Intrinsic Motivation and More


Employee retention is a very popular and recent HR challenge. Companies have used different solutions to overcome it. Two of them are employee engagement and employee empowerment. These two HR practices are usually implemented to retain employees, yet the problem still remains because the root is not only extrinsic as compensation and benefits but actually intrinsic, very natural, human and psychological. It is related with employee motivation. Nowadays, in the open talent economy, employees are highly skilled and knowledgeable. They do not look for jobs and careers. They want experience by adding value and engaging in tasks that motivate them intrinsically. One of the recent motivational theories that focuses on increasing intrinsic motivation is for sure Daniel Pink’s theory.

Pink’s Theory

In his motivation theory, Daniel Pink states that businesses and leaders should use a new approach to motivation which is based on self-determination. According to it, people have an innate drive to be autonomous, self-determined and connected to one another. Organizations should focus on this drive when managing their employees by creating settings which support the human innate need to direct their own lives, learn and create new things and contribute to their organization and the world. Pink’s terms for these are autonomy, mastery and purpose.


Autonomy gives employees some freedom over some or all of the four main aspects of work. These are time, technique, team and task.

Employees are free to do their tasks whenever they want to. The important thing is the output. That is why nowadays, flexible work time is implemented by many companies.

What about technique? In the past, managers dictated how employees should complete their tasks. The traditional management style is not compatible with the modern business world. Now, leaders and managers should be mentors and coaches. They should provide initial guidance, and then allow employees to tackle the project as they wish rather than having to follow strict procedures. Employees want to decide by themselves how they do their job.

Team work is important part in professional life. Usually people are assigned to teams. What about letting employees to choose their team? Although this can be the hardest form of autonomy, it will be great to allow employees some choice over who they work with. Only one person cannot have all the competencies to do projects that solve complex problems. Teams nowadays are formed so naturally by complementing competencies so employees have to choose team members according to the required competencies.

The last aspect is task. Leading oneself is a very important competence that all modern professionals should possess. They decide when, how and with whom to do their job tasks. In addition, managers should allow employees to have regular “creative” days where they can work on any project or problem they wish. There are studies which show that many innovations are generated during this “creative free time”. It is known that many innovative companies such as Google for example use this technique.


In my last post 2015: New Year for Your Personal Mastery, I discussed the topic of personal mastery. People are responsible for their own personal mastery, yet companies and leaders are responsible as well. They should support personal mastery and allow employees to become better at something that matters to them and the organization.

Pink emphasizes Goldilocks tasks and environment for mastery. Do you rememberthe Goldilocks principle? Diverse talent should generate the right amount of creative energy in order to be creative and innovate. How?

Pink uses the term “Goldilocks tasks” to describe those tasks which are neither very difficult nor very simple. These tasks push the employees out of their comfort zones, and allow them to stretch themselves and develop their competencies further. Only in this “just right” condition employees have the chance for mastery. When the given tasks fall in the other two extremes the results are boredom and anxiety. In other words, when the tasks are easy and simple for employees, they are bored. If the tasks are too difficult, employees might be frustrated, anxious or stressed.

According to Daniel Pink, four essentials are required to foster an environment of learning and development. These are autonomy, clear goals and immediate feedback and Goldilocks tasks. Learning organizations are organizations that support learning, and they are the suitable environment for mastery.


Purpose is to take actions in order to fulfill employees’ natural desire to contribute to a cause greater than them. Leaders and managers should communicate and make sure employees know and understand the organization’s purpose not just its profit goals. Employees, who understand the purpose and vision of their organization and how their individual roles contribute to this purpose, are more likely to be satisfied in their work.

Communicating organization’s mission and vision is important and using the appropriate language is also essential. As Pink states, leaders and managers should use purpose-oriented words and utter pronouns such as “us” and “we”. Consequently, this will inspire employees to talk about their organization in the same way. They will feel as a part of the greater cause, or they will commit to the whole.

Organizations should place equal emphasis on purpose and profit maximization. Research shows that the attainment of profit goals has no impact on employee’s well-being. Organisational and individual goals should focus on purpose as well as profit.

Autonomy, mastery and purpose will increase intrinsic motivation of employees, and this also will result in increased employee satisfaction.

Employee Empowerment

What is employee empowerment? Employee empowerment is giving employees a certain degree of autonomy and responsibility for decision-making regarding their specific organizational tasks. It allows decisions to be made at the lower levels of an organization where employees have a unique view of the issues and problems. Actually, they have to be empowered to make decisions about their own tasks because they are the ones who know the best. That is why there is a need for a management practice of sharing information, rewards and power with employees so that they can take initiative and make decisions to solve problems and improve service and performance. Empowerment is based on the idea that giving employees autonomy, resources and opportunity as well as holding them responsible for outcomes of their actions, will contribute to their learning, mastery, job satisfaction and happiness.

One company case study can be used to illustrate employee empowerment. The Walt Disney Company is given as an example for the use of employee empowerment strategies. It has actually invested great amount of time in teaching their employees the Disney Company’s mission and values. Passion as well as devotion from actors and staff is one of the five important features of working for Walt Disney. Disney describes their employees as cast members in order to break the regular boundaries of the manager and employee relationship. Besides, it makes use of advancement, community and positive outlook in their organizational culture for empowering staff members.

Employee Engagement

Employee engagement can be defined as the relationship between an organization and its employees. Engaged employee are usually very enthusiastic about their work. They are intrinsically motivated to take positive actions to further the organization’s reputation and interests. On the contrary, when employees are not engaged, they make minimum efforts to perform their jobs. They do not try hard to add value to their organization. Stated shortly, organizations with high employee engagement will outperform those with low employee engagement. Engaging employees or making sure that they are committed and productive in their work can benefit the organization as much as it can benefit employees.

For ongoing employee engagement some strategies should be applied. They are very similar to Pink’s theory. The most important is to engage employees by providing purpose bigger that their daily tasks. Organization’s mission and vision, brand that is products or services must be the guiding purpose in everything employees do. Besides, communication on continuous basis is required so that employees know how they and the organization are doing. Another one is for sure employee empowerment. The best engagement is to empower all employees to do their best by providing the leadership, resources and training employees need to realize their potential that is actually personal mastery. The best result is that it is also much easier to retain employees who are empowered, engaged and committed to the success of their organization.

One case study for employee engagement is Mars company that has 70 000 employees in 73 countries. Mars believes that well-being underpins engagement and productivity. As a result, Mars supports its employees to manage their health and well-being. There are mutual benefits for Mars, the employees and their families. For instance, the well-being strategy in the UK included focus on diet and physical activity just to name a few. One campaign gave the chance for employees to have blood pressure, cholesterol and glucose checks.

Employee Retention

Employee retention simply refers to the ability of an organization to retain its employees. When retention is low, it means that employee turnover is high. The reasons for employee turnover might be absence of career paths, lack of recognition or poor employee-manager relationships. The main objective of companies is to decrease employee turnover.

One business case to depict this is Harrods. To reduce employee turnover Harrods has implemented some strategies such as a better management structure and improved benefits. Apart from the external motivators like the system of rewards and incentives, Harrods improved work schedules which helped employees to have a better work-life balance. Moreover, Harrods also provides a wide variety of development opportunities for its employees. During performance appraisals, managers talk to employees about their progress and ambitions, so that employees identify their personal development targets. These are the so called autonomy and mastery in Pink’s theory.

Different Approach

How does Kevin Roberts, the CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi retain top talent? Now, we know the answer. It is short and simple. He does not. Kevin Roberts knows that if he gives his employees four things, they will want to come back. These four things areresponsibility, learning, recognition and joy.

Are not they very similar to autonomy, mastery and purpose? Giving responsibility is actually giving purpose and autonomy to achieve. Mastery is only possible through continuous learning and development. Joy is the result of autonomy and mastery. It is the satisfaction of adding value to the job, organization, community and the bigger whole. Recognition is not discussed in Pink’s theory. Organizations need to adopt a culture of recognition because people feel happier when they know that they are valued, loved and supported. As a concluding sentence, I would like to directly quote Kevin Roberts’ words which actually summarize so many modern HR and leadership trends that hopefully will be implemented soon.

“…we don’t look for functional expertise;

we look for curiosity and passion

and the ability to work in a culture

where the outcome is

collaborative connected idea creation…”

(Posted also on LinkedIn Pulse)