The if-then or carrot-and-stick approach to motivation worked well for generations and the associated industrial/mechanical set of tasks. However, work is different in 2018. The requirement for thinking, creativity, and innovation necessitates a different approach to employee motivation.

Using a carrot approach to motivating people is about using incentives to drive performance. Pay employees more money if they achieve a target. Offer them bonuses or vacations if they achieve a goal. Then, if the carrot doesn’t work try the stick. The stick is punishment for not achieving a goal: a lost bonus, a lesser vacation, a forgone promotion, or a demotion. This approach has worked for decades.

Dan Pink provides evidence that this “if-then” approach to motivation works well for mechanical tasks, but not higher order thinking tasks. The future requires something different. In fact, he sites research that demonstrates how larger incentives lead to worse performance when the task involves higher order thinking skills. More money leads to worse outcomes?!

When it comes to dimensions of thinking, creativity, and innovation, people are motivated by three things: autonomy, mastery and purpose.

Portfolios provide individuals with autonomy because they put each user in control of their learning and professional development. Users can choose portfolio frameworks that speak to their strengths and interests. They control what they post in their portfolio and when to share it. Users can self-reflect and identify gaps without it being a performance issue. Individuals using portfolios are empowered.

Portfolios provide individuals with a sense of mastery because they show constant improvement against criteria that matters. Individuals demonstrate growth by posting evidence against competency categories that were once blank. They will also hear feedback during validation processes that will confirm improvement. Using portfolios, users have the opportunity to self-reflect on progress against well-defined criteria in a safe, secure, and non-evaluative way.

Portfolios provide individuals with purpose because their work is seen as contributing to something larger than themselves. They see their work posted against the values of the organization. They can also share artefacts out of their portfolio to contribute to the proliferation of best practices. Lastly, the cumulative nature of the portfolio allows the individual time to step away from the daily grind to see all that they’ve accomplished.

Portfolios work because they address the core tenants of intrinsic motivation. Yet, as Dan Pink points out – there continues to be a mismatch between what science knows and what business does.

Instead of exploring new methods of employee engagement, businesses are integrating software solutions that maintain traditional motivation techniques. Robots and algorithms are tracking performance (or lack of performance) on more levels and more measures than ever before. Then, this data is used in punitive conversations. The result is an overworked, stressed-out, less engaged employee population.

Give your employees autonomy and purpose. Support them in their efforts to achieve mastery. Use portfolios to revolutionize motivation in your workplace.


Pink, D. (2009). The puzzle of motivation [Video file]. Retrieved from–a&utm_medium=referral&utm_source=tedcomshare