A friend once told me that no matter what you do for work, your job is to identify problems and find solutions.

“Do this,” he said. “And a company will always see your value.”

It’s the age-old truism that if you see something broken, fix it. Simple, true. And if everyone inherently saw work this way, quality innovation would move faster all on its own.

Why doesn’t it, then?

The question so many have asked over the years is, “How do we get ourselves or others to identify problems and find solutions without being directly told to do so?

And not just any solution, either. In today’s fiercely competitive world, the solutions we’re looking for are the best ones. The ones our clients, customers or fellow employees will love.

What’s essentially being asked is, “how do I motivate myself and my people to think on their own about what the company needs, and work (sometimes harder and longer) to satisfy the need?”

This is different than, ‘how do I get more things done?’ —which was talked about in our last post: Eliminate Distractions. This is about tapping into internal motivations to find quality solutions to problems we didn’t even know existed yet.

Here are a few of the answers from today’s thought leaders.

Start with Why

In 2009, Simon Sinek presented a now-famous TED talk about customer behavior. His insight: “people don’t buy what you do, but why you do it.”

His case is that at the center of every person is a belief system. Companies that align themselves with what people believe, win a customer for life. To do it, companies need to “start with why”—discover why they do what they do and then share it with the world.

This philosophy is directly related to employees as well. In the same talk, Sinek says that if people are hired “to do a job, they’ll work for your money. But if they believe what you believe, they’ll work for you blood, sweat and tears.”

Understanding why you do what you do and having employees believe what you believe, is the first step to creating a company where people want to help identify problems and find solutions.

Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose

Daniel H. Pink has studied the history of motivational strategies. In his book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us he examines the three elements of motivation—autonomy, mastery and purpose—and makes the case for a world where companies thrive when they meet these three needs.

Autonomy - Pink says that when we enter the world, we’re wired to be active and engaged as well as curious and self-directed. Our institutions and management techniques take this out of us, one piece at a time.

“Economic accomplishment, not to mention personal fulfillment,” he says. “Requires resisting the temptation to control people—and instead doing everything we can to reawaken their deep-seated sense of autonomy.”

When people are seen as players rather than pawns, they become engaged with the work on a completely different level and create the best possible results.

Mastery - is the desire to get better at something that matters. Pink talks about achieving mastery in terms of finding what researcher Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi coined, “flow”—where the activity is its own reward.

“In flow, people lived so deeply in the moment, and felt so utterly in control, that their sense of time, place, and even self melted away.”

What Pink explains is that the most important thing about flow is creating a system where what an employee needs to do is in perfect relationship with what he/she can do. To create something that is challenging enough to stretch, without it being too difficult to accomplish. In this circumstance, we strive to find the flow. When we do, the task itself is it’s own motivation.

Purpose - Ties the first two motivators together. It is the ‘why’ that Simon Sinek so elegantly describes to us. The idea that an individual, team or company that stands for something will attract those who stand for it as well.

We are motivated when we’re doing something that matters. That’s beyond ourselves. We crave experiences and associations that give us this sense of purpose.

Think Partners

In the end, it’s not easy, but is simple.

Motivation is treating employees like partners who are working with you to perform tasks that achieve a desired result.

In the past business saw people as resource, not today. Your people want more than to be allocated.

Tap into what motives them on a human level, and like Sinek said, “They’ll work for you blood, sweat and tears...not because they have to, but because they want to."