Dan Pink’s 2009 talk on The Puzzle of Motivation was one of the most-watched TED Talks (see the video link above) and draws from the ideas he researched for his book ‘Drive’. In the book he explores the research around aspects of intrinsic motivation which he divides into autonomy, mastery and purpose.
This knowledge of human behaviour counters traditional models of motivation driven by rewards and punishment (i.e. ‘carrot and stick’) which are dominated by a focus on external factors such as pay.
This new thinking around motivation is based around Self-Determination Theory (see Ryan and Deci, 2000), although the origins also link back to the core ideas of systems thinkers and practitioners such as Deming, who was also a student of psychology.
A sense of purpose is essential for people to focus their work AND to give meaning to their work (Deming 1994). Autonomy involves the opportunity to influence the work that is being done and is based on an ability to make decisions using information to hand.
As Pink points out, any work requiring some degree of cognitive ability (i.e. aside from the most menial), will see higher worker performance when degrees of autonomy, mastery and purpose are increased.
Deming, W.E. (1993) The New Economics, MIT CAES, Cambridge MA.
Pink D. (2009) Drive: the surprising truth about what motivates us. Riverhead Books.
Ryan, R.M. and Deci, E.L. (2000) Self-Determination Theory and the Facilitation of Intrinsic Motivation, Social Development, and Well-Being. American Psychologist, 55 (1): 68-78.
To paraphrase Richard Branson, ‘happy staff = happy work’, and for Branson, that means that customers will also be happy and your organisation will be successful.
Motivational theory and systems theory tells us that a work (the way it is designed and the constraints placed upon people doing it) also influences whether people are satisfied with what they do. In other words, happy work creates happy people.
Deming talked about dignity in work decades before it became a focus of attention in Human Resource departments. His philosophy was ‘centered on people and the dignity of work. He believed that people should have joy in their work, that the system within which they work should be designed to make this possible and to enable workers to reach their full potential to contribute to the enterprise‘ and that system is management’s responsibility (Tortorella, 1995).
So for happy also read ‘joyful‘. Quite an expectation! But consider this: whilst a happy person is satisfied, a joyful person brings renewed energy and vigour into their activities, interests and relationships – exactly what we need in a high performing team. And a joyful person can be as quiet and dignified as they wish, or as outwardly enthusiastic as they wish, but their joy will rub off positively onto the people around them.
I recently, but fleetingly heard a joke made by the late, great British comedian Tony Hancock who, to broadly paraphrase his line, stated: “The most important thing that an audience wants from an artist is sincerity, so if you can fake that, your made!”
Sometimes leaders can be tempted to think that sincerity and its bigger sibling, integrity are something that you can manufacture. Nothing could be further from the truth – the unassailable truism of Hancock’s joke is that if you manufacture sincerity (or integrity) you have by definition destroyed it – and everything that goes with it – credibility, trust, partnership, commitment…the list goes on.
There are no quick fixes to building integrity – it starts from within oneself and is expressed in what you say and what you do. It affects your interactions with others. It can be difficult and requires commitment. It is repeated every day and is self-reinforcing. You cannot paste it onto the outside like wallpaper!
Coppin, A. and Barratt, J. (2002) Timeless Management, Palgrave MacMillan, NY.
Covey, S. (1989) 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Simon & Shuster, New York, NY.
When it comes down to it, what are we really committed to? How can we test our integrity, our true priorities and principles? How do people judge our choices and interpret our values? How do we show what we think is important? The answer is startlingly simple. In the words of a valued former colleague, Derek Middleton, whom I worked with many years ago,
“You show your commitments by what you say and what you do“
Derek implied that he was quoting someone else, but I have yet to find a source in the intervening years, so I will attribute it to him.
The statement is far from a banal truism. It is a test of character:
Do we link what we say with what we do?
Do we do the things which we say are important?
Do we say the things which we know are important?
Do we prioritise our actions just as we do our words & ideas?
Lets face it – are we really committed? We can apply this to our ethics, our respect of others, our work values, our plans, goals, priorities, sense of self, use of time. It forces us to be honest with ourselves, to reject the excuse: ‘I haven’t got the time‘. It is about self-management and real priorities.
Analogies from the worlds of sports and entertainment tend to fail in these discussions; dedication tends to be relatively time-bound (to achievement, excellence or skill acquisition) and is a relatively poor relation to true commitment; what we say & what we do.
Coppin, A. and Barratt, J. (2002) Timeless Management, Palgrave MacMillan, NY
Covey, S. (1989) 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Simon & Shuster, New York, NY.
Lovell, J. and Kluger J. (1994) Lost Moon – the perilous voyage of Apollo. Houghton Mifflin, NY
Herzberg’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.
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.
It is possible to get the best results by cheating the system. However there is more to success than just the result. People are judged on other things, their values, their previous decisions, their credibility. Integrity is an often used word. What does it mean?
Stephen Covey picks out integrity as an essential element of character. For him, integrity is defined as ‘the value we place on ourselves‘. Clearly, however, if we value one aspect of ourselves (e.g. personal success) above everything else we could get a skewed understanding of personal integrity. As John Donne said in the 1600s, ‘No man is an island‘. We have to value ourselves in a rounded way. A person who achieves success by deceit needs to understand that when discovered the deceit erodes other’s perception of the success – and that being the case, the very deceit in the first place should erode that person’s own perception (so should discourage them from short-cutting or cheats).
Extreme examples are easy to pick out. Cyclist Lance Armstrong famously held his entire team in the thrall of his doping cheats (and, at the rawest level, you could argue that the whole team benefitted from his success). Armstrong appears still to be in self-denial about his deception, others less so. Jutin Gatlin, the Olympic sprinter, was banned twice for drugs offences, yet continued his career (within the international rules of short term competition bans). However return-to-competition rules aside, his achievements since returning and his credibility as anathelete are questioned by many in the sport.
In the world of work it is rare for performance enhancing drugs to be the ‘cheat’ of choice. But can we tolerate other short-cuts or attempts to climb the slippery pole? Withholding information, lack of collaboration, criticism behind people’s backs – all to help ‘self’ at a cost to others in our team? This is a win-lose mentality, reflected in win-lose behaviours.
Fortunately, there is another more positive side to things. Some team members are valued for bringing a work ethic, a collaborative spirit or set of values which enhance the team. In sport Dirk Kuyt, the Netherlands footballer would be a good example. His international career has seen him play as a centre forward, a midfielder and, at the Brazil World cup, as a defensive player. His work rate in all positions was unquestionably high. He was prepared to take on whichever role was required for the sake of the team. It is no suprise that, despite Kuyt leaving my son’s favourite football club in 2012, the player still remains one of his favourite and most inspiring sportsmen. Few professional footballers maintain that type of loyalty with young teenagers!
When people think of us at work in a few years time, what will they be thinking. Will we be seen as a Dirk Kuyt or a Lance Armstrong? And which do we think would be better?
Covey, S. (1989) 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Simon & Shuster, New York, NY.
Dealing with change usually involves debate: what to change, why, where, when, how and who?
There is often the danger that skeptical inquiry can creep towards defensiveness and cynicism. Here are some things to challenge when these attributes appear in negative arguments presented by others (adapted from Paine 2013):
POOR responses in discussions include:
Attacking the person not the argument, or stereotyping a position to make attacks easier.
Relying on ‘authority’. Hierarchy should make no difference, one person’s opinion should be no weightier than another’s (both are, after all, just opinions) – what are the facts?
Observational selection (counting positives and forgetting the negatives, or vice versa).
● Statistics of small numbers
(such as drawing conclusions from inadequate sample sizes)
● the ‘sample of one’: using a single case which could be an extreme outlier rather than the norm
‘conveniently’ considering only two extremes to make the opposing view look worse:
● Excluding the middle options in a range of possibilities
● Short-term v long-term: “why pursue research when we have so huge a budget deficit?”.
● Slippery slope – unwarranted extrapolation “give an inch and they will take a mile” – would they…always?
Misunderstanding the nature of statistics
Confuse correlation & causation (cause & effect):
‘it happened after so it was caused by’ – is this really justified?
Appeal to ignorance
(but – absence of evidence is not evidence of absence).
To address these arguments ask: what is the purpose of the discussion? what do we know? what are the facts? what are we assuming? what knowledge can we reasonably base our decision making upon? how can we examine, predict and monitor outcomes?
As Deming says, most of what is important is unknown or unknowable, but we don’t assume that it doesn’t exist.
Dennis Bakke highlights in his book ‘Joy at Work’, the difference between saying to workers, ‘we really care about your welfare because we do,’ and the suggestion, ‘we care about your welfare because that will make you work harder for us’. The former offers a sense of value, the latter is more cynical.
The sentiment of valuing people has natural appeal – caring about the people who work with us simply makes sense. But at work – what does caring about people really mean?
Many organisations have ‘people programmes’ or ‘culture change’ initiatives. Do these help?
As John Seddon has often said, respect for people is not a point of intervention – it is not something you ‘do’ to people. Deming repeatedly talked about two things concerning people – the need to maintain dignity and self-esteem. Anything that robs people of these two factors is counterproductive (and as Deming also emphasised, disrespectful).
The culture that appears in any organisation – the behaviours, ways of being, talking and doing – is a symptom of the way things are set up in the organisation (the ‘system’ as Deming would call it). The fall-out from an organisation’s culture (too numerous to discuss here), can be positive or negative.
As an example, a familiar type of negative fall-out might be the lack of career development for women; this could well be a symptom of the way things are set up in an organisation, such as:
access to flexible working
provision of parental leave
plans for recruitment
how people’s ideas for improvement are implemented
Whether managers consider career development for staff
how unacceptable behaviours is challenged
how often peer groups have a voice in organisational decision
how career breaks are understood and managed
time invested in succession planning
How many women are in senior, influential roles
how performance is measured now
how achievement is measured over time
Even this short list clearly extends to things beyond people’s general value for female workers. Furthermore if you just work on people’s value for female workers and yet do nothing about the influences in the system, then nothing will change – it might even make things worse.
So, to be able to manage a team or a wider organisation with integrity, there is a need to deal with the whole system – being purposeful in dealing with change. Otherwise we just end up doing things that have no impact.
The start point is to value people anyway. The work is to improve the organisation (as a system) to deliver its purpose.
Culture change – towards one that is whole and cohesive – will follow.
Bakke, D.W. (2005) Joy at Work: a revolutionary approach to fun on the job, PVG, Seattle, WA.
Deming W.E. (1993) The New Economics, MIT CAES, Cambridge MA.
Seddon, J. (2005) Freedom from Command and Control, Vanguard Press, Buckingham, UK.
Group working is one of those topics that is awkwardly both straightforward and complex depending upon how you look at it.
Conventional wisdom sets us to assume that more heads are better than one and this maxim is often used as a justification for working in teams. But is it always a helpful perspective? In the spirit of Change Academy, we need to consider alternative views in order to get a more complete picture.
Cindy Vallance recently posted the question “When are many heads better than one?” This is a sensible question to ask when considering group working. As Cindy points out, sometimes teams are created to simply fulfill a structural need; to fill an office space or to organise a number of individuals under the supervision of a manager. These, as Cindy implies, are not good reasons for organising group working.
What do we really know about team performance? And, if we are honest with ourselves, do groups always work better than individuals?
The answer, surely , is no. Have you ever sat on a committee and wondered ‘why are we all here?’?
Let’s take a sporting analogy. Put five excellent runners into a relay team. How well do they perform? In many cases, really well.
However if I think of the British men’s sprint relay team, in four of the last five Olympics they have been disqualified (1996, 2000, 2008, 2012). In 2004 they won the gold. In each Olympic competition the job is the same and, for the British team over this period, several individuals participated in the team more than once . So why is there such a wide difference between good and poor performances? It is sometimes easy to put it down to a mistake; incompetence or lack of attention, but sometimes the truth lies deeper.
The Ringlemann effect suggests that something different can happen in teams. If people’s personal roles are similar they can be disinclined to put everything into their work (this is a subconscious effect causing ‘free-riding’ rather than deliberate loafing). This effect has been shown in cases where a single worker has been put in a team with ‘non workers’ (i.e. people deliberately faking effort, but not actually doing real work). Even in these instances, the ‘real’ worker is often measured as putting in LESS effort than if they were doing the task on their own. In the classic experiment, assuming that men pulling a rope individually perform at 100% of their ability, apparently two-man groups perform at 93% of the average member’s pull, three-man groups at 85%, with eight-man groups pulling with only 49% of the average individual member’s ability.
So what is the solution? Never work in teams? No this would be a bit foolish, there are better questions…
1. Design team work carefully? Yes
2. Ensure a clear sense of purpose? Yes
3. Establish some reasonable measure of performance or achievement? Yes
4. Agree ways of working together, along with a readiness and willingness to improve ? Of course
5. Encourage trust and mutual respect amongst team members? Yes, but make sure that at its foundation is an understanding of 1-4 above.
So, reverting to my previous blog on teamwork, we must focus on our purpose, our goals, understand our differing roles, agree how we work together at a practical level and look to build positive working relationships based on mutuality and trust.
Like anything in life, if we have a team of people, we need to regularly re-consider the purpose of the team. Do we have a team because it adds to achieving the purpose, or is it just because we have always had a team?
Next time you are in a turgid committee meeting, or your project team has ground to a halt, – have a think about how the group could work better…
Beckhard, R. (1972) Optimizing Team Building Effort, J. Contemporary Business. 1:3, pp.23-32
Ingham, A.G., Levinger, G., Graves, J., & Peckham, V. (1974). The Ringelmann effect: Studies of group size and group performance. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 10, 371–384.
MacDonald, J. (1998) Calling a Halt to Mindless Change, Amacom, UK
It is easy to be busy and to forget the value of building positive working relationships with people. After all, working relationships are often the source of ideas, innovation, encouragement and better use of resources.
Finding time to make proper contact with people can be tricky, especially in roles where “meetings,meetings, meetings” rule, or if you are stuck behind a computer screen. Nevertheless, if we have the right mindset and a clear sense of purpose, we can make the most of personal networking, even if the opportunities are fleeting.
I recall an occasion when a colleague from an operational department picked up an idea with me for developing a training programme. She had previously drafted out a proposal which had been discussed with a couple of colleagues, but had not yet discussed the idea at senior levels. We both worked up the idea and, with a minimum of scheduled meetings (I can recall three1/2 hour discussions), by simply keeping our bosses in the loop, within 2 months we had the programme up and running, briefed to managers, marketed to 150+ people (many of whom voluntarily applied for a place with management approval) and the selected cohort had attended the first event. The normal turnaround for this type of activity – about 6-9 months.
How did things work so effectively on this occasion? Well, for one thing the personal enthusiasm of the people involved, secondly, the trust that each person had in delegating the work (and the trust shown by senior stakeholders in allowing us to get on with it) – and thirdly the purposeful use of time when we briefly met or had a conversation on the ‘phone. These behaviours set the tone when engaging other colleagues for support and encouraged a collaborative atmosphere in the project team. The work needed no significant new resources and the administration was hooked into existing procedures and workflow. The advantage was a 60 – 80% improvement in turnaround time.
Of course networking may involve a host of other things; ideas, innovation, opening up opportunities in new markets, new career pathways, business partnerships, research collaboration, cost saving opportunities, learning. There is no magic networking chemistry – ALL effective networking behaviours can be learned. If networking fails it is probably because one or both people choose for it to fail either consciously or sub-consciously…or they let the potential impact of the contact to ‘wither on the vine’ through lack of effort.
Networking is not just a social process – it needs to be far more than that in order to work properly. Good work involves the use of knowledge, understanding the psychology of people, understanding how systems work, and responding to the comings and goings of events in an appropriate manner. Networking that just involves chat delivers what it deserves…
Incidentally on a separate note – during the same two-month period described above, I had a contrasting experience. I was involved in various discussions (I lost count of the meetings, but it must have been at least six or seven) with essentially the same types of positive people (so the same positive chemistry SHOULD have been working), to resolve some minor concerns in a half-day training workshop. Now on this occasion maybe I was the problem, but progress in this instance was simply not very productive. Avenues were examined which did not require consideration and assumptions were taken which only served to delay decisions (until the real facts were extracted). This experience reminded me of some observations made in a recent blog which included some interesting ideas (attributed to the likes of Deming) but which were summarised as equations. A few choice ones are shown below:
Opinions+opinions+opinions = opinions
Meetings = opinions x people + documents
And the moral of these equations? – None of these activities is real value-adding work.
We need to be diligent in how we use our time. When networking, be purposeful – look to bring something to offer to a discussion as well as have in mind something that you want to get out of it for yourself. Remember that talking together is fine, but working together can be much more rewarding.
Coppin, A. and Barratt, J. (2002) Timeless Management, Palgrave MacMillan, New York.
Deming W.E. (1993) The New Economics, MIT CAES, Cambridge MA.
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