Last week, I have eluded to an idea that carrots and sticks as a way to motivate people may lead to undesirable results. In continuing that theme, Daniel Pink argued why human is largely driven by the third alternative, Motivation 3.0, which can be categorised by autonomy, mastery and purpose. I will focus on autonomy in this post.

We all have gotten used to the idea of separation between work and play. What makes play attractive to us is that we have control over activities we choose to do. Studies have shown that by injecting autonomy into the work, we can increase job satisfaction and productivity. Pink noted that

[r]esearchers at Cornell University studied 320 small businesses half of which granted workers autonomy, the other half relying on top-down direction. The businesses that offered autonomy grew at four times the rate of the control-oriented firms and had one-third the turnover.

He further argued that Motivation 3.0 emerges when people have autonomy over the four aspects: their task, their time , their technique, and their team.


In her TED talk, Brene Brown went on the record and said that “vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change.” But if the company doesn’t foster an environment for employees to experiment with their ideas, innovation and creativity are less likely to arise.

The best known company to embrace the idea of autonomy over their work is Google. It has long encouraged its engineers to spend 20 percent of their time working on their side projects. Some employees use this time to fix existing products or develop something entirely new. More than half of Google’s new offerings are born during this period of autonomy.

However, Kathy Gersch pointed out here that unfocused free-thinking can be wasteful and therefore the power of autonomy is better utilised if it is aligned with the company’s strategic goals. There is a fine line between being narrowly-focused and being too broadly defined.


I am not a morning person. Having a nine-to-five schedule mean that I am unproductive for half of the time. How often do you notice your work colleague pretend to look busy? Giving workers autonomy over their time means allowing them to choose the most productive time for them to produce the best work. Not all jobs require eight hours of working. Employees are happier and the company gets a better result. In Pink’s words: “People [are encouraged] to contribute rather than just show up and grind out their days”.

Surprisingly, it also opens possibility to potential employees who may be constrained by their circumstances. For instance, your best candidate may possibly be a stay-at-home mum who has to take care of her kids during the day, but she can provide her service when her kids go to school. Added flexibility means that the company can employ the best people for the job.


In Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action, Simon Sinek remarked that “[g]reat companies don’t hire skilled people and motivate them, they hire already motivated people and inspire them.” Companies have already spent enormous effort into hiring skilled people to work for them. But, in a complete contradiction, once in, the company culture inhibits exhibition of those skills.

Giving individual freedom over how they choose to perform their tasks can improve productivity and job satisfaction. The American airline JetBlue was one of the first to let its customer service staffs working from their homes. As a result, it earned the highest customer service ranking, ahead of its competitors. It also reduces its recruitment cost to almost zero, because their prospective employees come to them.


We love to choose who we want to work with. Autonomy over team is so important that it can sometimes have a significant influence on the company. “Research has shown that people working in self-organised teams are more satisfied than those working in inherited teams”.

Simon Sinek remarked: “It is not the genius at the top giving directions that makes people great. It is great people that make the guy at the top look like a genius.” Giving employees autonomy over how they work is an immensely powerful way to bring out the greatness in people.