“There is a mismatch between what science knows and what business does.”

The quote is from Dan Pink’s TED talk, “The puzzle of motivation.” It’s from August, 2009. He later went on to publish an excellent book on the topic, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us.

The more I research how to make work more effective and fulfilling, the more it’s clear that “science knows.” We hit management with study after study after study, and business doesn’t budge.

Science knows that psychological safety is the most important factor for successful teams, yet we work in environments that are designed for internal competition, hierarchical control, and fear.

Science knows we need focus and attention to do meaningful work, yet we work in environments designed for interruptions, where people check their email 36 times an hour

Even intuitively, we know. Parodies of the modern workplace go viral. The mismatch is funny because it’s true. ("A conference call in real-life" has 13 million views.) We shake our heads and laugh, but we're left with a tragic waste of human and organizational potential.

Here’s an extended excerpt from Dan Pink’s clear and compelling talk. What do you think it would take to “repair the mismatch”? Working Out Loud is one kind of change program that can help fix organizations. It will take more. What’s one other thing that might help?

“What worries me, as we stand here in the rubble of the economic collapse, is that too many organizations are making their decisions, their policies about talent and people, based on assumptions that are outdated, unexamined, and rooted more in folklore than in science. And if we really want to get out of this economic mess, if we really want high performance on those definitional tasks of the 21st century, the solution is not to do more of the wrong things, to entice people with a sweeter carrot, or threaten them with a sharper stick. We need a whole new approach.
The good news is that the scientists who've been studying motivation have given us this new approach. It's built much more around intrinsic motivation. Around the desire to do things because they matter, because we like it, they're interesting, or part of something important. And to my mind, that new operating system for our businesses revolves around three elements: autonomy, mastery and purpose. Autonomy: the urge to direct our own lives. Mastery: the desire to get better and better at something that matters. Purpose: the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves. These are the building blocks of an entirely new operating system for our businesses…
Here is what science knows. One: Those 20th century rewards, those motivators we think are a natural part of business, do work, but only in a surprisingly narrow band of circumstances. Two: Those if-then rewards often destroy creativity. Three: The secret to high performance isn't rewards and punishments, but that unseen intrinsic drive-- the drive to do things for their own sake. The drive to do things cause they matter…
The science confirms what we know in our hearts. So, if we repair this mismatch between science and business, if we bring our motivation, notions of motivation into the 21st century, if we get past this lazy, dangerous, ideology of carrots and sticks, we can strengthen our businesses…maybe, maybe -- we can change the world.”

What millenials want at work

The quotation marks in the Wall Street Journal article seemed to drip sarcasm.

“Millenial experts.” If there was any doubt about the author’s attitude towards them, the word “upstart” made it clear, as did citing the ages of the distinctly non-millenial people offering highly-paid advice. A few weeks later, the NY Times followed up with a similar article, “Corporate America Chases the Mythical Millennial.” 

But whether millenials are different or not misses the bigger questions. What does anyone of any age want at work? And how do we give it to them?

Data on what works

The People Analytics team at Google have been analyzing what makes for a more effective team, and they published some of their findings in November. In short, they found that “Who is on a team matters less than how the team members interact, structure their work, and view their contributions.” They identified five things that set successful teams apart.

Psychological safety: Can we take risks on this team without feeling insecure or embarrassed?
Dependability: Can we count on each other to do high quality work on time?
Structure & clarity: Are goals, roles, and execution plans on our team clear?
Meaning of work: Are we working on something that is personally important for each of us?
Impact of work: Do we fundamentally believe that the work we’re doing matters?
Psychological safety was far and away the most important of the five dynamics we found -- it’s the underpinning of the other four. How could that be? Taking a risk around your team members seems simple. But remember the last time you were working on a project. Did you feel like you could ask what the goal was without the risk of sounding like you’re the only one out of the loop? Or did you opt for continuing without clarifying anything, in order to avoid being perceived as someone who is unaware?”

What we all want

Laszlo Bock, the head of People Operations at Google and author of the excellent book, Work Rules!, talked about the research on what millennials want.

“We measure this sort of thing closely, and if you look at what their underlying needs and aspirations are, there’s no difference at all between this new generation of workers and my generation and my father’s generation.”

What will make a difference in an organization isn’t divining the needs and wants of any particular demographic, it’s figuring out how to get the universal basics in place, as Bock describes them in the same article.

“Every single human being wants the same thing in the workplace — we want to be treated with respect, we want to have a sense of meaning and agency and impact, and we want our boss to just leave us alone so we can get our work done.”

If you can make $20,000 an hour talking about what millenials want and need in the workplaces of the future, that’s great.

If you can actually spread the behaviors that create those workplaces, that’s priceless.