Daniel Pink: Use More than Social Media to Engage Workers

News Updates

CHICAGO—A “Blues Brothers” comedic skit helped, but American Society for Training & Development (ASTD) President and CEO Tony Bingham and opening keynoter Daniel Pink are the ones who really got the crowd jazzed during the ASTD 2010 International Conference & Exposition, which kicked off here officially in the Windy City on May 17.

This year’s conference theme: Social media and learning.

Millennials will make up approximately 40 percent of the estimated 162 million-member U.S. workforce of 2014, Bingham said, noting this generation’s “overwhelming desire” to collaborate. “They show that by texting while they’re talking to you!”

As such, companies need to embrace social media to enhance learning.

“Learning is a relatively new purpose for social media, but we believe it is going to radically change the way learning happens in organizations,” he said. “It will allow us to embrace the younger generation’s need to collaborate and learn, and will transform the workplace” into a place where people learn naturally with each other all the time, not just during a training event.

But social media are only tools used to learn and communicate. They don’t motivate one to do so. Nor does the current management system of most organizations, said Pink, whose latest book, DRIVE: What the Science of Motivation Can Teach You About High Performance, explores the science behind human motivation.

Autonomy, Mastery, Purpose

Pink says that the carrot/stick approach to motivating employees doesn’t work because most humans are motivated by the desire to have autonomy, to achieve mastery in what they do and to serve a greater purpose.

“Management is a technology some guy invented in the 1850s in order to get compliance,” said Pink, noting that few technologies from the 1850s are still used today. “But learning doesn’t come from compliance; it comes from engagement. The best way to get that engagement is through self-direction.”

The where, how, when and with whom to do things is the autonomy that everyone seeks to have, he said, adding that the level of individual freedom afforded by social media is what makes them so effective.

Pink singled out companies such as Australian-based tech firm Atlassian and online shoe company Zappos.com as examples of companies that give their employees a high degree of autonomy to do their jobs.

Average annual turnover in call centers is 100 percent, Pink said. But Zappos doesn’t have that kind of turnover because it treats its call center people like they have a job where they should be just as engaged and active as any other job in the organization. They’re not relegated to a gray basement full of tiny cubicles and measured by the number of calls they take or the amount of time they spend on each call. “They’re told that they’re empowered to solve customers’ problems however they need to in whatever time it takes to do it.”

Atlassian gives employees Thursday afternoons to work on whatever they want to innovate, provided they’re willing to present it to their work groups. “They call these days FedEx Days because they have to deliver something overnight.”

Pink said a lot of what the company brings to market is thought of and designed during the 20 percent of the week the company give its employees to innovate. Same holds true for other companies. Google News and Gmail were created under similar circumstances.

“Makes you wonder what the employees of these companies do with the other 80 percent of their time, doesn’t it?” he quipped.

In addition, employees are motivated internally to get better at what they do. Performance reviews are designed to give feedback to employees to help them get better, he said. Trouble is, these reviews only do that in effect once a year.

“It feels good to manage progress in one’s work. I ask myself every day, did I do better than I did yesterday? Sometimes the answer is ‘no,’ but rarely is it ‘no’ two days in a row,” he said.

Finally, Pink said that he spoke with many people about what motivates them before he wrote his book Free Agent Nation. A lot of people told him that they left their companies to work for themselves because they didn’t feel they were doing anything that made an impact on the world.

“The more we can awaken employees’ sense of purpose,” he said, “the more amazing things can happen in our own organizations.”

Theresa Minton-Eversole is an online editor/manager for SHRM.