A young business-minded boy is wearing a business suit, space helmet with a rocket strapped to his back. His hands are on his hips and he is smiling at the camera standing on blacktop.
Motivation and reward are important factors when it comes to achieving our goals.

Play, purpose and potential

Setting up the right conditions that reward and motivate us for success are key to effective self-leadership.

Southwest Airlines encourage their employees to treat customer interactions as a type of play.

UCB Pharmaceuticals invite customers to their executive meetings so that decision-makers have a clear sense that their work matters.

Google gives all employees access to a program called Search Inside Yourself that focuses on their potential as people; not just employees.

According to management consultants Neel Doshi and Lindsay McGregor, these examples show companies activating the three most powerful factors in increasing employee engagement and motivation: play, purpose and potential.

Focusing on each of these areas to maximise your engagement and motivation at work is an important step in leading yourself toward career success.

Each of these factors helps us to tune into our ‘natural rewards’ system, which (as we saw earlier) help us achieve a sense of competence and self-determination.

Play is not just for children

Play is both an attitude and a strategy that we can cultivate through our life and career.

Whether it’s a child trying to understand the world through banging a spoon on a table, or an elite athlete focused on their game, play is driven by curiosity and determination. Play wants to know: What happens next? How loud can I make that sound? What if I push myself that little bit further?

Tim Brown, a leading force in the design world and an advocate of ‘serious play’, explains the natural power of playful openness:

Kids are more engaged with open possibilities. Now, they’ll certainly – when they come across something new – they’ll certainly ask, ‘What is it?’. Of course they will. But they’ll also ask, ‘What can I do with it?’. And you know, the more creative of them might get to a really interesting example. And this openness is the beginning of exploratory play. (2008)

A playful attitude encourages us to approach our work with curiosity, openness and a sense of experimentation. In turn, this helps creates a sense that the work itself is rewarding.

Purpose is not the same as passion

Many inspirational speakers urge us to follow our passion, and – like play – passion for an activity certainly keeps us focused. But passion alone is hard to sustain.

Management professor Mort Hansen, whose book Great at Work is based on data from 5000 employees and managers, suggests the answer is matching passion with purpose:

There is actually a big difference between passion and purpose. Passion is ‘do what you love’, whereas purpose is ‘do what contributes’. Passion asks, what can the world give to you (a hedonistic inclination). Purpose asks, what can you give to the world (an other-orientation). (2018)

Focusing on what we contribute or how we add value is often even more important than merely following our own passion.

For example, researchers have shown that even in mundane jobs, we can ‘craft’ a sense of purpose. In one study, hospital cleaners who deliberately focused on their interactions with patients had a greater sense of purpose and job satisfaction.

Potential is not just about a vast set of open possibilities

To be motivating, our sense of potential has to be realistic and realisable.

We often do something in order to achieve something else. So we exercise not just to ‘get fit’, but so we won’t be out of breath every time we walk up the stairs.

Jobs can be similar. We might accept a particular job, or set of job tasks, because we can see how it could be a pathway to another job or set of responsibilities we really want.

Your task

How would focusing on play, purpose or potential build in a natural reward system that might motivate you to achieve your goals?

Choose one of the motivators we have talked about in this step (eg play, purpose or potential) and use the comments to discuss with other learners how focusing on this could help you craft a better sense of engagement in your career.

Try to be practical and use examples from your experience, especially where you can recognise these factors have already had an impact.

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Career Credentials: Evidence Your Self-management Skills

Deakin University

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