Monday, 30 August 2010

Do We Work Better for Causes or People?

Positive psychology (psychologists studying the psychology of success) has become very interested in organisational capacity to tap into what they often refer to as the "added discretionary effort" of the people. Is it the the cause or company that is the driving force, or is it the relationships and the connections, that make an organisation truly successful?

One position is that people join good companies (or causes) but often leave because of poor management or decision-making. All the money, time and effort spent recruiting and training an employee, as well as their unique knowledge, can easily be lost. Another position is that good managers are worth their weight in gold, particularly where the organisation itself is weak on either process or people-management. In the war film, "Black Hawk Down", director Ridley Scott offers his view through the words of lead US marine, Hoot:

"When I go home people'll ask me, "Hey Hoot, why do you do it man? What, you some kinda war junkie?" You know what I'll say? I won't say a goddamn word. Why? They won't understand. They won't understand why we do it. They won't understand that it's about the men next to you, and that's it. That's all it is."

Rather cliched some might say, but also a true reflection of what keeps people pulling together. On the downside, even where it is a dubious or lost cause, as history has witnessed many times, people can continue to pull together.

The organisation having the ability to intervene where there is blind loyalty, to encourage intelligent critique, innovation or better practice, as much as the capacity to create cohesive team spirit, requires certain learning processes as well as accompanying "soft" skills. Unsurprisingly, many of these processes were developed for the military, through activities such as "Wash-Ups" between task forces following certain operations, in order to identify what went well and what could be learned from. These, along with many others are now utilised to leverage not only continued loyalty, or added discretionary effort even, but importantly improved practice and innovation. Whether it's the people or the cause that is more influential is still very much open for debate and so I'll leave it up to you the reader to decide which matters most to you. Ultimately, they both count in encouraging added discretionary effort.

Monday, 23 August 2010

Staff Incentives Don't Need To Cost Much

My last blog talked about the importance of encouraging positive feelings in the workplace; acknowledging that how people feel at work will impact upon their productivity levels as well as innovation capability more than the material benefits being promised. I read an article reiterating this in Saturday's Financial Times, Aug.21st 2010 (Everyone Welcomes A Slice of the Pie, Jonathan Moules; Keep Spirits Up - Ask the Experts, London Business School, p.26): "It is too easy to think that you can motivate people with money. The majority of people would take an honest day's pay for an honest day's work rather than be bribed - particularly if it was for a low-paid job" - Rupert Merson, Professor, London Business School (extracted from FT article).

Without further ado, in addressing some requests that I received after my last blog about what I considered good alternatives to financial incentives, here are a few pointers:

- Take money off the table by paying fairly. Hang on a minute, in your last blog you were saying that money is not a good motivator, I can hear some of you wondering. Although not great at motivating, money is a very good demotivator and so a certain amount is necessary in order for goodwill to be available. Cooperation and esprit de corps will more readily follow where money is no longer the issue driving malcontent. Most people want a fair day's pay for an honest day's work.

- Avoid company-wide bonus schemes. These usually disincentivise more than motivate and can be time-consuming and complicated to administer.

- Involve everyone in business performance improvement, in a way that stimulates camaraderie and reduces internal competition. For some companies, this may involve engaging in generating improvement ideas over informal, friendly lunches together. For others in more service-oriented, technical or creative fields, it can also entail discussion forums, quality circles, communities of practice or localised improvement initiatives, in smaller focus groups. Most importantly, not everyone performs well in a large team-building or Quality Circle / Kaizen / Six Sigma or Lean forum. Staff members juggling home life with work life will not necessarily appreciate a drinks-after-work session or weekend retreats. Getting to know your staff and taking into account their different needs, strengths and weaknesses, will bring out the best in them, avoiding inadvertently discriminating against, or even alienating some.

- Have an open-door policy and a good quality working environment. Allow your staff a decent measure of autonomy and control over decision-making affecting them and provide opportunities for developing new skills. Importantly, everyone enjoys a degree of challenge, along with high appreciation and trust. How readily and confidently you can answer these four questions will indicate whether there are opportunities to improve here: 1. How well do staff on the "shop floor" feel heard?; 2. do they trust that in raising performance, productivity or quality issues that these will be swiftly addressed?; 3. do they believe that they will have a measure of control and involvement in finding the right solutions or adaptations? 4. do they believe that their inputs and opinions are welcomed and taken seriously?

- Detect early chronic stress in middle management. Bad moods, high stress, and fatigued managers are a cancer in the workplace. I say middle management as this is the area of most businesses prone to chronic stress and yet they are key to linking the vision of your business with the execution. It is one of the more challenging positions to hold in an organisation, coping with the expectations from above but also with the multitude of changes and needs from below. There are of course other areas where stress is more likely, including ongoing change initiatives, mergers, restructuring and downsizing. A smiling face, a service philosophy and a proactive approach to problem-solving from middle management goes a long way!

- Promote pride and recognition for work being done. Celebrate the good stuff and fix the bad. The good stuff is all around and rather than offering best staff member of the month awards or best improvement idea awards, etc., develop methods which encourage the efforts of the majority as much as the few shining stars.

In effect, as much as what is said or promised is important, how it is said and how people feel about that is equally so. In return, rather than costing you money, these incentives will pay back with dividends, creating a mood that ensures people want to come to work, as well as help you grow your business.