Motivate employees for success

Aug 14, 2022

With a clear purpose, empowered professionals, and a drive for ongoing development, design firms can motivate all of their employees to row together.

I am here to sing the praises of PEDs. First, a clarification: Anyone with even a passing awareness of the world of sports likely is familiar with the acronym “PED.” It seems every sport from cycling to curling and from horse racing to dogsledding has been tinged by at least one scandal involving performance enhancing drugs. That’s not the kind of PED I’m talking about – although the kind I’m highlighting could have a performance-enhancing impact on your firm.

The PED idea I’m talking about emerged from reading the book Drive, in which author Daniel Pink writes about three motivators he sees driving human beings: autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Converting Pink’s concepts into my firm’s lexicon resulted in their being rephrased as empowerment, development, and purpose. Rearranging them to reflect our dedication to always leading with purpose gave me the combination that I was amused to discover can be abbreviated as “PED.”

Before I dive into these concepts, I want to talk about motivation, which is the topic at the heart of Pink’s book. As service-based organizations, design firms are driven by people, and their long-term success depends on their ability to motivate their teams. My guess is that most leaders feel their organizations are pretty good at that.

Unfortunately, recent Gallup research suggests that isn’t true: In most organizations, only about 31.5 percent of employees are actively engaged at their jobs. In other words, if your organization were one of those ancient battleships propelled by rowers, only 31.5 percent of the people in your ship would be facing the right direction and actively pulling on their oars.

But wait, that’s not all. The Gallup study results suggest that another 17.5 percent of your rowers are “actively disengaged.” This means they’re not just failing to pull in the right direction, they’re actually working hard to pull against the direction you want to go.

And the rest of your rowers? They’re essentially along for the ride.

So, the question is obvious: How do you get 100 percent of your people pulling in the same direction? I think the key lies in understanding what drives them. And that brings us back to purpose, empowerment, and development.

My concept begins, as all things should, with purpose. Those of us working in healthcare design, architecture, interiors, and engineering generally find purpose to be pretty obvious: Our purpose is to promote healing. (At BSA, we complement this purpose with two equally inspiring areas of practice, learning and discovery, to operate under the mantra, “We create inspired solutions that improve lives.”) If you want to motivate people, you need to have a purpose that is equally concrete and obvious.

For the next performance-enhancing concept, I move from an external focus to an internal one: empowerment. That word gets thrown around a lot in organizations these days, but what does it really mean? What does it look like in practice?

I think it should look like this: While, in our field, a lot of professionals work for years to achieve partner status in their firms, I believe the most productive firms make every individual feel like a partner from day one. This shift in the traditional dynamic empowers each individual to contribute his or her unique gifts, insights, talents, and creativity in every moment. It encourages even the freshest face to speak up, urges anyone from anywhere in the ranks to lead if he or she has the tools needed at a particular moment, and ensures that new ideas and smart contributions won’t be withheld or neglected because of tenure, hierarchy, or protocol. Few things are as motivating as feeling like you have the power to make a difference. For BSA, it was important to carry this notion of empowerment out into our ownership structure by fully becoming an ESOP in 2017.

Finally, the idea that undergirds the whole concept: development. The strongest organizations are those where people see no limits to their potential and are given the tools they need to continue to improve. People must feel that an organization is interested in each individual’s growth, in helping people develop into the best professionals they can be, regardless of whether they choose to stay with that organization or take their skills somewhere else. If people can’t be motivated by their own development and the development of their organization, then they probably won’t be truly motivated by anything.

With a clear purpose, empowered professionals and a drive for ongoing development, design firms can motivate all of their employees to become actively engaged, pulling in the right direction and delivering new levels of success and impact. And that’s a “PED” any firm can appreciate. 

Tim Spence is the president at BSA LifeStructures. He can be reached at

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