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Motivate facility and event operation staff

This is an excerpt from Administration of Intercollegiate Athletics by Erianne Weight & Robert Zullo.

Leadership Lesson

Motivation 3.0

Event operations staff are those who organize experiences, coordinate vendors, greet visitors, welcome longtime supporters, and provide hospitality for fierce competitors. If collegiate athletics is the front porch of the university, facility and event operations staff are the friendly neighbors who wave on the front lawn. During the course of conference tournaments, summer camps, simultaneous home competitions, and back-to-back-to-back-to-back late nights and early mornings, these jobs can be physiologically draining. There are units throughout the country, however, that have mastered the art of hosting - units that maintain a staff full of people eager to go out of their way to facilitate optimal experiences for their guests and who find great fulfillment in completing their jobs well. They do this through what Daniel Pink refers to as the societal operating system Motivation 3.0.

According to Pink, at one point, humans were driven by biological needs (Motivation 1.0), but they evolved to respond to rewards and punishments - the carrot-and-stick method of motivation. This was Motivation 2.0, and it can still be an effective extrinsic motivator, particularly for algorithmic or repetitive tasks (those that follow a set of established instructions toward a single conclusion) and for activity that brings a baseline reward (for instance, a salary). However, for heuristic tasks - those that require experimentation, creativity, artistry, and novel solutions - extrinsic "if-then" rewards can actually foster negative behavior. Specifically, they can

  • extinguish intrinsic motivation;
  • diminish performance;
  • crush creativity;
  • crowd out good behavior;
  • encourage cheating, shortcuts, and unethical behavior;
  • become addictive; and
  • foster short-term thinking. (Pink, 2009, p. 59)

Pink argues that it is time for a societal upgrade to Motivation 3.0 - an approach founded on three elements that facilitate intrinsic motivation: autonomy, mastery, and purpose. These three elements must work in concert in order to encourage professional success and foster personal fulfillment in ourselves and in our colleagues.


We are innately self-directed, but this internal drive is often suppressed by outdated notions of "management." Several studies have demonstrated that companies outperform their competitors when they foster an autonomous work environment (Baard, Deci, & Ryan, 2004; Deci & Ryan, 2008). One way to foster autonomy is by creating a "results-only" work environment. In this approach, individuals are accountable for their work, but what they do (task), when they do it (time), who they do it with (team), and how they do it (technique) are all up to them.


Autonomy alone cannot breed motivation, but it helps. Whereas earlier management methods led to compliance through control, autonomy can lead to mastery, which is the second element necessary to foster intrinsic motivation. Mastery abides by three rules (Pink, 2009):

  1. Mastery is a mind-set: It requires believing that one's abilities are infinitely improvable and that learning goals are valued over performance goals.
  2. Mastery is pain: It demands relentless effort, steady perseverance, and disciplined practice.
  3. Mastery is an asymptote: It can never be fully realized, which makes its pursuit alluring, joyful, and frustrating.

In order to facilitate mastery in your team members, give them tasks that continually challenge and stretch their skill set. In addition, emphasize collaboration. Facilitate task shifting and cross-training, and allow diverse groups to work with one another to stimulate new ideas and processes.


The final element of the three-part formula for Motivation 3.0 is purpose, which provides an overarching context within which people can pursue mastery through autonomous means. As emphasized throughout the leadership lessons in this book, "the most deeply motivated people - not to mention those who are most productive and satisfied - hitch their desires to a cause larger than themselves" (Pink, 2009, p. 133). Within this mind-set, purpose maximization and profit maximization are equally important.

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) has become known for its event operations. Walk into any event, and you will likely be greeted by a smile from a helpful staff member who takes pride in the particular element of the event operations plan with which he or she is currently tasked. Much of this success derives from the work of Ellen Culler, the director of event operations. She leads and trains her team with care and passion, allows them autonomy in execution, facilitates an environment that fosters mastery, and above all emphasizes that it is a privilege to play a part in hosting events at Carolina. She empowers those around her to strive to do better, continually challenges them, and reminds them that they are part of something great. In other words, the event operations unit at UNC is fueled by Motivation 3.0.

Throughout my athletics career, the overall goal was always to be a better athlete than I was at the moment - whether next week, next month, or next year. The improvement was the goal. The medal was simply the ultimate reward for achieving that goal.

Sebastian Coe, Olympic silver-medalist, British politician, and successful sport administrator (London 2012 Olympic Games, FIFA)

One cannot lead a life that is truly excellent without feeling that one belongs to something greater and more permanent than oneself.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, psychology professor and researcher (most famous for Flow: The psychology of optimal experience)

The desire to do something because you find it deeply satisfying and personally challenging inspires the highest levels of creativity, whether it's in the arts, sciences, or business.

Teresa Amabile, Harvard business school professor and researcher (best known for research on creativity)

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