At one of our recent Executive Book Club breakfasts, we discussed Daniel Pink’s new book, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. That discussion, along with an e-mail from my friend Tim, has given me a fresh perspective on the role that purpose plays in motivating us, and our employees, to excel in our businesses and in our professional and personal lives.
If you haven’t read Drive, Pink dismisses the effectiveness of most methods of motivation used in today’s challenging business world, branding traditional “carrot and stick” approaches as out of date and out of touch with what is necessary to motivate people in a modern work environment. Instead, he proposes that the most effective techniques available to us now are comprised of three primary elements, autonomy, mastery and purpose. To get the most from people, Pink argues, make sure that your motivation efforts incorporate all three of these elements.
For those who participated in our breakfast discussion about Drive, the motivation element that elicited the most discussion, and the greatest difference of opinion, was purpose. One participant suggested that having a higher purpose (for example, reducing human suffering through medical research) was key to any company’s success. For another, the term ‘purpose’ was interchangeable with ‘goal,’ and that having clear strategic goals was an essential element in keeping his company’s executives and employees focused.
And yet a third participant argued that a business’ only true purpose was to generate a profit for the company’s shareholders, and that all other lofty statements about purpose were mere covers for the real motivation behind building a successful company.
Despite the extended discussion on the issue, I remained skeptical about the importance of purpose in motivation. And then, just yesterday, my friend Tim e-mailed me the following story:
“A man came across three masons who were working at chipping chunks of granite from large blocks. The first seemed unhappy at his job, chipping away and frequently looking at his watch. When the man asked what it was that he was doing, the first mason responded, rather curtly, “I’m hammering this stupid rock, and I can’t wait ’til 5 when I can go home.”
”A second mason, seemingly more interested in his work, was hammering diligently and when asked what it was that he was doing, answered, “Well, I’m molding this block of rock so that it can be used with others to construct a wall. It’s not bad work, but I’ll sure be glad when it’s done.”
”A third mason was hammering at his block fervently, taking time to stand back and admire his work. He chipped off small pieces until he was satisfied that it was the best he could do. When he was questioned about his work he stopped, gazed skyward and proudly proclaimed, “I…am building a cathedral!”
“Three men, three different attitudes, all doing the same job.”
With startling clarity, this story illustrates that purpose has the power to transform not only our attitude about the work that we do, but the quality of our work as well. And if purpose can help one transcend even a physically laborious task as that undertaken by the three masons in our story, then imagine the impact that clarity of purpose can have on our work, and on that of our employees.
So what purpose drives you to achieve the results you seek in your life? And, if you’re a business owner or executive, do you have a compelling purpose to engage and motivate your employees? Contribute your thoughts and ideas here. And thanks, Tim!