This article with video from ‘Good To Great’ author Jim Collins identifies three primary employee demotivators. Actually, he doesn’t limit them to employees but rightly says they are inflicted on people in many forums. Parents especially are noted as perpetrators. Those three demotivators are:
- futurism and
- false democracy.
There may be others but these three are good ways to put out the fires that might be burning inside people you have who are already inherently motivated. Crazy. You’d think that employers would want to not do that, yet I see an awful lot of hype, futurism and false democracy in a lot of workplaces. All of it is well-intentioned. In one of my previous management roles where I was a significant agent of change, I had a little personal catchphrase, “No fireworks, no bugles.” What I was trying to reinforce to myself and to others was my own anti-hype position. I really did not want to overpromise. I’d learned from being on the receiving end of too many projects or ideas that were going to magically transform everything into a wonderland of worker amenity and prosperity. Never quite panned out quite as wonderlandy as they painted it. Few things do. Honestly, I’m not anti-hype. It has its place. Used in short bursts at appropriate times, it can generate heat, energy, attention, focus and movement. My problem is that, often, the hype is all there is. Fireworks are fabulous but i wouldn’t want to work for one. In fact, isn’t that the meaning most of us apply when we see, hear or use the word? Too much hype. Nothing but hype. Over-hyped. Don’t believe the hype. What must follow hype to avoid demotivation is prompt and positive change of meaningful substance.
Workplace examples of death by overhyping I’ve seen have included introductions of performance management systems and departmental restructures. That said, I’ve also been involved in introductions of performance management systems and departmental restructures that were highly successful, well received and used hype, to some extent, very well. So, I’d disagree with Collins if he means that all hype is bad. I suspect he doesn’t mean that. I believe he means the hyperbole that isn’t followed up with action of substance. Far better to, as he says in the video, “…to confront the brutal facts.”
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What’s the best bang for buck for leaders wanting to fire up their team? The answer may surprise you so I’ll tell you now – it’s ‘Business As UnUsual’
Yesterday I was leading a time management workshop with a dairy technology company. We were talking about structured problem solving and the conversation scampered across onto the topic of employee engagement and motivation. Specifically, someone raised their annual employee engagement survey. If electricity could be generated by the power of a group of people rolling their eyes, then I would have discovered a truly sustainable source of energy. To paint their view of the survey as cynical would be an understatement.
It was not my place nor was it the time (in a time management workshop) to address this but I do try and have my default point of view in such situations be curiousity. ABC is my motto – always be curious. So, instead of piling onto survey-bashing, I asked questions. And my intent was to draw focus away from the negative perceptions of the survey so my questions weren’t ones like, “What was wrong with the survey,” or “What didn’t you like about the survey”? I asked them when they thought the best period of engagement was at the company and what was going on then to make it so great?
Turns out there was general agreement that there had been a six month period about six years ago of great optimism and energy. A new CEO had arrived who’d communicated well and had gotten many (though not all) staff involved in cross-functional, multi-level teams tasked with solving several key problems that had been identified by one of the first such teams. There was a sense of, not just optimism, but demonstrable progress. The initial rash of killer problems did indeed get solved. War stories still get told.
But after that, no more teams, no more deliberate and systemic cross-functionality, and if there was progress, it was incremental and almost imperceptible.
Inherent in this example might be the answer to the question posed in the title of this article. What’s the biggest bang for buck for leaders wanting their people to feel engaged? Slight efforts at improving BAU (Business As Usual) just won’t do it. War stories get told about wars where big efforts against the odds are required. I’m not suggesting team leaders start wars or create artificial conflicts or faux problems. Enough political leaders do that already. But BAU doesn’t engage most people most of the time. It doesn’t excite or scare people into discretionary effort. It doesn’t figuratively set their safe platform on fire forcing people to not stand still. What leaders need to influence groups into change or significant steps up is BAUU – Business As UnUsual.
Sometimes BAUU just happens – a new CEO or an external threat emerges such as proposed law changes or the emergence of an Amazon-sized competitive threat to your market. In the absence of those genuine threats, how can you safely generate a positive one of your own?
Check out some other ideas around influencing the people you lead with my online learning videos at BrainBasedBoss.com
More ideas at http://gettingbetterbuyin.com/
I’m not suggesting that employees should be made to be miserable. Ultimately, that’s up to all of us individually. The point I’ve been trying to make for ages and this recent article captures nicely is that employee happiness and employee engagement are quite separate and different things. If you want to gift chocolate fish and back rubs (no non-consensual touching!) that’s up to you and your spare time and resources. Happy employees can be unproductive and unhappy ones can be productive. Engagement is about the observable application of discretionary effort at work that on average leads to greater productivity, revenue and profitability. Who knows how happy people are? (Including themselves.)
Here’s an extract. Note that happiness is cited as one of many components of engagement, so it’s not all doom and gloom. I don’t think they’re in order so don’t get excited that happiness is “number 1.” The article talks about a dashboard which also is an interesting idea. It’s all about trending.
Here are the 10 metrics that are proven to have the biggest impact on employee engagement:
How happy are employees at work and at home?
How much energy do employees have at work?
Are employees getting feedback frequently enough?
Are employees being recognized for their hard work?
Are employees satisfied with their work environment?
Relationships with Managers
Do employees and their managers get along well?
Relationships with Colleagues
Do the employees get along with each other?
Do employees’ values align with the company values?
Are employees proud of where they work?
Do employees have opportunities for career growth?
Here’s a tale of yet another software system that gamifies the workplace with the justification that it enhances employee engagement. Actually, it sounds pretty cool and may well be worth its costs with whatever benefits it may or may not generate versus the distractions it definitely will generate. I’ve yet to personally witness or directly connect with a significant workplace that has done this for a significant amount of time and publicly raves about the tangible, measured and proven results. Alfie Kohn might be controversial but his research does not reinforce the use of what he would term ‘bribes’. And that is what ‘points for prizes’ are.
Genuine engagement comes from an internal motivation. If the gamified points-for-prizes were removed, would the desired behaviours continue? Nope. And you’ve thoroughly reinforced the position that they shouldn’t. Plus, the incidental stuff that isn’t directly being bribed via points-for-prizes suffers. “Is this going to be in the test?”
“…money affects our attention as shown by Alfie Kohn’s experiment where participants are given cash for remembering words on cards, but they are almost unable to remember any of the word cards’ colours. That wasn’t what they were focused on so their incidental learning was minimal. The same goes for our incidental attention.” – From my book ‘The Brain-Based Boss’
Of course, that is assuming there is a culture of support already in existence for people’s internal motivation. Given the generally terrible levels of engagement everywhere, this clearly isn’t the case. If motivation levels are starting from a baseline of terrible, I guess the games can’t make things any worse. But is, “Can’t make it any worse” really a sound tick in any cost / benefit analysis for a software investment or intrusive engagement project?
Carol Dweck might argue that the problem isn’t that we reward, but what and how we reward.
“Dweck’s famous finding from this and other studies was that people tended to fall into one of two groups. There are those who believe that their talents are a fixed trait. They believe they are or they aren’t fast, strong, smart, etc. This is the fixed mindset group. Then there are those who believe that talent is something that can be developed. This is the growth mindset group. You can tell them apart by their behaviour towards work and mistakes. If you have a fixed mindset and believe you are what you are then why would you work hard and why would you attempt something new or challenging that could lead you to making mistakes and being judged on them? Growth mindset people do the work and see mistakes as a pathway to learning. They use the word “yet” a lot. They say, “I did” versus “I am”. For them, becoming is better than being.” – From my book ‘The Brain-Based Boss’
So, by all means, play your silly games and see how it goes. True ongoing engagement that drives productivity comes from a working environment supportive of people’s need for autonomy, development and a sense of meaning in what they do, and a pay level sufficient to remove money as a worry. If points-for-prizes are offered as a short-term attention campaign, I can see it working in a focused way in an area with a definite problem. A health and safety campaign or a wellness campaign for example are, in themselves, good things and might contribute to an overall enhancement of engagement.
I’m trying not to be a hater here on the points and games, but all the info I see on them right now seem to come from those selling systems. Once I hear some credible and independent success stories, I tend to be a lot more generous of spirit.
My new eBook ‘Workplace Of The Living Dead’ is out now via Amazon for all you Kindle-huggers out there. A collection of entertaining and provocative essays making some serious business points about people.
This Harvard Business Review blog post is a great encapsulation on what to do about disengaged employees. So many bosses try and attract pre-engaged employees without putting much effort into the latent and potential talent they already have. Or might have. Trying to buy engagement from outside may not necessarily be a bad idea but engagement tends to be contextual. Just because someone is engaged at a point in time in a particular place doesn’t mean that they are perpetually engaged anywhere and everywhere. Throw Superman into a negative enough environment, even he will become increasingly negative. (Terry makes mental note to himself to draft a graphic novel using this premis…)
Hiring ‘A’ players, those transitory and mercenary talents, is a zero-sum game. If they come to you because you dangle more money (if that’s all you do) you will merely attract those people that will be equally attracted away by someone dangling a bigger carrot and there’s always a bigger carrot. Just like lowering your products’ prices, it may work today and solve a problem in the short term, but someone else can do the same or better and you’ll lose that game even if you win it.
The numbers vary and I prefer to use three categories rather than ‘engaged’ and disengaged.’ I have a middle group I call ‘present.’ The engaged do more than they have to because they choose to. The disengaged are toxic, stealing time and resources, badmouthing you while they use your PC to look for work elsewhere. The ‘present’ show up, clock on, do their jobs and no more, consume oxygen and clock off. Contractually there isn’t a problem but neither you nor they are optimising potential here. This group offers the greatest opportunity for enhancing the overall engagement and thus productivity of your team. Love the engaged and lose the disengaged.
Here’s what the blog post says about what to do about the others – the ‘present’:
- Understand the basics of positive psychology and engagement research
- Find out what engages your employees, not someone else’s
- Encourage grassroots engagement
- Recognize engagement as a moving target, and check back often
That’s enough blogging today. I’m off to work on my ‘Negative Superman’ graphic novel. Or maybe screenplay?! Does anyone have Zach Snyder’s phone number or know how to spell his name?
No potential superstar employee is going to reject the trappings of success you offer but will the free petrol, subsidised healthcare or at-desk massages actually improve their engagement and performance. Some perks do and some perks don’t and it depends. This post citing some recent Gallup research is revealing.
“Gallup found that access to flexible work time, which is considered a more mainstream workplace perk, is related to increased employee engagement.”
“…remote workers are slightly more engaged than onsite workers…”
One of the usual drivers of motivation and engagement is autonomy – a sense of control or, at least influence, over if not what we do, at least how we do it. That’s tough to create or allow in many jobs, especially routine or entry-level ones but if you can generate it to a degree, it can positively influence engagement and thus drive the associated productivity benefits. Something like flexi-time is a good compromise, where it is do-able, in generating this sense of influence / autonomy. Gallup does warn though of the “diminishing returns” which is worthy of note.
“…an engaged management team and a positive work environment are more beneficial than housecleaning and bowling alleys.”
Don’t deny already engaged employees their perks if you wish to provide them and it makes you feel good but clearly many are not drivers of engagement or motivators. Far more effective are the low-cost but disturbingly rare ‘perks’ of positive feedback and non-tolerance of poor performance. Perks, by definition, are extras and these two I just mentioned shouldn’t be extras, yet the behaviour of many workplace leaders makes it seem like they are. It’s easier to throw trinkets but far less effective.
Although, if the trinket you’re throwing is a bowling ball in the company lanes, that’s almost certainly a health and safety issue.
This ‘Psychology Today’ article is grrrrrr8. Not just because it declares the obvious – that most employees are disengaged. Your first question should be, Why?” The answer is:
“The number one factor the study cited influencing engagement and disengagement was ‘relationship with immediate supervisor.'”
The article also addresses the second question that doesn’t get asked that often – WHAT’S WRONG WITH THESE IMMEDIATE SUPERVISORS?!
Often shouted by bosses is the phrase, “Recruit attitude; Train skill.” That makes sense. BUT most don’t do it although they do say it. It’s even more true of recruiting frontline leaders – the ones whose relationships are the most critical for the business. And what should those attitude qualities being recruited look like. Psychology Today says:
“the qualities companies traditionally look for when selecting and developing managers and executives are often not conducive to building positive, productive, engaged employee relationships.”
The problem is that employers are recruiting for skill not attitude, despite many saying the opposite. They’re hiring or promoting people into leadership roles because “they’re good at their jobs” or “they deserve a promotion” and leadership roles are the only promotions available. Other options might be better for those people. They deserve something but not to be given a role for which they’re not suited. It doesn’t help them or those they end up leading poorly.
So, a primary focus for Brain-Based Bosses should be redesigning your recruitment processes to attract and snare frontline leaders who have a demonstrated track record of repeatedly being inherently good at building (and maintaining) positive, productive, engaged employee relationships. Then ensuring they’re developed as leaders as soon as practicable, with emphasis on those relationship skills. (Professional relationships – not relationships as Fonzie would have seen them. If you don’t know who Fonzie is, Google him…)
I recommend this blog post from Jessica Gross summarising a TED talk from Dan Ariely. It’s a succinct capture of his key points about internal motivation and how we can tap into that (or at least avoid conflicting with that.) There’s some evidence that cute internet kitten photos can actually enhance your sense of focus on a proximate task and I’m definitely going to try the hand-washing motivation technique with my family!
His key points were:
- Seeing the fruits of our labor may make us more productive
- The less appreciated we feel our work is, the more money we want to do it
- The harder a project is, the prouder we feel of it
- Knowing that our work helps others may increase our unconscious motivation
- The promise of helping others makes us more likely to follow rules
- Positive reinforcement about our abilities may increase performance
- Images that trigger positive emotions may actually help us focus