The three factors that drive performance…


When I am speaking to companies about hiring executives, I often ask them what they believe drives performance. How can they ensure that executives will perform as best as possible?

It’s amazing how many people don’t know the answer to this question (including myself until 6 months ago). Surely after millions of business school case studies we should know what drives performance?!

Currently, most performance is driven by incentives. The reason seems simple enough – you perform better, you get paid more. However, as the events of the last 10 years have proven, this model can have disastrous results for any company. Personal gain can cause executives to drive artificial short-term gain at the expense of the long term stability of the business.

The answer is summarized excellently by the author Dan Pink in the following TED Talk:

As he explains, incentives only really work in simple, mechanical type tasks. Incentives actually sharpen the mind and make an individual more focussed on executing a well defined and routine problem. However, for more tasks that require even moderate levels of cognitive skill, incentives actually worsen performance. And since most executives are more focussed on these complex tasks, incentives can cause them to be too narrow in their thinking rather than being more creative and considered to select the best answer.

The answer is therefore not to drive performance through external motivation (incentives) but through internal motivation – that already exists. And this exists of three factors – autonomy, mastery and purpose.

Autonomy, mastery and purpose are the three things any employee must have in order to perform as best as possible.


Study after study has conclusively proved that people perform better when they are trusted to get the job done. Hardcore man-management is a legacy of the industrial age where the goal was to make sure people worked as hard as possible in operative jobs. However, in knowledge based white collar jobs man-management causes stifling of creativity and sometimes resentment. 21st century managers should be more like coaches and less like officers. Autonomy is essential for optimal performance.


Mastery is another term for progress or growth. Top performers are continuously looking to grow. The minute they stop growing they are likely to become bored and demotivated. Companies must ensure that employees have genuine opportunities to develop new skills, experiences and responsibilities.


As any successful entrepreneur will testify, top performers are driven more by the mission than the money. When interviewing executives, companies should first focus on what drives the individual – professionally, personally and socially. All new opportunities, including job opportunities are exciting as they are unknown. The key to success in business, and indeed life, is finding out what you could do every single day with the same 101% intensity. Defining your business purpose and making sure everyone is a believer and fully engaged with the mission is essential.

So there you have it, the three simple factors that control the performance of your business.

How well does your company score?