We have blogged about the topic of that last video post before, including a reference to Herzberg’s classic “One more time, what motivates employees?” And just like Herzberg, Daniel Pink points out that the three biggest factors that motivate people once the money is right is Autonomy (the desire to be self-directed), Mastery (the desire to get better at something), and Purpose (the desire to do something good). I ran across another article the other day about how they do human capital management at Google, and the same dynamic came through. Doing a good job seems to be the thing that we want. Companies that align their work and their purpose are flourishing. (Can you say, “Skype, Apple, and Whole Foods?”)

Given that our work is education, I am sure you can guess where this is all going. Race to the Top, the Gates Foundation, and a stalwart group of economists within the education reform sphere keep trying to incentivize high performing teachers (as measured by student growth) with bonus pay. We’ve talked about this before so we won’t belabor the point, but there is no evidence that pay motivates higher performance when you’re talking about complex work that requires thought, and if you’ve watched yesterday’s video, you now have another data point.

But what DOES seem to be motivating? Mastery, Autonomy, and Purpose. Education has at least one of these going for it right out of the gate: Purpose. And if you talk to teachers and principals like we do, you know that there is nothing more demotivating than having the “instructional coach” or “state observer” come into your classroom to watch your instruction for five minutes to tell you what you should be doing better. The autonomy variable is definitely at play here. To us, the trick in education, and with principals and teachers specifically, is how do we foster Mastery through our management?

Here is what we have seen: When student assessment data or classroom observation data is presented in a disaggregated way (vs. summarizations) and is turned around in a quick time frame after collecting the data (no more than one week), educators are much more likely to see the value of the data as a way to get better (or gain mastery). But when the turnaround of the same data is slow or the emphasis is on an aggregated “rating,” it becomes deeply demotivating, and in many cases fuels the political fire to slow down or stop the district or state’s reform efforts.

If purpose, mastery, and autonomy yield higher performance among teachers and principals, what does this then mean for the work of managers at the district level? And for the program designers at the state? We’d love to hear your opinion.