The Freaky Science of Motivation

Peg Breen: May 15, 20121 Comments

I recently visited the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to register my car, and as I was waiting for my number to be called something happened that I had never experienced at a DMV before.   I heard a voice over the loud speaker say, “Clovis employees, we have a winner of our contest to process the most applications for the week!   It’s Kathy, again.” announced the supervisor.  There was some light applause from some of my fellow drivers in the room and a few smiles and mild congratulations offered to the winner, before the staff took on their serious audit-the-paperwork expressions and went back to work - just then A009 was called so I stepped up to the desk, handed over my application, and decided to ask Elaine* what this was all about.

“I’ve never seen DMV run a contest before.  That’s pretty cool", I said.

Elaine’s serious expression didn’t change, and in fact she never even looked up at me when she responded, “I hate it when they do these contests and then try to take credit for our productivity.  I think it devalues us.”

I was kind of shocked that Elaine had an opinion about reward and recognition, so I probed a little further.  “It sounds like you might have a business degree”, I said.    She responded, “I’m getting my masters in psychology.  In my opinion, they either hire motivated people or they don’t."

This exchange was pretty astounding in a couple of ways.  First, Elaine had defined one of the critical success factors in business – hiring the right person for the job.  Second, she basically explained why Kathy had won again.  She was indeed a perfect fit.  But beyond that, why was the $5 Starbucks card motivating Kathy, and not Elaine?

Daniel Pink, the author of the book “Drive”, has a theory on this and says that the science of motivation is freaky.   In an interesting animated narrative posted on You Tube titled, “The surprising truth about what motivates us,” Pink says that money is a motivator up to a point, and that science proves 3 things are key to inspiring great performance and job satisfaction - Autonomy (being in control of your own work), Mastery (being able to learn to perform the work really, really well) and Purpose (our drive to do something to make a difference).

In the past couple of weeks I had the opportunity to hear a great example of how “purpose” showed up inside Community in 2007.  Jo Gehringer and Laura McComb reminisced about the day UMC closed and all the patients moved downtown to Community Regional.  This critical event in Community’s history occurred flawlessly and I could tell that the memory of this success was very special to them.  Nothing bad was going to happen - not on their watch.  It kind of makes your spine tingle doesn’t it?

I think this is why healthcare is uniquely positioned to attract people who are especially motivated by Purpose - if you were involved in what is known here as “the transition” and have a memory to share about what that experience was like and why people were motivated to make perfection happen – please share it.   And soon, the management team will have some great things to share about what we are building in response to your engagement survey comments.   The science of motivation is freaky, but you are helping us figure it out.

(* the name of the DMV employee has been changed - out of fear they wouldn’t renew my car next time)

One response to The Freaky Science of Motivation

great blog

awesome blog. Autonomy,Mastery and Purpose are the things that motivates us I have worked at Kaiser and UMC and when I became a RN I chosed UMC/CMC because of those three things.....yes I need the money but I wanted to be happy and CMC and staff pushes you to do your best .

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