What motivates us? Autonomy Mastery Progress

Word cloud answering question what is NDR's purpose
An exercise completed by NDR managers revealed that while we may not agree on the exact purpose of the University, our division, or individual units, there is a lot of commonality in our understanding, including the importance of research, support, and faculty.

Purpose is defined as the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves. The simplest advice to leaders comes from Daniel Pink in Drive: Spend less time “telling how” and more time “showing why.” If your employees don’t know why they do what they do, their intrinsic motivation won’t increase.

In his book, Alive at Work, Dan Cable states that leaders have a direct impact on how people feel about purpose. If a leader is inauthentic, her employees will feel it and any talk of purpose backfires. Purpose has to be experienced and felt, which is why managers should be “linking pins,” connecting employees with the people who are impacted by their work.

Simon Sinek’s book, Start With Why, offers templates for crafting your unit’s purpose statement:  To________(Contribution) so that ___________________ (Impact).

Sinek cautions readers that purpose can’t be too generic. The products or services your unit offers should support your purpose or vision, not be an end in themselves. For example, most insurance companies lay claim to the same purpose: to protect people from the unpredictable. But what sets one company apart from its competitors? That difference will provide a clue as to its unique purpose. 

Ideas to infuse your unit with purpose

  • Outsource inspiration and give the microphone to your clients. If you receive great feedback about a staff member, ask the person to share that feedback directly with the staff member. 
  • Power of 1 Person: Even just a single person who can give witness to the impact of your team’s work is enough to inspire and increase your team’s intrinsic motivation and productivity. 
  • Be authentic. Know your own work purpose and coach your staff to help discover and experience their work purposes. 
  • Know your unit’s purpose and clearly articulate that purpose to the staff.

Resources to support purpose


If you have questions or ideas for additional resources in this playbook, please contact the Director of Finance and Administration