I was spellbound. Here I was not reading a book about teams, but listening to the wisdom of a team who had lived it day in and day out. This experience occurred during a recent workshop on workplace safety. I had the privilege of working with a high-performing team that has a stellar safety record. The purpose of the workshop was to invite additional dialogue regarding a survey the team had taken. The plan was to seek additional detail and nuance about what they were thinking, feeling, and the experiences that influenced their ratings in this survey that measured areas of safety in their workplace ranging from corporate ethics to hazard recognition.
While others took some time to warm to the task, this group was immediately engaged. They didn’t need encouragement or assurances of confidentiality. They jumped right in to a lively dialogue on each section. It wasn’t long before my curiosity was killing me—how was this group so invested, open, engaged, honest, and committed not just to safety, but to everything else they did?
So I gently interrupted our conversation. “Can I deviate for a moment from the agenda and ask what drives your team and keeps all of you invested and committed to what you’re doing and how you do it?” Immediately, they started to share the glue that binds them together in their common pursuit of safety and performance.
The first thing out of their mouths was a statement that indicated they each held a sense of common mission and purpose that drove their thinking, feelings and behavior. “We are very aware that what we do is very dangerous. One mistake has the potential to not only injure one of us—it could also have serious consequences for the people at this plant and the surrounding community. We don’t ever want that to happen.”
What came next was, “We know each other and we care about each other.” And the caring extends to wives, children, girlfriends, and boyfriends. “We know a lot about each others’ families; we know their names, what schools they go to, the sports they play, and when things are going good and not so good. When you know people’s families, you have a deeper understanding that what we’re doing and how we’re doing it has far-reaching consequences. This also helps us to keep in touch with how a person is doing personally, and sometimes we pitch in to give a coworker a break when he or she needs it.”
We agree to disagree. “It’s taken us some time, but we’ve come to the conclusion that disagreeing is just part of life. We don’t get that upset anymore when we disagree. We give each other space and sooner rather than later we come around and work things out. We know that nothing is more important than safety and that keeps us from going off on each other.”
We take personal accountability for our actions. “This has also taken us some time, but we’ve come to accept that we are the ones who can make a difference. It doesn't do us any good to complain, blame and look to somebody else to make our decisions. Our behavior and choices make the biggest difference, and we feel more secure and satisfied being accountable and in control.”
This team had no formal training in teamwork; they had only learned from their experiences and continued to put what worked into practice. This created a culture in which purpose, accountability, respect, caring, and dialogue was the glue that kept them safe and performing to their individual and team best. They are what books are written about.
That evening, I reflected again on the special opportunity I had to join in on these insightful and inspiring discussions. It became clear that what I teach and facilitate is what this group had intuitively and experientially put into practice. Their culture is infused with intrinsic motivation. They are motivated from the inside out. No one is dangling carrots or rewards or threatening them with consequences if they don’t act responsibly. They act safely and responsibly because it matters to them, and they take ownership and pride in it.
Self-Determination Theory informs us that if people are given or find a sense of purpose in what they do; if they are given the resources, permission and support to have autonomy in making decisions; the encouragement and opportunity to develop relationships with each other and their managers; and the ability to influence the things that matter most to them—they will not only achieve, they will thrive.
This team thrives in a very difficult environment. They do hard and dangerous work. Their success can be framed in a theoretical model, but what is most impressive is their commitment to make it stick—they are the glue.
© Tom Wojick, The Renewal Group, September 2012
My colleague and I had a great visit to Galveston and a very positive, affirming and learning experience at the National Safety Council’s Texas Conference and Expo, the theme of which was The Pursuit of Continuous Improvement: a Journey to Safety Excellence. Our presentation, “A Path To Sustainable Zero,” was well received and generated many comments and questions from the participants. One said, “It’s refreshing to hear about a program that gets to the heart of what safety is really about.” Another offered, “I wish more companies had the courage to take an honest look at and approach to safety.”
In addition to presenting, we also had the opportunity to listen and learn from the experiences of other safety professionals. One of the presentations I attended was on initiating a behavioral-based safety program. The presenter outlined the key steps in the process: form a committee, create observation checklists and train employees to be observers who know how to use the checklists. He emphasized that it was critical to take blame out of the observations so that trust can be built. He further commented that without trust the program would never be accepted and it could not produce results. And then the “ah-ha!” moment: in response to a question concerning implementation, the presenter said, “Before you can even begin the process, you (management) must make decisions on what you want and what roles you want employees to play.” There it is. The defining paradigm, or worldview, that is the foundation of most safety programs. It is one in which management operates from a core belief that employees are not interested, capable or trustworthy enough to make the “right decisions” pertaining to their safety and to the safety of their co-workers. And it is this core belief that causes organizations to lose the war on safety.
Daniel Pink states in his book Drive, “Organizations still operate from assumptions about human potential that are outdated, unexamined, and rooted more in folklore than in science.” This is why organizations continue to search for the holy grail of safety without realizing it is their core world view about human motivation and potential that is the impediment to building and sustaining a high-performing safety culture. They are constricted and bound by antiquated 20th century science on human motivation.
Edward Deci, Ph.D, a pioneer in the Self-Determination Theory, says, “Unfortunately, we observe many mangers and academics who doggedly cling to the now discredited tools of command-and-control methods; these methods ensure the death of employees’ motivation and pro-active engagement in work.” I doubt that there is a “Holy Grail of Safety,” but I’m convinced that the path to building and sustaining a high-performing safety culture is not found by following and applying folklore science and discredited tools of command and control management, which is why “A Path To Sustainable Zero” adheres to a view that nurtures the intrinsic importance of safety.
“A Path To Sustainable Zero” operates from the belief that employees want to be safe and that they care about the safety of each other, and if given the opportunity and trust to demonstrate these intrinsic values they will not disappoint themselves, their co-workers or their organization.
In a recent “what do we want” focus group, a handful of employees crafted the following statement:
“I want to work in an environment that regards my personal safety as a top priority so I can fully engage in my work. I want to feel respected and cared for and to experience satisfaction in the work I perform.”
It’s not managements’ role to force safety on their employees but rather to encourage and allow it to emerge from within them. This statement validates that employees deeply care about safety and that the role of management is to provide the resources, support and training safety leaders and supervisors need to foster and monitor the development of their employees’ intrinsic motivation to create and sustain a safe workplace.
It isn’t perfect and it does take time for employees to trust the transition to a totally new model and approach to safety. Remember that they’ve been trained in Skinner’s operant conditioning system, which believes animals must be trained with carrots and sticks in order to perform. However, if management stays on the new path with the conviction that employees are capable and invested in creating a safe workplace, it won’t be long before employees become fully engaged and everyone experiences the benefits and rewards of a high performing safety culture.
I have a theory about values, leadership, and workforce engagement that is related to a study I read on brain imagining and sacred values. The study, titled, “The Price of Your Soul: Neural evidence for the non-utilitarian representation of sacred values,” was conducted by Gregory Burns, PhD, Director of the Center for Neuropolicy at Emory University. Through the study Burns found that “sacred values prompt greater activation of an area of the brain associated with rules-based, right-or-wrong thought processes as opposed to the regions linked to processing of costs-versus-benefits."
The study gave participants an option to disavow any of their personal value statements for money. Disavowing a statement meant they could receive as much as $100 by simply agreeing to sign a document stating the opposite of what they said they believed. The disavowing was interpreted as the value statement not being sacred to the person. Statements that the participants refused to disavow were classified as being personally sacred.
Brain imaging indicated that scared and non-sacred values activated different areas of the brain. The scared values activated areas associated with right and wrong and the non-sacred values activated areas related to pleasure and rewards. In addition, the researchers found that the amygdala region became activated when a person’s sacred values were challenged.
The amygdala is the part of the brain that controls our “911” stress alert reactions of fight, flee or freeze when it perceives a threat to our well-being. It is also associated with our emotions, particularly emotions connected to perceived negative experiences, which over time creates a filing cabinet of negative memories. In our modern world people usually don’t react physically by fighting or fleeing, they react emotionally. We fight by arguing or being stubborn; we flee by disengagingmentally and emotionally, which lessens commitment; and we freeze by shutting down our creativity. It is emotional reactions like these with which a leader must contend. Therefore, developing one’s emotional intelligence is critical to effectively counter and minimize these stress responses. Organizations would be wise to establish emotional intelligence as a leadership prerequisite if they want to reap the benefit from higher levels of workforce engagement
I believe that workforce engagement issues are a result of leaders and organizations not operating from a foundation of sacred values. The Institute for Global Ethics did exhaustive surveying and research in an attempt to identify what core moral and ethical values were held in highest regard by people and communities throughout the world. No matter where they went, they found the same answers: honesty, responsibility, respect, fairness, and compassion. In essence, these are core sacred values.
Applying the brain imaging research from the sacred values study, it would seem that if any of these five core values were in essence disavowed by anyone – in this instance, a leader – it would activate the “right and wrong” areas in the brains of his or her employees and at the same time activate their amygdale, putting each into either a fight, freeze or flee state of reaction. The result could be a strong feeling on part of an employee to not trust this person and to feel that they have been “wronged,” both of which will negatively impact engagement, commitment, performance, and most importantly, trust.
Values authenticity is the core issue. Leaders and organizations who – within their heart, head, and gut – are not authentically aligned and committed to these core sacred values will never be able to fully capture the hearts and minds of their workforce nor their stakeholders.
The Gallup Organization, which has made a science of employee engagement, reported that in the third quarter of 2011, “Seventy-one percent of American workers are ‘not engaged’ or ‘actively disengaged’ in their work, meaning they are emotionally disconnected from their workplaces and are less likely to be productive.” This means that 71% of the country’s workforce is emotionally reacting by fighting, fleeing or freezing.Why? Because they believe that their sacred values are absent or being disavowed. A leader cannot drive workforce engagement if he or she does not authentically hold these five core values as sacred.
When I’ve had the opportunity to talk, or should I say listen, to employees, these five values are at the core of their concerns and issues, and are the crux of their disengagement:
These same sacred values are at the heart of the issues that are polarizing and creating conflict in this country and around the world and thwarting people from finding solutions to their most pressing problems:
Leaders from all sectors of our society must develop a deeper understanding and sensitivity of how these core sacred values dynamically hold relationships, teams, organizations, and countries together, all be it sometimes in a chaotic way. When organizational and political leaders focus on and subscribe to the perspective of cost versus benefit, there undoubtedly will be tension and that tension will give rise to conflict and disengagement.
In his book Moral Courage, Rushworth Kidder states, “Successful organizations must require moral courage in their leaders and then work assiduously that it is rarely needed.” I agree, but more importantly leaders must take on the hard work – the work of authentically committing to these sacred core values and then modeling moral courage when they are challenged. To create a highly engaged workforce leaders and organizations would be better served to first look in-ward and to evaluate the depth of their commitment to these core sacred values.
Authenticity and Moral Courage are two of the Seven Hallmarks of Relationship–Centered Leadership. If you have an interest in building workforce engagement and becoming a high-performing leader, we invite you to explore the Relationship–Centered Leadership program. For more information on this program download a description from the Free Downloads tab
One of my favorite sections of the New York Times Sunday edition is called the, Corner Office. Each week they interview a business leader to share their insights on leadership. This particular interview started with the following question, “Do you have the equivalent of a first day speech you use in new jobs?” The leader concluded her response with, “My door is always open.”
When I hear this, I can’t help but think of Ronald Reagan’s famous line, in a 1980 debate with Jimmy Carter, “Governor, there you go again.” How many times have you heard an executive proclaim, “My door is always open”? This declaration of openness must be one of the 10 commandments they teach in leadership school, Thou shall have an open door policy. But what they fail to mention is just how poorly it works and what an unfair burden it places on employees.
I must admit I have used this slogan a number of times; maybe you have also. What I want to know is, has it ever actually prompted you to walk up to the boss’s office and wait for the door to open so you can share your deepest concerns with the boss about how the company is killing your motivation and that of your co-workers? My guess is no. Personally, I can only remember two occasions when a employee even asked for an appointment to meet with me, never mind just showing up at my office door.
Why? Because employees do not trust and believe in stereotypical “I want to know what’s on your mind” leader-jargon. While this is not to say some leaders are not sincere in wanting to have meaningful conversations with their employees and believe that it is important to do so, it is important they not delude themselves into thinking an “open door policy” is the way to achieve this objective.
The reality is that the road from the shop floor to the boss’s office is a gauntlet of pot holes, U-turns, Stop signs, and a host of scowling people with fingers pointing at employees to turn back. Most doors are figuratively and literally closed no matter how often a leader proclaims, “My door is always open.” As Daniel Goleman in his book Primal Leadership, states, “It may take a small act of courage to confront the boss with bad news about the company, but you have to be even braver to let the boss know he’s out of touch with how people are feeling, or that his ‘inspiring’ talks fall flat.”
It’s Not Their Job – It’s Yours
It’s not their job to come to you – it’s your job to go to your employees. It not about open doors; it’s about open walls. If leaders need a metaphor, it’s an “office without walls,” and you create this by going down on the shop floor and making yourself available to your employees. Take time to sit in their “office” and just maybe they will start to believe and trust that you really do want to know what’s on their mind.
I can’t say it any better than Frank Sinatra, “Wake up to reality”, a lyric from one of my favorite songs, I’ve Got You Under My Skin. Study after study and survey upon survey confirms that over 60% of employees are disengaged. This means they are not committed to giving their best. To put it bluntly, you are paying them and not getting a fair return on your investment. However, if you are still hardwired to believe that people’s primary motivation to work is only for money, then I want to say, “Wake up to reality.” Consider this statement from an extensive Global Workforce Engagement Survey:
“Employees must trust in your ability and character -- and understand your personal motivation. You won’t be able to match individual passion and proficiencies with organizational priorities if you don’t talk with your people. Get to know them. Understand not only their special talents but also their unique engagement drivers.”
You cannot get to know your employees and they will not understand you nor trust your character and motivation by proclaiming, “I have an open door policy.” The reason is simple; they will not show up. If, as Goleman states, it takes bravery and courage to give a leader feedback, it takes even more courage to do it in his or her office.
It takes courage for a leader to actively expose themselves on the battlefields of their organization, but that is exactly what employees expect of leaders; to model bravery. Leaders must lead by example. If you truly want employees to have confidence in you and you believe that their work experience is a critical factor in the productivity and success of your organization, consider these recommendations:
The Best Advice I Ever Got, by Michelle Peluso, President and CEO of Travelocity, that appeared in the, Harvard Business Review, October 2008 issue. I think it describes the spirit as well as the examples of what I refer to as An Office Without Walls:
"At a 5,000-person global organization, I simply can't know everyone personally. But I can apply my dad's techniques in a scaled-up way that lets me know as many people as possible, that encourages managers to do the same, and that makes our employees generally feel that this is a place where someone's looking out for them. I often visit our different offices; I hold brown-bag lunches every week; I regularly e-mail the whole staff about what's going well and what needs to improve; I hold quarterly talent management sessions with my direct reports; and I constantly walk the halls. When anyone at Travelocity e-mails me, I respond within 24 hours. I read every single word of our annual employee survey results and of my managers' 360-degree performance feedback - and I rate those managers in large part on how well they know and lead their own people."
Partners in Safety
Ever since the industrial revolution there has been a consistent history of workplace accidents and injuries. Recently there have been tragic and catastrophic accidents within the mining and oil industries, which have cost billions and the loss of many lives. Although there have been significant improvements in workplace safety brought about by regulation, the technology, improved processes and organizational commitment needed to improve worker safety, accidents and injuries remains a significant problem and business risk.
Still, no amount of regulations, oversight, education and organizational commitment will eliminate workplace accidents and injuries. To believe so is misguided.
As long as a human being is directly or indirectly involved in a work process, there will be accidents and injuries. However, this does not have to be an unpredictable, mysterious or acceptable reality of doing business. Beliefs about human motivation – and the workplace models and approaches that have been used since Henry Ford produced the first model T – do not address the human factor, nor do they improve how people perform. The reasons are clear and are backed by extensive research. Theory X and the “carrots and sticks” and reward and punishment approaches may produce short-term improvements, but in the long term they stifle motivation and engagement and contribute to people making unwise decisions.
The question must be asked, “Why, when the personal and organizational stakes are so high, do we choose to rely on motivational approaches and systems that produce minimum levels of compliance and contribute to worker disinterest and defiance?
The Partners In Safety Program is a solution. It is based on models of change and motivation that have been validated by years of research and demonstrated effectiveness in creating and sustaining organizational cultures that motivate and engage employees in achieving and exceeding organizational goals; safety being priority one.
Down load the entire overview under our Free Downloads tab:
How much is a gallon of milk at your favorite grocery store? How much is a pound of butter? I’m going to assume that most of you don’t know the exact price. My confidence is based on research by Eldar Shafir of Princeton University and Sendhi Mullainathan of Harvard University. Shafir and Mullainathan are studying the effects of scarcity – in this case, it would be scarcity of money – on decision-making and how it can create its own psychology and set of cognitive traits.
Most of you likely don’t know the answers to my initial questions because you don’t have to. You are not faced with the necessity of scrutinizing small daily purchases. As David Brooks reported in his article, The Unexamined Society, which highlighted Mullainathan and Shafir’s research, “People with limited financial resources have to think hard about a million things that affluent people don’t.” These daily life decisions, imposed by financial scarcity, place increased demands on one’s cognitive and emotional resources.
Shafir and Mullainathan also found that scarcity negatively impacts IQ scores and attention span. The study measured farmers pre- and post-harvest and noticed that pre-harvest they possessed a scarcity mindset, which reduced their performance on tests, attention span and their ability to maintain a future orientation. This is understandable. Not knowing if your crop will yield the results you expect, one must be judicious in how resources are used. Once the harvest is in and it meets expectations, farmers are no longer burdened with thoughts of scarcity. And in Shafir and Mullainathan’s study, once the scarcity mind-set was lifted the farmers’ test performance and attention spans improved, as well as their ability to think and plan for the future.
Shafir and Mullainathan’s work led me to reflect on the psychological, emotional, physical and behavioral effects that scarcity has on employees and organizations. We’ve all felt and experienced the effects of scarcity. Scarcity of time, resources to complete a project, money, and even calories all impact our ability and capacity to perform at our best. Gallup reports that one of the top issues that fosters disengagement with employees is not having the right and or needed resources to do their job.
There is another scarcity that I am convinced is as impactful as any other and is implicated in every reason reported by employees as causes for disengagement with their jobs, managers and/or organizations. I call it Recognition Scarcity.
Before we look at what recognition scarcity is, I want to present a broader perspective that is directly linked to this concept. Workforce engagement is a relatively new way of assessing the level of vigor, dedication, absorption (the ability to fully concentrate) and productivity of an organization’s workforce, which has emerged as a critical driver of business resiliency and success.
National and global surveys of employee engagement provide what is akin to an x-ray of an organization’s workforce. What we are finding is that within organizations the levels of workforce disengagement are severely impacting the organizations’ ability to retain and recruit talented human capital, creativity, productivity and resiliency. The enormity of the problem is estimated to be 350 billion dollars a year in lost productivity, accidents and turnover!
BlessingWhite 2011 Employee Engagement Report
67% of employees are disengaged (North America)
Gallup 2008 Study
54% of employees are disengaged (North America)
Towers Perrin Global Workforce Study 2008
66% of employees are disengaged (Global)
If these surveys aren’t enough to persuade leaders of the internal malady that is affecting their ability to be efficient and productive, a recent survey by the consulting company Mercer found that half of this nation’s workforce is unhappy, and a third of the employees are so miserable that they are seriously considering leaving their jobs.
The job and talent market is tough and probably going to get tougher. Companies cannot become or remain competitive, attractive and successful if they don’t retain their talented and committed employees and convert as many of the disengaged as possible. It makes great business sense to invest in workforce engagement strategies; your organization’s financial performance could improve along with your employee’s performance. Towers Perrin claims that for every 15% increase in engagement there is a 2% improvement in operating margin.
It doesn’t matter what level or position you are on the organizational totem pole; ultimately you’ve seen and felt the effects and consequences of disengagement and recognition scarcity – a continuous lack of appreciation, respect and/or gratitude shown by management for an employee’s hard work. Recognition scarcity has many symptoms, but primarily it weakens the vitality, dedication and absorption employees have in their work, their team and/or their organization.
One of my coaching clients described his experience and perception of his boss’s management style as the mushroom style of management: “He keeps me in the dark and keeps tossing in more and more manure on me. I’ve never heard a thank-you or a hint of recognition for all the work I do and the additional work he keeps putting on my plate.” My client was suffering from recognition scarcity. His vitality, dedication and ability to focus on his work was diminishing rapidly. Mushrooms thrive in this type of environment, but humans don’t; in fact, they wither.
Humans have fundamental needs for social acceptance, increased self-esteem and self-actualization. The more they authentically experience these needs and feelings, the more their vitality increases, allowing them to better focus on their work – which only benefits their organization.
One of the most severe tortures a human can experience is to be deprived of human interaction. Studies have shown that this type of deprivation can cause physical, emotional and psychological problems in all mammals. Tom Hanks in the movie Cast Away gives one an empathetic experience of isolation and desperation when, while deserted on an island, he befriends a soccer ball he names Wilson. There is a wrenching scene in which Hanks and Wilson become separated at sea
Although torture and Hanks’ film are extreme examples of the effect of isolation, how one perceives their situation is what is critical. My client felt confused, angry and disillusioned, which was taking a toll on his work and his self-esteem. He said in one session, “I’ve got to get out of this situation before I go crazy.”
In their book, Winning with a Culture of Recognition, Eric Mosley and Derek Irvine refer to recognition as psychic income, which they additionally point out is more affordable, flexible and immediate than the traditional “carrot and stick” motivators of salary, benefits and awards.
In his book, Carrots and Sticks Don’t Work, Paul Marciano says, “The most important job of a leader is to increase the value of the company’s human resources. Recognizing employees increases their discretionary effort and, in turn, increases the human capitol of the organization.”
I think the message and case are compelling; recognition scarcity is a virus that sucks the vitality, dedication and psychological capacity for employees to be creative and absorbed in performing their work to the best of their ability. Eldar Shafir and Sendhi Mullainathan’s research indicates that a scarcity mindset reduces mental capacity, performance capacity and attention span. When recognition is scarce – or worse yet non-existent – in teams and organizations, you can expect overall workforce engagement to decrease, which increases your organizational susceptibility and vulnerability to effects of the fast-paced, demanding and competitive business environment we all live in.
There is another positive benefit to recognition beyond its critical role in building employee engagement. The mood and climate today is pessimistic, polarized and cynical, therefore it is easy as a manager to become a victim of recognition scarcity when it is difficult to find anything positive worth recognizing – but by practicing the Recognition Strengthening exercises below you can bring balance and vitality into your life as well as those closest to you, in or out of work. There is a reciprocal ROI to recognition. It’s not just for them; it’s a gift for you also.
Strengthening Your Recognition Muscle
· Everyday think of 3 people or things you are grateful for or appreciate and write them down. As you think and write you will feel an increase in vitality.
· Write one personal note a week to someone thanking him or her for a contribution they made to your team or organization.
· Recognize effort as well as outcome and give recognition for it as well as a job well done.
· Practice giving feedback that is balanced by providing what you liked with what needs to be improved.
· At every team meeting be conscious of what each member contributes to the agenda and the process of the meeting, and as soon as possible after the meeting make a point to touch base individually with him or her to let them know what it is they contributed.
You can prevent Recognition Scarcity from incapacitating your team and organization and start building your recognition muscle and culture of engagement with the Creating High-Performing Relationships the EQ Way program. See the Events section for the next program
© The Renewal Group 2011, All Rights Reserved
I’m sure you’ve heard the expression, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” Since I enjoy and dabble in photography, I tend to agree with it. However, there are times when words can make all the difference. This is especially true in the workplace, where the words used by management have the tendency to snake through the office and then settle, over time creating an intricate picture of the health of an organization and its employees.
“If you believe it, you’ll see it.”
The first time I heard this nugget of wisdom was from Dewitt Jones in his film, Celebrate What’s Right with the World. At the time I thought it was a neat concept, but really didn’t believe it would have much impact on how one would choose to interact with one’s world. That was in 2003 and today, I must admit, these seven words do make a difference. They make a difference in my life, and everyday I see how they impact the lives of many others – particularly in a person’s willingness to change and take risks despite evidence that a current venture may not be working.
The alternative view is: “If I see it, I’ll believe it.”
The same seven words, but the order makes all the difference. And depending upon which order you subscribe to, it will impact your life and the lives of others in significant ways. For instance, I recently had the opportunity to encounter and observe how dramatic a difference these two views can have on one’s power of influence and leadership when trying to improve employee performance and engagement.
I’m currently assisting two different organizations in improving their workforce engagement and performance. Phase one of the project involves extensive interviews with management staff and employees to get firsthand feedback on what issues are affecting performance and engagement, and to listen to input on what could be done from their perspective to address these issues and concerns. The goal in both organizations is to address specific factors that are negatively impacting organizational climate in regard to employee engagement and performance. The vision at both organizations is to create a culture of engagement and performance that will sustain itself and withstand the foreseen and unforeseen challenges of the 21st century.
The CEOs of these two organizations are very bright and experienced individuals. These attributes, along with their extensive expertise in the technical aspects of their industry, helped them rise to the top levels of their organizations. If you were to review their resumes you wouldn’t notice any significant differences; both on paper are highly qualified. And both are sincere about wanting to succeed in achieving their goals and vision. The differences begin to emerge as you interact with them and begin to notice their particular view or philosophy on motivation, work and change.
One of the organizations has a history of workforce disengagement, which is documented in employee surveys and in operational metrics such as turnover, accidents and injuries and sick time utilization. During the employee interviews many employees used the phase, “I don’t think the leadership of this organization cares about us.” Others would identify specific areas such as not caring about our safety or developing our skills. One person stated, “They say they care, but their actions say the opposite.”
In the debrief session with the leadership team, one manager commented, “We are a group that is very driven by data and we don’t see any evidence that this workforce cares or wants to improve.”
After the debrief meeting we reviewed a philosophy and approach that attacks the causes of disengagement and performance. Much of it is based on Edward Deci and Richard Ryan’s research and work in Self-Determination Theory; the work of Paul Marciano in Carrots and Sticks Don’t Work: Build a Culture of Employee Engagement with the Principles of RESPECT; and Winning With A Culture of Recognition by Eric Mosley and Derek Irvine. One core element of each of these models and approaches, which research supports a positive return on investment, is the use and implementation of appreciation and strategic recognition initiatives. After the review, one of the managers said, “I’ll believe it, when I see it.” Rich the CEO followed that comment with, “There’s been very little that we can appreciate and recognize about this group.”
The other organization had a history of what one employee described as a tyrannical approach to leading and employee engagement. A comment that was attributed to the former leader was, “If your employees like you, than you’re not a good manager.” For the last few years the organization has been under new leadership and has seen a rise in all the metrics and indicators that something positive has taken hold.
During our interview with Ron the CEO, he commented, “The tone of this organization starts at the top. If I model the behaviors I want from my employees, they will respond in kind. If I show them I care about their safety, they will care. If I set high expectations for myself, than they will also accept and deliver on the expectation we set for them.”
One employee made the following comment, “Everyday Ron tells me he cares about me.” Literally this is not a true statement. This employee works the second shift and in reality only sees Ron on his “walk-abouts” and at employee meetings. How could he make the claim that Ron tells him everyday that he cares about him? Part of the answer is the power of, “When I believe it, I’ll see it.” Ron has influenced his employees through his words and actions that he believes in them and they respond reciprocally. Because he believes Ron cares, he hears Ron everyday telling him that he cares.
When we reviewed our program, and in particular the initiatives on appreciation and strategic recognition, Ron’s response was, “I can do a lot better job in this area. When can we get started?”
The difference is in the order of the seven words. Rich and his team believe that “When they see it, they’ll believe it,” which shifts the burden of accountability, risk and change on to the employees. The attitude of the employees is, “Why should we change?” Both the leadership team and the employees have adopted the same philosophy: “When I see it, I’ll believe it.”
Ron’s belief is that if he models the behavior he wants, he’ll see it in his team and employees. He believes that people want to be engaged and want to perform; “I just have to give them the reasons and permission to do it.” Ron stated in our first interview, “The tone is set from the top.” He accepts full responsibility. He doesn’t shift the responsibility to his employees to prove to him that they deserve his respect.
What Ron gets in return is what Rich and his team wants! If Rich and his team would be courageous enough to change the order of those seven words and take the risk of putting that belief into action, the road to achieving an engaged workforce would have fewer potholes.
Carrots and Sticks Don't Work, Paul Marciano
Why We Do What We Do, Edward Deci
Winning with a Culture of Recognition, E. Mosley and D. Irvine
The speed and competitiveness of business in the 21st century requires your engines of productivity to be tuned and fueled.
Workforce engagement continues to be a topic of debate within some organizations, while for others it has become an accepted and critical business metric. The Gallup Organization introduced the concept and brought attention to the potential impact that engagement can have on business results, but for many hard-nosed, analytical executives who are lacking the numbers or ROI, it remains one of those “soft and fuzzy” areas. A word of caution to the hard nosed; don’t try to merge onto the super highways of the 21st century with less than 50% of the power you need.
In the 2010 Survey of Workforce Engagement by BlessingWhite, engagement levels around the world remained stable, which in my opinion is not a positive indicator because it means that 67% of the workforces of North American companies are disengaged. Think about that number for a moment! For me that translates into only a small minority of employees making the level of effort and contribution you need for your company to be competitive and successful! My friend and colleague, Carl Crothers made the following analogy in a recent workshop: “Imagine you have an 8, 6 or 4 cylinder automobile and you’re about to merge onto an interstate. You step on the accelerator expecting a burst of energy to get you safely into the flow of traffic, but the response you get is less than 50% of the power and energy you expected and needed.” This is an unfortunate reality for all types of organizations in North America; they’re running on less than 50% of the performance energy available because their individual human engines (Hearts and Minds) are disengaged. Talk about inefficiency, waste and lost opportunity. Hard nosed or not I think the picture is clear: if you’re not addressing workforce engagement you’re losing money and jeopardizing your competitiveness.
Dan Pink, author of Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us wrote in a recent blog that the smallest unit of productivity is the individual. He questions how organizations will tap into that powerhouse, and goes on to say that “people are thirsting for context and purpose and as a leader one of the most powerful things you can do is provide that context.” This is the heart and art of engagement.
Leadership is also addressed in the BlessingWhite survey. They emphasize that it is imperative that leaders align employee values, goals, and aspirations with those of the organization. It is through this alignment that organizations will achieve sustainable employee engagement, which will allow both to thrive:
Engaged employees are not just committed. They are not just passionate or proud. They have a line-of-sight on their own future and on the organization’s mission and goals. They are enthused and in gear, using their talents and discretionary effort to make a difference in their employer’s quest for sustainable business success.
In other words, don’t try to drive your business on the super highways of the 21st. century if your employees and organization are not operating on all cylinders!
The report also highlights the following recommendations:
* Measure less while acting more
* Pay attention to culture
* Managers are key leverage points in the engagement process
In addition the report puts managers and CEO’s on notice that they must accept that they have a huge impact on developing and sustaining workforce engagement. Of course it’s a two way street; employees also have a responsibility for their engagement, but it won’t happen without leaders being actively engaged. Employees are looking for more than business competence, they want their leaders to be interpersonally and relationally competent. They want to trust in your abilities and character – and to understand your personal motivations. They want to see passion and commitment and most of all they want and need to have trust: trust that you will do the right thing.
A word of advice to those who are still not convinced of the benefits of an engaged workforce, “More employees are looking for new opportunities than they were in 2008, suggesting that 2011 will be a challenging year for retention (and a hot market for firms looking to attract top talent).” This finding from the Employee Engagement Report is a like sign in your competitor’s windows, Talented Drivers Wanted. Do you want to take the chance of losing key employees you need to drive your business? If not, you might want to consider focusing on workforce engagement.
One more word about engagement; it’s not about giving away the store. It’s not about more benefits, bonuses and rewards. It’s about tapping into and building intrinsic motivation – its there and waiting to be engaged.
The Renewal Group’s Relationship – Centered Leadership® programs help managers and leaders discover, develop and deploy the interpersonal and organizational fuel to energize the engines of your future. As one recent participant said, “I now know what leadership is, what is required of me and that I want to be a leader.”
Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. Is your motivational approach bordering on Insanity?
Human motivation, or more specifically what motivates humans to choose certain ways of behaving, is a question that boggles the minds of parents and CEO’s alike and it is of particular relevance in creating and sustaining high-performance work cultures. A recent book by Daniel Pink, Drive, and an earlier book, Why We Do What We Do, by Edward Deci provide insight into this leadership challenge and question. Both authors present decades of research that challenges the traditional philosophy and methods of motivating performance. In fact, the research on human motivation contradicts the underlying theory of motivation in practice in most organizations.
Daniel Pink, in his book Drive, comments on reward and punishment or “Carrot and Sticks” approaches to human motivation. “It is so deeply embedded in our lives that most of us scarcely recognize that it exists. For as long as any of us can remember, we’ve configured our organizations and constructed our lives around its bedrock assumptions: The way to improve performance, increase productivity, and encourage excellence is to reward the good and punish the bad.” The basic belief of this model assumes that humans are similar to pets; give them a treat for good behavior and a stern admonition or punishment for non-compliance or “bad” behavior and you get compliance. In today’s business environment compliance is barely acceptable and is dangerous. What we need is employees willing to give their discretionary effort, look for opportunities and to be pro-active in preventing costly mistakes.
Edward Deci in, Why We Do What We Do, states that there are two basic responses to the rewards and punishment style of control and motivation: Compliance and Defiance and both have negative consequences, intended and unintended. “Where there is one, there is also a tendency for the other, even though one or the other is typically dominate within an individual. Thus, we find some people who are highly compliant, always seeming to do what the situation demands, and we find others who seem to defy all the demands and prods of authorities. But even with these people, where one response to control dominates, the tendency for the other will still be there and could come out in subtle ways. A subordinate who is outwardly obedient to all the boss’s demands might, for example, engage in secret sabotage as retaliation.”
The Gallup Organization in polling of thousands of employees across all sectors of businesses continues to find that 75 % of employees are not meaningfully engaged with their jobs and organizations! There are many assumptions, which can be drawn from this sobering and sad statistic, but one that I think is relevant is the negative affect of carrot and stick approaches have on employee engagement.
There are two types of motivation: External or extrinsic motivation and internal, which is intrinsic motivation. The Carrot and Stick approach is an extrinsic method for motivating performance, and the one that is most prevalent in organizations. Its underlying belief is that people fundamentally dislike work and that they require direction and even coercion to produce. It gained support from the work of behavioral psychologist who noticed that animals changed their behavior after consistently receiving a reward or punishment.
In 1960 Douglas McGregor proposed an alternative to this theory. His conclusion, based on research and experience as a leader, was a perspective that held that “taking and interest in work is as natural as play or rest, that creativity and ingenuity were widely distributed in the population, and under the proper conditions, people will accept, and even seek, responsibly.” Unfortunately, the work and theories of McGregor did not receive wide acceptance or application.
Today’s leaders and organizations have not adopted and applied what research has shown to be the proven principles and methods of motivation. Management in most organizations still relies on structures and approaches utilizing the Carrot and Stick approach to motivation, which results in a workforce that continues to perform sub-optimally.
There is a smarter way and it’s based on years of sound research and it is to incrementally transform the reasons why employees perform and engage from extrinsic to intrinsic motivation. This is not new or novel; social scientists have known this for decades, however, because extrinsic approaches are so embedded they are viewed as breakthrough approaches.
The first breakthrough approach to creating high-performing work culture is the practical application of Self-Determination Theory or SDT. It is a theory pioneered by two of the most influential behavioral scientist of their generation, Edward Deci PhD and Richard Ryan PhD. Both scientists have conducted extensive research into human motivation, which identified three factors:Autonomy, Competence and Interpersonal Connectedness as the needs and drivers of developing intrinsic motivation. When these three factors are consciously and purposefully integrated into a leadership approach, and in the design of performance initiatives they will begin the transformation process form extrinsic to intrinsic.
The second breakthrough approach is the neuroscience of emotions and their affect on employee behavior and engagement. This particular area of science is called Emotional Intelligence or EQ. Emotions are inseparable from our thinking and they are the batteries that drive our behavior. Once again, research shows that leaders, teams and organizations that have higher EQ get better results and a workforce that is more engaged.
Organizations can choose to continue to inventing and re-inventing carrot and stick programs and resign themselves to achieving the same levels of performance they have experienced for years; or they can begin to restore and build their employee’s intrinsic and emotional commitment to performance and take the next step in building and sustaining a high-performance work culture.
Contact us about our program, Stop The Insanity … Breakthrough Approaches to Motivation