There is a strange dichotomy in organisations. Perhaps rooted in the Paradox of Management I described previously, it goes beyond that and lies in the fact that, although organisations depend on people to fulfill their purpose, generally they fail to take any account whatsoever of the intrinsic drivers of human behaviour.
An extreme case of this was a conversation with an executive who argued that putting people first was a complete waste of time. As he put it, “I employ people to do a job and I expect them to do it. If they don’t appreciate how fortunate they are to have a job or they don’t want to do it as prescribed, there are plenty of other people who will!”
Wow! It seems hard to believe that such attitudes still exist. Yet, is it so surprising? Perhaps, despite claims about, and efforts to circumvent and “win”, the “War for Talent”, they reflect a fundamental, ingrained management belief. Certainly there is plenty of evidence suggesting that, even if not explicitly expressed, they are pretty pervasive, and stem from a belief in the importance of jobs. But employment is about more than just jobs: it is about people.
Improving performance is seldom, if ever, as simple as substituting the person. And why should it be? Even the exchange of machines can be complicated and their operation radically different. In every case you have to cater for the “needs” of the individual machine. Those, however, are primarily physical/mechanical. But for people those needs are intrinsically physiological and psychological. Yet how often do you look at the physiological and psychological needs of your people?
In his book “Leaders Eat Last”, Simon Sinek identifies the biological drivers of behaviour. Although these have their origins in ensuring humankind’s survival as a species, they are just as significant today. They therefore play as important a part in the modern workplace as they did in our hunter/gatherer history. In fact they determine our health and sense of wellbeing. Thus, failure to recognise them and shape them, inevitably impacts performance.
Similarly, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi identifies the psychological drivers in his book “Flow”. He describes “flow” as a state when we become so totally absorbed in what we are doing that we become oblivious to the demands of everyday life and says that this is a state of happiness resulting from our need to optimise experience. Key here is the fact that we are all intrinsically goal driven and therefore motivated to continue developing and reaching for new goals. When we are not doing this, we become demotivated, disinterested and disengaged. Sinek explains this is due to the body’s production of dopamine, which makes us feel good when we reach our goals, and serotonin, which is produced by the sense of pride we get when we feel that others like and respect us.
Daniel Pink identifies the essential ingredients of employee engagement as autonomy, mastery and purpose. The first two are again readily understandable when you understand that they derive from the production of dopamine and serotonin. On the other hand, he links purpose closely with a sense of belonging, which Sinek says stems from the body’s production of “chemical love”, oxytocin, which it creates when we are in the company of people we like, trust and respect, or when we do something nice for someone else or they do something nice for us.
Thus, although coming from three totally different perspectives, all three of these writers reinforce one another’s conclusions. This makes their findings more credible, and more significant for you as a business leader. To significantly transform performance and results you have to create an environment that makes the best of your people or – more accurately – that allows them to make the best of themselves. For this you need to consider how you are going to create a system or systems that addresses the physical and psychological needs of your people. Both collectively and individually, because every individual matters.
Contact me today for a free 30 minute conversation about how my ‘Every Individual Matters’ model can help you create an organisational culture that embraces change and transforms – and sustains – organisational performance.
Bay is the founder and director of Zealise, and the creator of the ‘Every Individual Matters’ organisational culture model that helps transform organisational performance and bottom-line results. Bay is also the author of several books, including “Lean Organisations Need FAT People” and “The 7 Deadly Toxins of Employee Engagement.”