You’ve probably already seen this video (below) elsewhere on the Web. If you haven’t, you should take 10 minutes and 48 seconds to watch it now. What you’ll see is some of the most amazing whiteboarding work ever captured. What you’ll hear is a talk from Dan Pink, author of Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, about the effectiveness of monetary incentives to motivate workers.

Don’t have 10 minutes and 48 seconds? Here’s the gist in a nutshell:

  1. Monetary incentives are only effective for workers that do non-cognitive work
  2. Paying the largest incentives to top performers doesn’t make them perform better (actually, they perform worse)
  3. You should pay your cognitive workers enough to take the issue of money off the table

So what does motivate cognitive workers?
According to Pink, three factors lead to better performance and higher satisfaction:

  1. Autonomy
  2. Mastery
  3. Purpose

Real job satisfaction comes from working on things you are passionate about, things that are challenging, and things that contribute to the overall success of the organization. When it comes to compensation, people want to be treated fairly and they certainly are not going to refuse more money when it is offered, but it’s typically not the primary reason someone stays in a job. You’ve probably seen your fair share of people leave a cushy job to take a big pay cut and go work for a start-up. Are they insane? Probably not. They are seeking autonomy, mastery and purpose.

Running across this video was pretty timely. Right now I’m planning an internal design competition with a few of my colleagues. The competition is intended to get the organization excited about design and actively participating in the design process. We suspect there are a lot of people in the company with great ideas and they just need a channel to express them (similar to the Atlassian model mentioned in the video). Because this is a competition, we plan to award prizes to groups with the best ideas. Even so, we know that the largest motivation to participate is the opportunity to pursue an idea and turn it into a shipping product. Whether it’s $500 or $5000, money is not going to be the reason someone participates. In fact, we plan to let participants donate their winnings to a charity of their choice, which for many people is a much more meaningful and satisfying outcome.