WHAT DRIVES YOU TO DO YOUR BEST WORK?

Saturday, November 14, 2015 Gabrielle Bill 0 Comments



I first noticed that I felt "different" from other marketers when I started recruiting for internships (and later, full-time jobs) during my time at Harvard Business School. I had spent two years prior to starting my MBA working in public relations and publishing at Walt Disney Parks & Resorts and had explicitly come to HBS with the intention of parlaying my communications background into a more strategic marketing role. But as my colleagues flocked to the info sessions of "top" CPG companies, like Procter & Gamble, Kraft and Pepsi, I avoided them all.

When I thought about a career marketing toilet paper or mac 'n' cheese or a sugary soda I didn't believe people should be drinking anyway, I was overcome with a feeling of dread. And this was before I had even interviewed for, or been offered a job, doing any such work.

At first, I doubted whether I was "meant" to be a marketer. After all, these were the most prized marketing positions out there, and I was one of the few people snubbing my nose at them and wanting "more" from my job.

But then it dawned on me. My reticence actually had nothing to do with the discipline of marketing and had everything to do with what motivated me on the job. For some people, clearly, they were motivated by things like industry prestige, classical training, a structured promotion process, even salary, as these firms tended to pay among the higher rates for post-MBA marketers.

And it's not that I didn't think those things were cool, too, because goodness knows I also wanted to make a lot of money and work for a well-known brand. But I was ignoring the fact that, for me, motivation was strongly tied to the level of passion I possessed for the product or service I was marketing. It was what made returning to Disney so appealing to me - regardless of the fact that I'd be paid pennies or that I'd only be in control of one (maybe two, if you stretch it) of the "four P's of marketing" (product, price, promotion and place), I loved Walt Disney World, and the idea of marketing magic lit me up inside.

That said, I started to doubt myself again after spending 3 1/2 years as a marketing strategist at Disney after graduation. It wasn't that my experience was anything less than magical (for the most part): I was the brand manager for Epcot for 8 months, got to market a food & wine and flower & garden festival, and got to be a part of the team that proctored a long-standing partnership with HGTV. I also worked on Disney Cruise Line for a few months, launched a stuffed toy product in the US parks and spent two amazing years revitalizing the national prospect marketing strategies for Disney Vacation Club, Disney's timeshare product.

I still loved Disney just as much as ever, but for the first time, the absence of some of those things I had passed up on at HBS - particularly salary and a structured promotion process - started to bother me. I got resentful that Disney promised me a raise, then buried their head in the sand every time I reminded them I had still not received it. I felt hurt when I was told I was the strongest performer at my level, but then deemed "too young" for a promotion. I started to believe - to my own surprise - that I had been wrong from the start and that the product I was marketing actually didn't matter if I had a strong salary, good benefits and could increase my title and responsibilities.

When I accepted a new job at Capital One a few months later, I solved for the problems I had been facing at Disney. I got a $20K+ increase in base salary, a massive yearly bonus (and a signing bonus), upped my title to "Manager" and joined a team of other "young" marketers that wouldn't judge me by my age. I even felt a little bit excited about the product - I was to work in the direct bank division and had been a Capital One 360 (formerly ING Direct) customer for years. It seemed like a match made in heaven.

Of course, you know the other shoe did indeed drop.

After the initial high of starting a new job, figuring out the ropes and trying to influence change where things were broken, I got bored fairly quickly. Analysts would wax on about financial terms that I never fully understood. Colleagues of mine would get so excited about developing a piece of direct mail to get someone to open a new checking account. And all I could think about was how much I missed roller coasters, churros and Mickey Mouse.

Despite what it may sound like, I'm not at all trying to say that my jump to Capital One was a bad decision or that I regret it, because it's led to other amazing things that I couldn't even have imagined. Rather the experience taught me lessons about the power of intrinsic motivation. Even though I wanted my motivation to be tied to external rewards and be one of those marketers who could "market anything," money, title and prestige alone just weren't enough. In the absence of a product that truly excited me (along with some other duds that I'll discuss in future blog posts), the pull of those rewards faded fast, and I was left like an empty tank of gas.

This subject - of motivation and the things that inspire us to achieve greatness - is the central theme of Daniel Pink's book, called Drive. It was recommended to me by my SoFi career coach, and although the book waxed and waned between interesting insights and science-y stuff that I found a bit dry, the main framework - around people's desire to achieve autonomy, mastery and purpose in their life and careers - resonated with me.

Drive by Daniel PinkI encourage you to read the book if you want to truly understand how Daniel crafted this framework, but here are my three key takeaways, if you're OK with Cliff's Notes:

            1) Mastery is an asymptote (and yes, you may want to click on that word for a reminder of what this high school math figure looks like), meaning that you can approach it, strive for it and almost get there...but you'll never fully and completely reach it. There will always be something new to learn, another challenge to tackle or a new competitor to beat. In fact, it's the pursuit of mastery, rather than the grasping of it, that drives us forward.

            2) Autonomy does not just mean that you have a boss who doesn't micromanage you. In fact, true autonomy is being able to direct your own task, time, technique and team. Daniel quotes a few organizations who are throwing the traditional corporate model out the window - either to a degree, like Google with their 20% "free" time, or more extreme, like companies who let employees decide where, when, how and what to work on independently. Each of these have their merits, but ultimately the takeaway is that we have a desire to direct our own lives and work on interesting, challenging "heuristic" tasks, or those where you're required to experiment with possibilities and devise a novel solution.

            3) Then the third piece: purpose. This is, perhaps, the most challenging of Daniel's triad, because it's the most subjective and individual. Some might define purpose in a religious or social sense of the word - needing to give back to society in a public fashion to satisfy their need. Others, like me, may just need to feel a deep connection to the work, contributing through the more indirect promotion or sharing of a product, service, concept, etc., that is important to their life. Without purpose, we can become autonomous masters in our careers, but we'll likely always feel something is missing, and as a result, will be scientifically less likely to achieve greatness.

It's important to note that even Daniel admits that intrinsic motivation is not enough if an individual's "base needs" aren't met (think of Maslow's hierarchy, for an easy, if not direct, comparison). Everyone needs to be treated with respect, paid a fair wage and have the opportunity to work in a safe, clean environment. Without these even the strongest intrinsic motivation won't lead to long-term success.

At the end of the day, so many of us - clearly even me! - lack a foundational understanding of ourselves and what truly motivates us, which then clouds our judgment when we're evaluating new career opportunities or deciding whether or not to stay at a job where we're not totally fulfilled. Only when we truly understand what drives us forward can we proactively seek to find a job, organization or career that aligns with our personal rubric. 

And that's perhaps the best takeaway of all: motivation is different for everyone. What motivates me will be different from what motivates you, and neither are right, wrong or better than the other. 

What do you think? Do you understand what motivates you to do your best work? Do you find intrinsic or extrinsic rewards to be more important? How has this changed over the course of your career?




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Gabrielle "Gabby" Bill is a career coach and consultant who believes everyone should be working in a job that leaves them feeling fulfilled. She coaches groups and individuals through a reflection process, uncovering often hidden motivations, values, goals and skills as they relate to their career. These reflections are then parlayed into concrete action plans to guide clients through the process of finding, creating and landing their dream jobs. You can learn more about her services by visiting www.gabriellebill.com

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