Autonomous Vehicles? How About Autonomous Workers?


Recently, I read Daniel Pink’s Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. One peculiar item of note about me: I never seek out books to read. For as long as I can remember, everything I have read was because someone recommended the book or literally handed the book to me. The latter was the case in this instance. My manager is trying to help me manage my team in a new way.

I immediately fell in love with Pink’s concept. Now normally, I am cautious when it comes to the latest business trend or “flavor of the month,” but this trend appears to have some staying power. Thus, I want to highlight the concept in this blog post and make sure the public sector jumps onboard before the private sector gets all of the credit. Before I delve into the content, I feel I should offer a disclaimer at the behest of my wife (who is now reading Drive). She asked a simple question after reading a few pages: “So, Pink is operating on the assumption that all humans are inherently good?” I answered, “Yes.” Depending on your philosophical view of humankind, you may find Pink’s concept more or less agreeable.

Pink’s concept of motivation is composed of three aspects: Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose. As a good Govie, I have started to affectionately use the acronym AMP (as in “let’s get amped to work!”). Pink, as he should, goes on to explore each aspect in depth. Autonomy breaks down into the four “T”s: Time, Task, Team, and Technique. Mastery revolves around reaching the pinnacle of your personal or professional state and touches upon the “10,000 Rule.” Purpose gets to the heart of the matter. We all want to feel like we are a part of something bigger. I have to assume some of you have not read Drive, so a conversation around Pink’s definition of Mastery and Purpose would be somewhat difficult. I will use the remainder of this post to discuss Autonomy.

Time – The last time I checked, we are in 2016 and not 1916. I have argued, and continue to argue, that we moved out of being an agrarian society long ago. Let the people do what they are going to do with their time. Yes, you do have a deliverable. And yes, you do have a deadline. Between here and there, they have however many seconds, minutes, hours, and days to accomplish their work. Let them decide. Just look at the classic “sales rep story.” They make their calls and then play 18 holes of golf. Do we despise them or just envy them?

Task – Closely related to Time, Autonomy of Task allows people to work on the things they want to work on and, for the most part, avoid the things they do not want to work on. Although, every once in a while, we have to eat our vegetables. They are good for us. Why are we continuing to force people to do the things they do not want to do? My wife would counter with: “Then, we wouldn’t have any janitors or fast food workers.” Me: “You are assuming that there is not a single person out there that would not love to be a janitor.”

Team – I think you are starting to see the trend. Why do we continue to force people to work together? You limit a person’s influence when you take away their ability to say “no.” If you get the opportunity, say “no” to the office bully the next time they ask for a huge favor. Boom. Influence.

Technique – I chock this one up to artistic expression or innovation. Imagine if you had given Leonardo da Vinci a paint-by-numbers kit for the Mona Lisa. This aspect is probably the most difficult because we want to believe that there is only one way – our way.

I recommend checking out Drive and getting rid of the carrot and the stick.

TS Hamilton is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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