A senior Director of one of the largest companies on the planet recently told me that reading Dan Pink’s extraordinary ‘Drive’ (revealing what really motivates people in organisations) was a revelation.
It had taught him that most of the reward and hierarchical structures, painstakingly developed at huge cost over years to manage and control people, were not just a waste of time but were actually destroying shareholder value. He described it as a ‘liberating experience’.
For most big companies, hierarchy and control are the default option for managing the risk that comes from the inconvenient fact of employing people.
If there’s a risk, whether of error or misdemeanor, the solution must be control.
But what if this fundamental philosophy is wrong? What if the solution is not control but actually freedom?
What if by unshackling our people we actually de-risk the organisation? And, as a by-product, create a culture of unstoppable energy, motivation and self-responsibility? In a word a culture of ‘drive’.
It’s actually not that radical a notion. It’s what really good entrepreneurial leaders build into the core DNA of their businesses. Every day. It’s what Reed Hastings of Netflix means when he says ‘figure out how to get great outcomes by setting the appropriate context rather than by trying to control people’.
By ‘context’ Hastings means what Pink calls ‘purpose’. Telling an intelligent human being ‘why’ their organisation exists is a far better way of ensuring they do the right thing willingly than trying to control them to ensure their begrudging compliance.
To quote another thinker on this topic Simon Sinek ‘“When people believe in what you believe in, they work with their blood, sweat and tears. When they don’t believe in what you believe in, they work for your money”
Ajaz Ahmed the founder of AKQA now the largest digital agency in the world is another believer in simple principle of allowing people the freedom to excel. “Hire good people who share your values” he says “provide clarity in what needs to be done, trust them and give them independence to do their jobs”.
What it seems corporates need to learn, if we want passionate, engaged and driven cultures is to break the control habit. And it might just reduce risk in the process.