“We are driven by meaningful work, by others’ acknowledgement and by the amount of effort we’ve put in: the harder the task is, the prouder we are.”
My company recently distributed its annual promotion list. Ten pages of people promoted out of tens of thousands of employees. There have been years where I’ve been on “the list” and years I have not. What I’ve learned is promotion in a hierarchical organization has little to do with merit or work delivered and more about politics behind closed doors. This taught me valuable lessons on how people are motivated and engaged on projects, teams and communities.
Focus on the work, not the title
Recent conversations at work have a consistent theme. I find myself reassuring people who did not make “the list” to continue focusing on the work, not the title. Even a hierarchical organization can adopt meritocracy attributes. When projects, teams and communities enable people to learn, develop marketable skills, solve complex problems and broaden networks, motivation will remain consistent.
I’m a big fan of behavioral economist, Dan Ariely. Dan’s TED Talk unveils findings that contradict popular belief about pay and promotion as motivators. To drive motivation people need meaning, creation, challenge, ownership, identity, pride and acknowledgement connected to their work. Developing myBill, a new application and approach for managing personal consumption at work, my pay or title was not a motivational force. I was passionate about the challenge of creating new software, to change the workplace and help others. The work I delivered drove my motivation, not the hierarchy. Understanding and applying the science of motivation alters the way we engage people, lead teams and manage communities.
Adopting a meritocracy structure for your team or community promotes transparent contributions, collaboration and enables leaders to emerge organically. When the work feels bureaucratic, political or monotonous something is wrong. Allow the playing field to be level by recognizing hard work, celebrate successes, champion contributors and foster an environment where the work matters, not a title or hierarchy.