In a recent article in Harvard Business Review entitled, Breakthrough Ideas for 2010, Teresa M. Amabile and Steven J. Kramer introduce some research they've been working on recently which shoots some holes in commonly held beliefs about what motivates people at work.
For the full excerpt in HBR, you can read it here. Amabile is a well-respected researcher and has contributed some excellent work over the years. Much of the material she has produced is consistent with the results produced by two of my favourites Jeffrey Pfeffer and Bob Sutton.
Here's a summary graphic that gives a glimpse into the research findings. Simply put, most executives believe the top five factors in motivating workers ranks as follows:
recognition, incentives, interpersonal support, support for making progress, and clear goals.
"Recognition for good work (either public or private)" came out number one. Not surprisingly, the prevailing view by leaders is completely ass-backwards! And incentives didn't even make the top five.
"On days when workers have the sense they're making headway in their
jobs, or when they receive support that helps them overcome obstacles,
their emotions are most positive and their drive to succeed is at its
Can't wait to read the paper or book that is derived from this research.