Saturday, March 24, 2012

Purpose and Motivation at Work

What drives your staff? What motivates them to turn up each day? Some will say it's all about the paycheck. This is undoubtedly true in many cases - yet it is not satisfactory for anyone involved. You will never get the best from your team if it is only about the money. And, by definition, your people will not be enjoying their jobs much either! It follows that finding better motivations for work will be good for you, and good for your staff as well.

Mourkogiannis (2007) identifies four "moral traditions" that potentially give purpose to individuals and organisations. These are discovery, excellence, altruism and heroism. I'll discuss each in turn.


This is the desire to have new ideas, think new thoughts, and learn new things. This drive is often found in those doing research at university, or plugging away in cutting edge start-ups.


This is the desire to create products of the highest quality possible. Think of Steve Jobs and Apple. This drive can be found in any organisation - alas, it is all too rare.


This is the desire to better the human race. It often drives those that work for NGOs and other charity organisations. It's a little harder to tap into for those of us in commercial organisations.


This is the desire to be the "very best" at what you do. It differs from excellence is that the focus is on your own ability rather than what you are producing. A potentially dangerous drive that can border on narcicism, yet I believe it can be legitimate with an appropriate amount of humility.

As managers, we want to try and tap into these higher motivators, so that our team are not simply turning up to collect their paycheck. Does a team member lean toward any of these drives? If so, what can you do to support and nurture this inclination?

Mourkogiannis, N 2007, 'Purpose: The starting point of great leadership', Leader To Leader, 2007, 44, p. 27


Steve G said...

And a combination. Often with lists like these we pigeon hole people into one category, but people usually aren't that simple. Could we put together a plan of action that has elements of each?

Craig Schwarze said...

Good point Steve. I think you need to take a nuanced approach, yet you will often be able to "plug in" to one of these motivations as a primary driver.

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