Working in an autonomous environment allows the worker to draw on internal motivation to perform well. In this environment I also manage project team members based on their deliverables and the quality of the output.  I fulfil the role of a facilitator and a leader more than a manager. Motivated workers really manage themselves.

A good real life example of this is at Google where workers may spend 20% of their time per week, usually Fridays, to work on anything they want. They have autonomy over their time, their task, their team and their techniques. About half of Google’s new products are birthed during the 20% time, e.g. Gmail, Orkut.

If high performance and job satisfaction is what you are after for your team in 2010, it is best to create the environment where intrinsic motivating factors drive teams’ performance and creates a sense of satisfaction.

About the author: Linky Van Der Merwe is a Project Management Consultant and an IT Project Manager with 15 years IT industry experience and 12 years Project Management experience.

Video: The surprising truth about what motivates us – adapted from a talk by Dan Pink.


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  1. Awesome post, it’s been a while since I’ve been on here. Good to be back.

  2. I’ve recently started a blog, the information you provide on this site has helped me tremendously. Thank you for all of your time & work.

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