What’s Our Motivation?

Ashby Monk

I had my “pensions hat” on today.  I was speaking at a human resources conference in Washington DC about the design and structure of benefit systems in the ‘new economy’. It was a lot of fun, and, as always, I learned quite a bit from some of the other speeches.

Specifically, I caught a lecture by Daniel Pink that was quite interesting. He raised some thought-provoking questions about what motivates us to do work…and, in particular, what motivates us to do creative and innovative work.

In his assessment, cash incentives are not among the criteria that drive creation and innovation. In fact, he showed — i.e. he referred to others’ research — that pay-for-performance reward systems can actually constrain creative problem solving.

So then, you might ask, how do you motivate this type of work? In his view, it boils down to three factors: autonomy, mastery and purpose. I’m not going to rehash the entire speech here, go have a look at a description of a very similar speech he gave at TED in 2009.

I do think there is a thread here back to SWFs, however, as these are organizations that, in many cases, cannot ‘pay for performance’ like their counterparts in the private sector do. So, SWFs might benefit from exploring some of the new concepts emerging on what motivates staff (i.e. read Pink’s book). They might be surprised to find that they can build a pretty compelling rewards package based on non-financial criteria; one that could allow them to compete with the highest paying private investors for talent attraction and retention. For example, SWFs could offer employees a real ‘sense of purpose’, which was one of Pink’s touchstones for motivation.

Anyway, interesting stuff. But I have to go. My plane is boarding…

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This website is a project of Professor Gordon L. Clark and Dr. Ashby Monk of the School of Geography and the Environment at the University of Oxford. Their research on sovereign wealth funds is funded by the Leverhulme Trust and The Rotman International Centre for Pension Management.

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