Many managers and business leaders struggle with improving workforce engagement and motivation. This is especially true when it comes to sustaining creativity, performance and problem-solving — despite the boost these factors can give an organization seeking a competitive advantage in our knowledge economy.
Contrary to conventional wisdom, recent social science research suggests traditional incentives — such as goals set by managers or rewards in the form of monetary bonuses — actually dull employee creativity and problem-solving, and are not effective motivators alone for newer 21st century tasks often associated with knowledge work.
Career author Daniel Pink, whose 2009 TED Global-London presentation about the "Puzzle of Motivation" (captured on YouTube), suggests individuals engaged in knowledge work are more motivated when they are given more autonomy, mastery and purpose, instead of assigned goals and rewards. Social enterprises — organizations that borrow and adapt the logic of the private sector to address issues that have traditionally been beyond its scope — excel at achieving higher levels of workforce engagement and motivation, and can provide valuable insights for improving business productivity and competitiveness.
Allowing individuals to find personal meaning and purpose in the work they do, especially in tasks that require them to think outside the box, can be a winning strategy.
For example, take Action Alexandria, an online platform for community change that connects Virginia neighbors and local organizations to share ideas, create action and make an impact. Since starting two years ago, Action Alexandria has already made a measurable impact on the community, in part because it enables volunteers and collaborators to find personal meaning in supporting their community. The organization has raised more than $559,654 in community investment (counting playground grants and online fundraising); engaged 2,542 community members; collected 3,920 donated items for Alexandria nonprofits (medicine, books, food, diapers, etc.); and mobilized people to support local nonprofits, submit new ideas and cast more than 6,000 votes during community idea challenges.