Daniel Pink, the author of four books on business management and speaker at CUNA’s upcoming America's Credit Union Conference, is upfront about coming to his interest in business and management accidentally.
"I don't have a business degree," he confessed during a recent interview with Credit Union Times. "I have a law degree, but I have never practiced as a lawyer," he said, explaining his time at Yale Law School as something that seemed to make the most sense at the time.
Instead, Pink said, with a law degree in hand and an interest in public policy, he found himself drawn to working in different capacities for different politicians until, finally, he wound up as a speechwriter for Vice President Al Gore.
Working in the public policy and political fields exposed him to different aspects of economics and that led to an interest in management.
"It’s a natural thing to get a different view of the economy and how it works, how corporations work and what makes things happen when you are working in public policy," he said. "That's what kicked me off."
In Pink's view, his books have not broken new ground, as in discovering something completely new, but instead have helped uncover and explain what researchers have begun to show about work and management. The truths about each have been around since human beings began to work, Pink explained, but they have only come into their most familiar forms since the end of World War II or the mid 1950’s.
Pink's latest interest is what motivates workers–not just in the narrow immediate sense of what gets them to come in to their workplace every work day but also in the broader sense of what makes them become the best workers they can be. What turns workers from being more or less observing or passive participants in an economic enterprise into engaged, active parts of the ongoing effort.
Pink said he discovered that many behavioral researchers from a variety of different disciplines had been working in the field for a few decades, and many of them uncovered aspects of the question that defy conventional wisdom.
For example, money only motivates workers so far, according to researchers. Money, as long as it is what the worker understands to be "enough," motivates workers who are engaged in simpler, more repetitive tasks but works markedly less well as soon as jobs begin to require higher degrees of knowledge and skill, he explained. In those situations, workers reported to researchers three different things most motivate their work performance: autonomy, mastery and purpose.
By autonomy, Pink means company's having the courage to allow its workers in the less repetitive and more analytic jobs to have greater say in how they work and what they work on. Directions from management are great if a company wants compliance, Pink said, but if a company wants engagement from its employees, it needs to trust them and give them greater autonomy in their work.
In his most recent book, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, Pink cites an Australian computer and software company called Atlassian. For one day every quarter, Atlassian lets its employees in analytical jobs work on whatever they want with whomever they want for 24 hours. The company only asks that its workers share their results with the company.
Researchers reported that Atlassian found it gained more software bug fixes and more and stronger new ideas from that one day of employee autonomy than from anything else–even using so-called innovation bonuses that offered employees $2,500 if they came up with strong new ideas.
The next two, mastery and purpose, are somewhat akin. And Pink said credit unions already have an in with both of them. Pink defined mastery as the human desire to get better at doing something, usually meaning something more than a rote task, though rote tasks might be part of learning mastery of a subject, he noted. Becoming more proficient at chopping onions alone is not going to be enough to make someone a great chef, he pointed out, but it is unlikely a person is going to become a great chef without becoming proficient in chopping onions.
Likewise, merely learning all about a credit union's product and service offerings will not by itself turn someone into a great member service rep, but it’s unlikely they will become an outstanding source of member service without first learning about the CU's products and services.
Mastery and purpose are aligned, Pink explained, because researchers found people want to gain mastery in something that is part of something larger than themselves, that their mastery is making a contribution to a larger purpose. He pointed out the well-known technical organizations of Linux and Wikepedia, both of which draw upon the voluntarily offered skill and resources of large numbers of people already involved in highly skilled work for free to accomplish some enormous task. People are motivated by the notion that their work can be part of some larger effort to make something better and, often, the bigger the effort the better, he said.
"Credit unions have this in spades," Pink said. "Credit unions are all about the consumer, all about helping their members better their financial circumstances and meet their financial goals. This gives credit unions a head start in the hunt for highly qualified and motivated talent," he added.