Tag Archives: fear

Herzberg’s Dog – ‘Movement’ v ‘Motivation’

herzberg's dogHerzberg’s famous article ‘One more time: how do you motivate employees?’ has been reprinted by the Harvard Business Review at least five times since the 1968 original. Presumably this is, as suggested by John Seddon, because people continue not to get the message.

Seddon’s point is fair because Herzberg’s core message contravenes virtually every manager’s intuition about motivation and messes with the head of even the most sincere and enthusiastic leader.

Herzberg’s message?            You cannot motivate people.

What Herzberg advocates is for leaders to find ways to enable people to draw on their own (intrinsic) motivation to do work well. This means creating the environment where people can explore their creativity and abilities and thereby contribute more.

This is different to providing a ‘carrot’ or ‘stick’.  External incentives effectively shape the rules of work – they do not draw from the resources within the person. This means that as people interpret the rules, there may be unintended consequences – manipulation, cheating, internal competition (or hiding good ideas). If punishment is visible it creates fear, reticence to suggest anything new, and of course has a negative impact on morale.

Further Reading

Herzberg, F. (1968) “One more time: how do you motivate employees?”, Harvard Business Review, vol. 46, iss. 1, pp. 53–62

Seddon, J. (2003). Freedom from Command and Control. Buckingham: Vanguard Press.

360◦ feedback – when it might not be very helpful

360 feedback360◦ feedback is an often cited ‘best practice’ model for enabling people to understand how well they perform, what they need to do more of and what they need to improve. Like any method, it needs to be checked to see whether it will work (i.e deliver its intended purpose) and whether it is the best way of achieving that purpose (e.g. are there any unwanted side-effects?). In the case of 360◦ feedback these questions are rarely asked- the first concerns are usually practical (who can give the feedback, how do we collate it) – 360◦ feedback is de facto a ‘good thing’, isn’t it?

Nevertheless it is worth stepping back and considering whether the 360◦ approach is:

(i) helpful and (ii) effective…?

One issue with 360◦ – which you will never find on a 360◦ website (for obvious reasons) is that it is based on judgement and opinion. There is the old adage that “opinion+opinion+opinion=opinions”, in other words any combination of opinions will not necessarily be the truth. This is of course also the case whether you get friend or foe to give you the feedback! For this reason, a lot of people would say ‘don’t bother’.

In fact there is a strong case for the ‘don’t bother to give feedback at all’ viewpoint. It is a question of measurement and assign-ability. What is the feedback measuring? In a stable system 90-95% of performance is due to the system, in other words is not assignable to the individual (Deming 1993). This means that feedback given to the individual will be at best only scratching 5% of what people do. In essence “faults, weaknesses and dereliction of individuals is not the primary door for improvement” – its more effective to work on improving processes and systems (Coens and Jenkins 2000).

(Note: in an unstable system all the feedback should be directed at the boss anyway, not the worker – that is worth a separate blog in itself).

 Timeliness of feedback is important: it should relate to specific behaviours for which impact is known and to which the receiver of the feedback can choose to respond to get a different effect. (Coens and Jenkins 2000). Good feedback needs to be delivered in a personal and interactive manner and from a person who is seen as credible. People naturally tend to rationalise feedback from other human beings (Coens and Jenkins 2000, Jacobs 2009), so anonymous feedback can be easily rejected or seen as invalid.

There is a strong argument that where a person is not prepared to/cannot give the feedback face-to-face, then they shouldn’t bother. If they CAN give the feedback face-to-face, they should take responsibility for it but also be prepared for it to be ignored or contested (and take responsibility for the other person’s reaction – anger, tears, hurt, laughter, responsiveness). The best teams are those where this type of discussion is normal, expected and conducted in a good spirit of trust and collegiality.

There is another clue in the usefulness of any method: what ‘checks and balances’ do people have to put on the system to ensure that it is fair on people? If you need to place a ‘system to police the system’ (i.e. who gives the feedback) then , inevitably you will need to  have a system to  police the police who are policing the system and so on…If any answer is forthcoming that suggests that the method is not impartial, robust or trustworthy – and generates too much work!

It is better to keep feedback down to face-to-face discussion, you simplify it because people take responsibility for the whole. Make sure people know how to give and receive feedback; what, how, when, where, why. Ensure a culture where informal conversations about the work and how it can be improved become the norm. Increase the value of dialogue and discussion on how to improve things within meetings (and move beyond discussion of reporting and giving feedback).


Coens and Jenkins (2000) Abolishing Performance Appraisals: why they backfire and what to do instead, Berrett-Koehler, San Francisco, CA.

Deming W.E. (1993) The New Economics, MIT CAES, Cambridge MA.

Jacobs, C.J. (2009) Management Rewired: Why Feedback Doesn’t Work and Other Surprising Lessons from the Latest Brain Science. Penguin Group Portfolio, NY


Systems Thinking – the oldest ‘new idea’?

Deming montage

Deming in the 1930s, 40s, 50s, 60s & 70s: same man, same thinking, different desks

It is easy to expect that when we work with change that this should mean ‘new’, whereas it should really mean ‘better’ or (if circumstances move the goalposts) ‘different’. The path of management learning over the past 40 years is littered with passing fads which have only delivered disappointment, but a few ideas outlast the comings-and-goings of gurus, trends and fads.

I am staggered to recall that it was 25 years ago that I  first encountered the work of Dr W Edwards Deming whilst I sat in an undergraduate management lecture in the late 1980s. I have had the opportunity over the intervening decades to apply, test, avoid, seek alternatives or attempt enhancements to Deming’s ideas (and many other management thinkers). Some of my work has been in small departments, others in very large organisations; some commercial, others not. My thinking has emerged from a growth in understanding.

Deming, born in 1900, was an active communicator, teacher and consultant well into his 90s.

The forces along the top rob people of innovation and applied science. We must replace these forces with management that will restore the power of the individual (adapted from Deming 1994)
Fig 1. “The forces along the top rob people of innovation and applied science…replace these forces with management that will restore the power of the individual” (Deming 1994)

His seminars and lecture tours were still in demand from international audiences until his death 20 years ago this month, in December 1993, a couple of weeks after I passed my PhD viva.  Deming continues to get a good hearing based on his books written over 30 years ago.

A freshly edited book which pulls together his collected papers was published in 2013. His illustration (Figure 1) of how a person’s motivation withers over their lifetime under “forces of destructive management thinking” rings as true today as in previous decades. Deming’s books draw on his teaching conducted over 60 years ago in Japan, ideas which arose from concepts developed by his professional mentor Walter Shewhart at Bell Laboratories over 80 years ago.

Shewhart’s own book published in 1931 is a classic, (its style perhaps less accessible to present-day readers). The observations and principles identified by Shewhart and Deming early in the 20th Century still stand up to scrutiny and practice. Their centenary approaches…

… much more than can be said for many management ideas since.


Further reading:

Deming W.E. (1982) Out of the Crisis, MIT CAES, Cambridge MA.

Deming W.E. (1994) The New Economics for Industry, Government, Education, 2nd Ed , MIT CAES, Cambridge, MA.

Deming W.E. (2013) The Essential Deming: leadership principles from the father of quality, Ed J. N. Orsini, McGraw-Hill, NY

Shewhart, W. (1931) Economic control of quality of manufactured product. Van Nostrand Company, New York.


Service Excellence – Are People the Problem?

Recently, a colleague helpfully forwarded an interesting link on Service Excellence (see  below). Like a lot of research on Service, it throws up more questions than answers. The researchers had analysed a range of studies of service performance and had identified a number of issues.

 The headliner was that 80% of employees think service is great whilst only 8% of customers think the same. The researchers’ observations were that customer service employees have a misperception of how good they are. This interpretation seems a bit clumsy. The mismatch in this data should not really be a huge shock;  to some degree, employees will tell researchers what they think they should hear – if you asked them in a pub on a Friday night they might rate service differently. The likely cause of this conflict of opinion? The fear factor – who wants to admit that they do a poor job or that their organisation is a bit rubbish?

The researchers described how “Managers are using too much stick and not enough carrot, berating staff with complaints league tables, missed targets and unfavourable mystery shopper reports. Line managers care more about targets than people, as there is data to report, processes to police, bosses to please and larger than ever teams to keep to targets.” This is a very relevant observation; however what becomes frustrating is the way that this research appears to FAIL to identify the link between symptoms (“indifferent staff”) and causes (the list of line management behaviours and protocols presented by the researchers themselves).

Even more worryingly (to use the researchers’ own phrase) the research report states “More worryingly, even when employees were shown facts about customer dissatisfaction, they were twice as likely to blame the organisation as to accept responsibility.” To say this is worrying is INCORRECT – it is not worrying it is in fact highly probable that the workforce have got it spot on; 90% of problems are caused by the system, not the people – so no wonder employees think that it is the company that is the problem!

The fundamental difficulty with the research observations is that they present PEOPLE AS THE PROBLEM, which in 80-90% of cases is unlikely [see messages repeated by heavyweight thinkers like Deming since the 1950s, Senge and more recently Seddon].

So, in summary, although the research article found out some truths, unfortunately they have only one eye open to what they are seeing. They recommend giving people (service staff) a kick as implied by their term – ‘improving attentiveness’ (how do you make people more attentive?) although like any modern HR practitioner, they include some soft and cuddly stuff (still ‘kicks’ actually), such as “Managers need to engage employees and treat them as you want them to treat customers, coach staff to think more commercially and show why giving your full attention to customers is so important.” To be fair they go on to urge managers to do less reporting on sales figures and more observing and guiding their front line colleagues.  However, in any type of organisation, if you do all these positive things but don’t remove all the conditions of targets, scripts, reports, procedures and sanctions then nothing will change – except employees will get even more annoyed and will feel under increasing pressure – and this will be observable to customers, eventually, as even WORSE service. There is still a lot to learn.

To see the original summary of this research, go to the article on the peoplemanagement.co.uk site: http://www.peoplemanagement.co.uk/pm/articles/2012/03/staff-deluded-over-standard-of-customer-service.htm

Better insights on service can read here:

Seddon, J. (2005) Freedom from Command and Control, Vanguard Press, Buckingham, UK.



Fan the flames of enthusiasm or quench them with the ‘fear factor’?

If we mention change, what are the words that spring to mind? Improvement, Worry, Fear, Concern, Waste, Challenge, Opportunity, Re-birth?

Fear (or at least ‘worry’) is, I suspect, a common response and is certainly a term often mentioned by commentators on organisational change as being an issue to handle with care. ‘Resistance’ is another common term which in some cases may be fear disguised as bravado (although remember that resistance may also be a source of strongly held, and potentially helpful, alternative views – see: Resistance is useful: a new assumption?).

This begs a question – is fear the dominant emotion of a changing work environment?

The answer for any organisation lies in the culture (norms, behaviours, values, rules, conversations) that is promoted (largely by leaders). Is change a difficulty, a problem, a challenge, an opportunity or something that you are just going to have to put up with? What are the messages, stories and perspectives that we demonstrate, repeat, encourage and expect? Is it possible to eliminate a sense of fear by the way we explore and discuss the issues of change?

Of course our views and behaviour are only part of the wider picture. There is also the fear of stepping out and being different, or of ‘raising your head above the parapet’ by doing things differently (with the implication that your head is likely to get shot off!).

It is also not unusual to stumble across incidences of fear being applied (by ‘management’) as a tool to get people to do things.  This might be apparent in the way in which meetings are constructed, how conversations are initiated by leaders, in the ways that objectives are set, in responses to feedback, ideas or proposals. When established behaviours contrast with the stated expectations (for innovation, improvement, sharing or other working values), we need to be ready to challenge the old orthodoxy.

Every manager needs to understand, as Frederick Herzberg noted in his landmark 1968 Harvard Business Review article, if you kick a dog it may move (out of fear) but is NOT motivated. Fear causes a fight/flight response in people, which focuses on generating action to avoid the cause of the fear and not on producing better work or doing things more effectively (Aguayo, 1990). The fight/flight response driven by people who use fear often causes hiding, running or cheating and none of these things lead to positive change which is what the organisation really needs. Sometimes leaders need reminding of this again and again; Herzberg’s 44-year-old article has been re-issued at least five times (most recently in 2008) and still remains relevant; people are motivated from within – they themselves must want the change and it is these motivations which will make things happen.

Aguayo R. 1990, Dr Deming: The American who taught the Japanese About Quality, Mercury, London.

Herzberg, F. 1968, “One more time: how do you motivate employees?”, Harvard Business Review, vol. 46, iss. 1, pp. 53–62

Seddon, J. (2005) Freedom from Command and Control, Vanguard Press, Buckingham, UK.