Small Steps Toward Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose

Struggling with employee engagement and motivation?  Take small steps toward autonomy, mastery, and purpose for yourself and others.

The other day, I was talking with Sally Sapikoski at ACI Worldwide and our discussion led us to the topic of engagement and motivation.  I find that this is a common theme lately.  One quick Google search and you see that many people are trying to figure this out.  I suspect it is something that nearly everyone struggles with at some point, whether it is at the personal level or at the team or organization level.  At the end of the day, the question always seems to be, “How do we get more of our employees motivated and engaged?”

Recently, we have been learning a lot about the human brain, human psychology and motivation.  There are many researchers in this area doing interesting things.

The one that comes to my mind is Daniel Pink‘s work on motivation.  He asserts that people are driven by three primary things:

  1. the urge to direct our own lives: autonomy
  2. the desire to get better and better at something that matters: mastery
  3. the yearning to contribute to the service of something bigger than ourselves: purpose

I propose that we make every effort to make small changes in our work environments for ourselves and others that align to these three human motivators.  To help you think about this at a more tactical level, here are some questions to ask:

  • How can we create work options that allow people to have more control to make decisions for themselves?
  • How can we establish options that allow people to become an “expert” in something that matters to your organization?
  • How can we ensure that people feel the connection between their work and the bigger purpose of the organization?

Please don’t get the impression that I have found the magic answer!  I have seen success when leaders within an organization trust their teams and encourage people to get involved in things they feel connected to individually.  Give them the freedom to pick projects rather than being “voluntold” to participate.  If you lead an organization, resist the urge to workshop a solution ahead of time and instead give the context of the business challenge and the constraints, and allow your teams the freedom to come to a creative solution.  If you are an individual contributor, be proactive and find projects that align to the strategic direction and which excite you.  Getting busy working on things you enjoy means that you are less likely to find yourself working on projects that you don’t enjoy.

Small steps toward autonomy, mastery, and purpose will go far in bringing a sense of interest and motivation to everyone within the organization.  Share what you have done for yourself and others in your organizations to make it a more engaging and motivating place.

One thought on “Small Steps Toward Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose

  1. MelissaLynne –

    Excellent practical guidance in the next to last paragraph. Next team meeting, let’s have an OpenSpace to gather ideas about these and other concrete ways of bringing autonomy, mastery, and purpose into the office.


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