A Noncommissioned Drive | HR Fishbowl

As an HR Professional you play an integral role in helping your organization motivate its employees. If you believe this, then you really should read Daniel Pink’s bestselling “Drive”. In 220 pages, it will take everything the archaic world of business has taught you about “what motivates us,” turn it on its head, and slap you across the face with an enlightenment toward the binding constraints your organization is likely imposing on its people.

Last week I had the chance to hear Dan Pink talk in an intimate setting to a group of Northwestern University Alumni about his research, his findings, the resulting book, and his personal perspective on what really gives the normal adult their get-up-and-go. I took five pages of hand-written notes during the hour Dan talked to us; I nodded my head a lot, and muttered the occasional “amen” under my breath (too staid a crowd for me to stand up on my chair, raise my hands to the rafters, and shout it for all to hear). Most of what he had to say spoke directly to a number of projects and challenges I’m focused on right now…resulting in the best kind of professional serendipity. And while the book is chocked full of stuff that sticks, Dan reminded me of one of its nuggets that’s just juicy enough for the Fishbowl…

A few Harvard Business School brainiacs conducted a study with 23 professional artists around the United States and asked them to randomly select ten commissioned works and ten noncommissioned works. They then invited a panel of accomplished artists and curators, who knew nothing about the study, to rate the pieces on creativity and technical skill. It turned out that both commissioned and non-commissioned works were rated similarly on technical quality; however, overwhelming the commissioned works were rated as significantly less creative than the non-commissioned works. Hmmmm. Berry berry interesting, no?!?! What they found: commissioned works involve client demands, constraints, expectations (implicit and explicit) that often stifle the artist’s ability to truly create…to do what really differentiates them from the countless. In one artist’s words, “when you are doing a piece for someone else it becomes more ‘work’ than joy.” *

Now stop and think for just a moment about how this might apply to the more “traditional” world of work…the kind of work that involves clean-lined offices, not an artist’s grungy studio (or a grungy artist’s studio). How much of what we build in the way of “talent management” invariably amounts to commissioned work? Do we spend far too much time going about telling our employees what to do and how to do it? Think about the most fundamental of employment resources like a Job Description that attempts to reduce an incumbent’s work to a piece of paper; or an Employee Handbook that is 150 pages and spells out every rule and regulation ad nauseam; or a poorly constructed variable compensation plan that too narrowly defines “success.” What about the manager who imposes their views in totalitarian fashion. Or the Exec who spends all their time focused only on the numbers number numbers. Do these and other misplaced intentions do little more than constrain our people from tapping their potential? Do they cloud true purpose? Do they stifle ingenuity? Do they impede independence and autonomy? Do they suggest we don’t trust our good people to do good things…on their own? Do they implicitly deny permission to create and innovate?


So stop commissioning work, get out of the way, and let your employees drive.

Image Credit: Kevitivity (via Compfight)

*Attribution (entire paragraph): Drive, Daniel Pink, Penguin, 2009 // thanks to Kevin Murnane, Adjunct Professor at Northwestern’s Kellogg Graduate School of Management for the kind invitation to see Dan speak.

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