Business managers and HR professionals alike are familiar with the “4 Ps” that companies have traditionally used to incentivize their employees: Pay (salary, bonus, equity), Promotion (new role, new title), Perks (office space, travel policies, free beverages), and Praise (recognition and rewards). At a recent meeting of EMC’s top executives, noted author Dan Pink (Drive, A Whole New Mind, To Sell is Human) argued that business leaders need to look beyond these extrinsic incentives to intrinsic motivators. He suggested that people are driven by three essential motivations:
- Purpose: “I want to contribute to something important.”
- Mastery: “I want to be really good at something.”
- Autonomy: “I want to be in control, not controlled.”
Extrinsic incentives and levers of control are fundamental to our traditional concepts of command and control. Pink’s list of intrinsic motivators, on the other hand, seems more suited to art classes and book clubs than to the rough-and-tumble world of business.
In an attempt to compare and contrast Pink’s model to the more traditional, hard-edged notion of command and control, I turned to the definitive, or at least eponymous, publication on this subject, U.S. Marine Corps Doctrinal Publication 6, “Command and Control.” Marine Corps officers who would study command and control are urged to understand that:
“We are… fond of saying that commanders should be ‘in control’ of the situation…. The truth is that… it is a delusion to think that we can be in control…. [U]nlike in chess, ‘pieces’ consist of human beings….”
“The essence of war is a clash between human wills, and any concept of command and control must recognize this first. Because of this human element, command is inseparable from leadership. The aim of command and control is not to eliminate or lessen the role of people or to make people robots, but rather to help them perform better.”
MCDP 6 goes on to explicate a model of command and control based on giving those under one’s “command” a clear sense of the overarching goals, training them extensively, and giving them the information and ability to respond intelligently in the field. Sounds suspiciously like Purpose, Mastery, and Autonomy. Olive drab is decidedly Pink.
On the surface, this may seem surprising. After all, commanders need not offer incentives – they can simply issue orders that must be followed, and voluntary attrition by their “employees” is a limited threat (it’s called desertion). But commanders do need to motivate. The key point is that incentives are not motivation. They are related, but quite distinct.
Seen through this lens, striving to make a work group a great place to work, or defining a team mission that is as important as quotas or share price, or building work communities that give back to their home communities, are not “nice to have” complements to business leadership, they are central to leadership.
Like a general, a business leader must set strategy, build plans, and properly use extrinsic incentives to guide and reward specific actions. But to win convincingly, repeatedly, and profitably, she must also build a business and work environment that gives her comrades a sense of purpose, the opportunity to develop true mastery, and the autonomy to function as people.