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Yesterday we had the remarkable opportunity to spend some considerable time with Rich Ryan and Ed Deci, founders of Self Determination Theory. We talked about the principles of SDT and how the concept underpins what we’re working on at PlanDo with our market leading career management platform.

SDT focuses upon autonomy, competence and relatedness. It’s a very popular framework based on intrinsic motivation. It reaches broadly into the workplace, into health, education and sport. Central is the idea that we are inherently motivated to grow and achieve when meaning and value is understood. Like Ryan and Deci, we believe that when individuals are self directed they are far more likely to be committed and engaged. We see SDT in action, generating productivity, creativity and happiness. There are also greater levels of satisfaction, better performance and engagement alongside lower levels of stress and anxiety.

So, to the elements themselves – autonomy is self explanatory – it’s the ability to act with volition. We take competence in the PlanDo context to mean the unique set of attributes an individual brings to their work (and life) – their personal insights like strengths and motivators combined with their enduring transferrable skills and experience. These all build self awareness and the confidence or ‘agency’ that individuals want and need to create and achieve desirable outcomes.

‘They are able because they think they are able’, Virgil

Relatedness in PlanDo terms means the opportunity to converse, communicate, connect and share activities, request feedback and build supportive, trusted relationships with leaders, mentors, peers, coaches or who ever you choose, everyday.

For leaders the challenge and opportunity becomes how we move beyond the rhetoric to meaningful, sustainable and concrete practices and problem solving that will engage individuals intrinsically in their work. There’s a strong pay off. When we take this lens, we can expect that performance improves and those compelling concerns about attrition simply go away. After all, poor performance, low engagement and undesirable attrition are symptoms or products of deeper and earlier problems.

We believe that when organisations ‘cradle’ SDT and PlanDo they will naturally send 4 strong messages …

  • We’re listening – we get that clarity and purpose matters, and so does your progress and career development
  • We’re investing – we’re equipping you with the tools and resources you need for success
  • We’re permitting – we trust you
  • We’re letting go – we’re clearing you for take off, removing barriers and obstacles to your success; we’re shifting from management to leadership; we encouraging you to connect with those around you so you can flourish

We see PlanDo as an expression of these positive messages and a catalyst for open, honest and real conversations in the new world of work. As an insightful HR leader in a Fortune 500 company recently said, ‘PlanDo is a catalyst for rapport building’.

We’re interested in how you as individuals, leaders and organisations are moving away from the lure (and tyranny) of short term extrinsic goals and rewards that are so entrenched in our psyche and systems, towards those liberating, sustainable and inherent motivators that enable each of us to thrive, everyday. We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Meanwhile, thank you Rich Ryan, Ed Deci and Gordon Spence for sharing your time and knowledge so generously. We loved every moment!


Beyond Talk: Creating Autonomous Motivation through Self Determination Theory; Dan Stone, Richard Ryan and Edward Deci, November 2008

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