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Getting Better Buy-In: How to move your people to move with you

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In the workshops I lead, and with the people I’ve had reporting to me who also had people reporting to them, one of the most common questions I’ve heard is, “How do I motivate someone”? I don’t think that’s the best or first question to ask.

I’ve been a trainer and facilitator for over twenty five years. In the middle of that, I was also a senior manager in a complex and changing organisation for a dozen years. Both roles involved helping people move towards behaviour change. The thing about behaviour change is that you can’t do it for them, nor can you always be around when the going gets tough, when most people easily revert. For those people doing the actual moving towards behaviour change, they need to:

 

  • want to do it,
  • think they need to do it,
  • believe they can do it, and
  • think they should do it now.

 

The combination of all those conditions is what we label ‘motivated’. They need to be self-motivated. Armies might have generals, stage plays might have directors, and sports teams might have coaches screaming on the sidelines but the soldiers, athletes and actors doing the doing are the ones who need to be motivated. The generals, directors and coaches just need to make sure they recruit well, train for technical skills and create a culture and environment where people’s natural motivations can come through. It’s easy to say in a single sentence but it’s not easy to do, especially when many leaders don’t even realise that’s what they’re supposed to be doing. There’s way too much of that image of the sports coach screaming from the sidelines as the poster child for motivation. There are definite times and places for that approach but it’s far less necessary than many think.

It might sound controversial for someone authoring books on how to motivate, influence, persuade and engage people but I don’t think any one person can motivate any other one person meaningfully in the long run. What they certainly can do is create an environment and provide some tools where individuals and teams have:

 

  • clarity on what they’re trying to achieve,
  • clarity on what action steps are required, and
  • surety that the effort required is worth it, even if the results are not guaranteed.

 

That would apply in war, sports and drama, as well as any workplace you’d care to name.

One of my favourite leadership quotes is, “The true test of your leadership is what happens when you’re not around”. (I tried to find out who originated it to give them credit. Even with Google, I could not find it. Maybe it was me? It sounds like something I would say). Think about the implications of that quote.

I’ve worked for people in the past who were charismatic, passionate and energetic – the sorts of people many would believe to be what motivators look and sound like. Just being around them, you couldn’t help but be turned on to the work by their infectious enthusiasm. However, it quickly became evident that it was all quite fleeting and superficial. Fireworks are exciting but you wouldn’t want to work for them.

I’ve read widely the works of motivational authors and attended the presentations of many motivational speakers. It might be argued that perhaps they should call themselves speakers and the audiences can decide whether or not they’re motivational? Maybe they’re entertaining, and maybe they’ve got great content, but does that move anyone in the audience to lasting and meaningful behaviour change? The truly great ones who genuinely motivate don’t just speak or write, they provide structures, systems, tools and the design for environments that will allow and enable us to motivate ourselves. Because, ultimately, we’re on our own for the most part once we close that book or walk out of that auditorium.

I mainly work with leaders or potential leaders in the workplace or those that support them. That said, I see the principles I write and talk about being applied successfully outside work. You might be a sports coach or captain. You might be in the arts or sciences. You might be a sales person, business owner or project manager. You might be a mum or dad. Chances are, you have more than one of these life leadership roles where you need to move people towards behaviour change. Whether it’s to practice the clarinet late into the night before the national championships or whether it’s to get a marginal customer service rep to answer more calls, you’d like some tools to motivate people that don’t rely on you doing all the heavy lifting.

My drive to collect ideas, techniques and tools to help motivate and engage people stepped up a gear in earnest in 2013. I had just finished presenting to a group of dairy farmers. One came up to me afterwards with a question. They had a worker nicknamed ‘Sleepy’ (red flag right there) and, as a well-meaning employer, they felt Sleepy had heaps of unfulfilled potential but was just doing the job and no more, and was treading water. I didn’t have an answer on the spot and was frustrated with myself as a result. So, me being me, I threw myself way too obsessively into research which led to me having a couple of books published on the subject.

Motivation is a toolkit approach in my opinion. A foundation tool for me is one that influences focus and attention. It’s the Reticular Activating System (RAS). What is this RAS?

Have you ever encountered a situation where someone asks you a question like, “Hey Terry, have you noticed the new Toyota Prius? It’s that fluorescent lime-green colour”. And you hadn’t noticed it but, the moment it’s drawn to your attention, for the next two weeks you see nothing but lime-green cars everywhere you go. That’s the RAS in action. You knew what it was but you might not have known what it was called.

Picture the RAS as you’d picture a bouncer in a nightclub. The nightclub in this metaphor is your conscious mind and it has a limited capacity. The clubbers in the queue are the sensations from our five senses. Ideally, the bouncer would only let in VIPs and exclude the riff-raff. “You’re in. You’re in. You, not with those shoes”. But, as we’ve already demonstrated, riff-raff does get in, such as lime-green cars. And it gets in using the same technique that clubbers have used on nightclub bouncers for years – bribes. For a brain, that’s dopamine, a neurotransmitter linked to reward and pleasure. The problem for many of us is that random stuff gets in there like lime-green cars, the ranting de jour on our Twitter feed and shiny things. What we’d like in there are high-value thoughts that can help us and move us forward. How can we switch our own RAS onto deliberate and positive foci and how can we do that for the people from whom we’re trying to get buy-in? For now, let’s focus on how you need to represent your goal tangibly in the physical world so it can serve to activate your RAS.

This physical form needs to have three characteristics. The reason the lime-green car activates your RAS and sticks in your mind for ages afterwards is that it’s:

 

  • novel,
  • distinctive, and
  • physically exists in multiple locations.

 

Advertisers know this, which is why you often see an ad on a bus shelter at the same time you hear it on your car radio – behaviour change is moved by multiple aggregated hits. To leverage this mind-system to your own ends of self or team development and reaching whatever goals you have, you need a novel, distinctive and physical reminder in multiple prime eyelines. For your team, where are these eyelines? What are people looking at all day and as they arrive and leave? Is it their computer screen, clock on the wall, the fridge door in the kitchenette, the entry door to the office? Mass-produced motivational posters of geese flying in formation or rowers at dawn are all well and good but do they really motivate at all, or are they just good for covering the smudge marks on the wall? If you’d spent the twenty dollars you spent on that poster on a pizza, would that have been more motivational? The trouble with posters and pizzas is that they’re both short-term motivators, if they’re motivators at all. What would be more specifically motivational for your people on an ongoing basis?

Whatever personalized and customized focus visuals you create, their images and messages will wear off, so they need to be regularly updated. Short-burst campaigns are more effective than dusty old posters. Those things just become part of the wallpaper and certainly quickly fail the novelty and distinctiveness tests. A powerful one I saw in one sales workplace was a wall-sized graphic of an airliner that was coloured in as the team progressed towards their sales incentive of a trip for everyone to Fiji.

A second tool, useful for teams, that I see gaining momentum is the ‘personal one-page user-manual’. Rather than hope those around us figure out how to get the best from us, why not write our own one-page user manual and show it around? This helps people connect better and work together more effectively, removing a common demotivator. They’re written informally and bullet pointed on one page – no ‘Game of Thrones’ epics. It’s a great way for people in workplaces, sports, schools, and even families to better synch their personal ‘operating systems’ and lessen unproductive and demotivating conflict & stress. I’ve popped a template up at www.myusermanual.net.

Sleepy didn’t last long on that dairy farm. He’s now a very successful commission-based real estate agent. Perseverance is often cited as a major contributor to success but sometimes we all need to know when to quit.


More ideas at http://gettingbetterbuyin.com/

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How Can You Make Your Own Luck When It Comes To Recruiting And Retaining The Best Employees?

Recruiting and retaining the best employees shouldn’t be a matter of luck

Recruiting and retaining the best employees shouldn’t be a matter of luck

This recent article in the business section of the New Zealand Herald cites research conducted by a firm of recruitment consultants. I’m not suggesting for a moment that they have a vested interest in interpreting the results in any particular way, but they interpret the results in a particular way… that says employers aren’t recruiting effectively. (If only there was someone around who could help them?)

Sarcastic and cynical as I am, I’m not disputing the results of the survey – just their narrow interpretation of the cause. There’s never ONE cause. Maybe poor recruitment contributes. I bet it does.

The Hudson survey “paints a bleak picture for employers”, saying: “Of every 10 employees: four are not good hires, eight aren’t engaged in their work and six are actively seeking other employment.” Ouch! This is born out by other research I’ve been reading over years and around the world. There’s a bit of variation, mostly by industry, but this survey isn’t that surprising and New Zealand isn’t that bad. Nevertheless, there’s plenty of scope for improvement.

Apart from the recruitment tools being used which the recruitment company focuses on, the primary cause of the problem implied is that employers are recruiting almost entirely for skills – technical skills. It’s that old mindset of, “I’ve got a vacancy, I’d better fill it because it’s costing me money” without doing the correlating maths on how much it costs to fill that vacancy and get it wrong – to fill it with someone technically competent (and that’s even assuming they get that bit right) but quickly disengaged or a misfit in several other ways.

Bad luck? Like most games, you make your own luck in the recruiting game. I was meeting recently with a manager who hadn’t had a single instance of negative turnover for nine years. Yes, people had moved on but for the right reasons such as internal promotion. He used the usual suite of tools to find a pool of potential applicants, whittled them down through CV checking, interviews, reference checks and even the occasional behaviourial profile. But he added another step. Shortlisted applicants all got to sit in on some actual work with some people who, if their application was successful, would be their co-workers. Those co-workers got a right of veto. I used this myself in the past with some success in a call centre that wasn’t a typical call centre. It gave applicants a dose of what their potential working reality could be. Sometimes they got put off by us and our work; sometimes we got put off by them. Either way, it’s better for both parties that be known early and up front so neither employer or employee have to suffer the consequences of misfitting. And those are greater than the costs of vacancies.

Another means of increasing your odds is to encourage referral of potential applicants from existing employees. Some firms even offer a commission for this. BUT if you do that, ponder how this might affect behaviour and what exactly it is you’re wanting to incentify and provide commission on. Any commission should be for a successful applicant who is still there after a predetermined period and performing well. Not just for putting someone with a pulse into a vacancy. Rather than just advertising to the great untargetted masses for your specific vacancy, wouldn’t it increase the chances of success if you sought via an informed gene pool – the people who are already aware of what it takes to do the job and who is likely to prosper there?

Wringing the final life out of my luck metaphor, when it comes to those few shortlisted candidates who are demonstrably technically competent but you’re not absolutely certain that they’ll fit and be engaged, you’ve got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em, know when to walk away, know when to run. Often it’s better to walk away and play another day. Cheaper in the long run even if baby needs a new pair of shoes.

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Re-blog from Nov 2011 & my most read post ever

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Employee Engagement Requires More Than Caring Bosses

boss hugThis blog post makes a clear demarcation between the behavior of bosses that can enhance employee engagement and the lazy assumption that it must all be about being nice and friendly and a soft touch.

I’m seemingly forever clarifying to people that employee engagement is not synonymous with employee happiness or morale or satisfaction. They’re all nice things. They’re all interesting. We’d all probably like to work in a job where there are higher levels of happiness, satisfaction and morale. BUT employee engagement is a very narrowly defined phenomena – the application of discretionary effort. It isn’t about how workers feel or think or think they feel. It is about how we observe they behave. To what extent do they do more than they have to because they choose to – for whatever reasons? It’s not about evil, moustache-twirling villainous bosses extracting everything they can and more out of labour. It is about people’s fundamental human, psychological needs and how they are served (or not) in their work.

Our jobs need to be about more than a paycheck. We take a job for the money but how we perform once we’re hired is less about money than managerial wisdom has thought for years.

And it isn’t about bosses being ‘nice’ or a soft touch. I can get my own hugs thank you very much. A boss who, on the surface, may seem ‘un-nice’ or uncaring might actually be driving high levels of engagement in the people they lead. Regardless of their cliche and superficial people skills, if they can stimulate a sense of purpose in their people, backed up with allowing some degree of autonomy and provide a track for development and progression, then that goes a long way to enhancing engagement levels and the benefits that ensue for productivity and profitability.

But if you still want hugs – get a dog. A big one. I recommend a huntaway. Way less employment court consequences.

Secrets Of Building Winning Teams

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Successful organisms and groups in nature rely on diversity as a defence mechanism and to provide tools to deal with a wide range of situations – business is no different. Here’s the rest of that thought, expressed in my lead article from the Careers section of The NZ Herald on 20th July 2013. To save me re-typing it, here it is in image form with a link back to the Herald’s original online article.

Herald Jobs Article Terry Williams The Brain-Based Boss 20July2013 Entire

Never Go Shopping When You’re Hungry: The Perils Of ‘Impulse Buying’ When Recruiting

hungry

Here’s a recent newspaper article about impulse buying. They say you should never go shopping when you’re hungry. You get too much of the wrong stuff that you don’t need that does you harm and that you’ll regret. It’s the same with recruitment. I mean metaphorically hungry though, of course. Mind you, it’s probably not good to recruit when literally hungry either. Who knows what lowered blood sugar levels will do to your concentration as you stare at, and steer through, the dross, irrelevance and incomprehensibility on many applicants’ CVs?

The inherent problem is that many bosses recruit precisely when they have a vacancy. Of course, duh! BUT that is when they’re experiencing all the downside of having that vacancy – extra workload, inconvenience, lowered morale of those who remain and are doing that extra work, the ramifications if there were negative circumstances surrounding the departure of the previous incumbent, etc. So often, too often, there is a disproportionate drive to ‘get the vacancy filled.’ That’s totally natural, totally understandable and definitely something a brain-based boss would be mindful to manage. Clearly if the maths says that there should be more people to do the work, you need to recruit, but that is quite different from simply filling a vacancy via automatic replacement. Vacancies are always going to arise and workplace leaders should always have a part of their time allocated to thinking about the ‘what-ifs.’

Vacancies present a chance to re-evaluate the team’s set-up. Does it need to be filled at all? Should / can that role be changed? Should / can other roles be changed? Could others step up and a lesser role be back-filled? Yes, there is a cost to being a person down, but there is a greater and longer-term cost in recruiting with reckless pace and haste and getting it wrong or missing out on team enhancement opportunities.

If you do go shopping when you’re hungry, remember, beggars can’t be choosers. (Thank you ‘2-for-1 cliche sale!’)

5 Things Remarkable Bosses Never Do

Yes we laugh but only because of the fear that in some ways we’re a little bit like him…

This TIME Magazine article by Jeff Haden is short, sweet and worth a read. It’s theme to me seems to be that effective leaders deal with things in the ‘now.’ It suggests that many of the formal structures of organisations in dealing with people such as performance reviews, formal meetings and development plans occur too late to be useful. I agree… IF those reviews and plans are all that is done. My advice to leaders in the workplace is to do both – deal with stuff as it happens, which really is the smart and effective approach, BUT also keep thin but useful records so you can plug things into the formal structures. You don’t want to create a massive administrative workload but you do want to capture an ongoing record.

Memory in a tricky thing. It isn’t like pulling discs out of a video library and replaying exactly what happened. For a start, even your initial experience of the event is distorted by your perspective, as opposed to the perspectives of the other players. Whoever said that there are two sides to every story were severely underestimating. Time, emotion, biases and other stuff further distort memory. By the time we do need to recall a past event, our minds don’t replay, they recreate. Assuming, of course, that it ever gets recalled at all. I barely recall what I had for breakfast yesterday. How could I, or my employees, be expected to accurately and fairly recall something that happened six months ago? You can’t. You shouldn’t.

Feedback (of whatever kind) to be effective needs to be as close to the event as possible. Saving it up for a performance review in six months is of little use and perhaps even counterproductive. I agree with Haden on that. BUT I do think that all those little events in all those ‘nows’ across a year or six months or whatever the review period is, need to be captured somewhere, so they can be presented in summary to give all concerned a holistic picture of performance.

Now I need to attend to what I’m going to have for breakfast today. I’m not one of you same-thing-for-breakfast-ever-day people. Your stomach might thank you but your mind gets miffed. I must search for research on what what this reveals about our mind and character. I suspect you same-thing-for-breakfast-ever-day people would make good accountants and proof-readers. I know I wouldn’t!

Paid Work Isn’t The Same As A Job

Jobs

Workers are searching for something but it aint necessarily a job

This really provocative ‘Democracy In America’ blog in The Economist got me thinking. They make various observations about all the noise from politicians and agencies about the need for, and urgency of, job creation. Jobs as a source of income and a sense of worth for those who need it are obviously critical. But as a tributary off the main argument flowed some thinking on the subset of people who had either lost a job or opted out of traditional fulltime employment. This, to me, was the provocative bit.

The blog suggests that a significant group of talented and educated people of a certain age were certainly searching for work but not necessarily for a job. They throw in a bit of terminology like ‘Post Materialists’ and ‘Threshold Earners.’ A threshold earner has an amount they think they need / want. Once they reach it, they choose not to work anymore. Enough is good enough. This might be a great philosophy for someone like me (or subscribers to The Economist – or, more likely, people reading bits of The Economist’ free online or in libraries.)

To me, time with my kids and being fit and creative is important. I don’t just say that, I live it – now. I didn’t always used to. I think I can label myself a ‘Threshold Earner’ although I doubt I’m a Post Materialist. Certainly my kids aren’t!

Work, be it paid or otherwise, provides us humans with a lot more than money. That said, whatever the amount is, we all do need money. I’ll hug a tree but I won’t live in one. Work gives us connection, purpose, health, development, esteem and so much more. A lack of money can mess with our heads but mere money itself is not such a drawcard anymore. If, as a leader, you want to truly start to spark genuine employee engagement at your workplace you need to understand the implications and benefits of this. Lots SAY they do.

So, by all means, let Government try and do their best to stimulate job creation or, at least, get out of the way but if you’re an employer searching to attract and retain the best talent you can, you must reconsider if the old ‘jobs’ paradigm will work for you in the future or the now. If they have the talent and can improve your business’s productivity, what can you do to make it easy for Post Materialists and Threshold Earners to work for you? Actually, let’s revisit that wording because it’s important. They don’t want to work FOR you – that’s the whole point. They want to do some of the work and get paid but they don’t want to work for you. Just because you’d love to work for you doesn’t mean everyone else would.

It’s raining heavily and I am so glad I’m not living in a tree right now.

How To Destroy An Employee’s Work Life


This Washington Post article
by Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer takes a delightfully tongue-in cheek approach to what drives talented employees out of organisations. By reverse-engineering their faux recommendations, we can glean what it is we’re supposed to do to attract and retain talented people.

Their research is primary. Rather than surveys or post-exit interviews which can be self-serving, inaccurate, subjective and occasionally fictional, they chose to provide daily electronic diaries to 200+ people. Rather than Bob or Kate saying out loud that they left ABC Limited for a better paying position at XYZ Limited, there is a trail of clues. It might actually have been an escalating and deteriorating relationship with “that jerk Barry from Accounts” which, over time, led to their departure. Accumulating all those trails of clues, Amabile and Kramer have come up with their list of commandments.

Their ‘advice’ to leaders wanting to “completely and utterly destroy an employee’s life at work” were:

  1. Never allow pride of accomplishment
  2. Miss no opportunity to block progress on employees’ projects
  3. Give yourself some credit
  4. Kill the messengers

My building blocks of a workplace that allow and generate self motivation amongst employees are self awareness, mastery, autonomy, purpose and influencing others. Human minds need them like human bodies need food. Mostly, people are only going to get that at work. Without accomplishment, a sense of progess, recognition, or blame-free communication, people are not going to attain or even move towards mastery, autonomy or a sense of purpose. If you, as a leader, prevent your people from getting them, they will leave because they’re hungry for a basic need.

After all that, if you still really do want to destroy an employee, take their advice and, as a cherry on top, wait until that employee leaves their PC, sneak on and hack their FaceBook account…

How To Demotivate Employees (If You Really Want To)

Unrequited hype is one of 3 primary employee demotivators

Unrequited hype is one of 3 primary employee demotivators

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:

  • hype
  • 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. 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.”

How is futurism bad? I thought we were all meant to be planning for the future, setting goals, anticipating and pre-solving problems etc? Once again, Collins isn’t slamming all futurism, merely those bosses who focus on nothing but the future with little or zero emphasis on the now or recent history. Those bosses can’t learn from mistakes, can’t celebrate successes and can’t leverage employees ‘in the zone’ or in ‘a state of flow.’ These high performers don’t ignore the future but when they’re at their most productive, they are very much solely in the now. Bosses who break that focus and drift off over the rainbow are counter-productive.

Collins says to show results as an indication of progress, to show that people are part of something that is actually working. He refers to this as ‘clicks on the flywheel.’ (I get what he’s saying but will admit to having to go look up what a flywheel is – a heavy disk or wheel rotating on a shaft so that its momentum gives almost uniform rotational speed to the shaft and to all connected machinery. I’m pedantic enough to argue that change never happens at a ‘uniform rotational speed’ and I don’t even like the metaphor’s ‘rotational’ representation of change. But I still get it and love the whole point of it which was the benefits of showing progress and being part of something that works!)

False democracy is a label for all the actions by those employers who have already made up their mind but would like to paint over their intentions with a thin veneer of dishonest inclusiveness by engaging in some token campaign of capturing ideas and inputs from the team. Not that anything ever amounts from these campaigns. This is worse than just being a blatant autocracy. At least that’s honest and transparent. Sometimes even well-meaning managers will engage in such a campaign even though the system of their workplace is so rigid and unresponsive that actual democracy is unlikely. That might be worse as it raises false hope?

Doctors have their oath and the first part is about at the very least not doing harm. Leaders, when it comes to motivating their people, could, at the very least, take that page out of the doctors’ book. (Don’t take a page out of their prescription pad though. You’ll never read their handwriting!)

4 Motivation Mistakes Most Leaders Make

I've learned a lot from my mistakes; I'm thinking of making more of them.

I've learned a lot from my mistakes; I'm thinking of making more of them.

Following my blog yesterday on motivating and retaining the best employees, this article fell into my RSS feed from Harvard Business Review bloggers Carolyn Dewar and Scott Keller. I was drawn to the provocative statement in their article, “So, ‘rational’ leaders don’t tap into the primary motivators of up to 80% of their workforce.” (Although I inserted the apostrophe & the inverted commas for more dramatic effect & a sarcastic tone I felt was inferred…)

Hey, it’s short, sweet, simple and makes a great point about people’s differences when it comes to motivation. And it takes their research and plugs it into some practical examples of what actual leaders actually did. Nice.

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