Last week I wrote about the strange dichotomy in organisations: their dependency on people while generally failing to take any account of the intrinsic drivers of human behaviour. I attributed this to a large extent to an ingrained management attitude of considering people as job-fillers and numbers. While holding to that view, I now want to consider the extent to which the HR profession has been guilty of perpetuating this pervasive attitude.
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.”
All week I have been thinking about the “Paradox of Work” that I described last week. It seems remarkable, as well as rather ridiculous, that – according to research – people generally run counter to their own experience and seek more leisure time when they actually enjoy their work more. Yet, amazing as that is, it is not the only paradox we encounter in the commercial or business world. There is also the “Paradox of Management.”
Have we got it wrong?
“Necessity is the mother of invention.” That is the old adage that we all grew up with. (The picture shows just how old!) And like me you have probably never challenged it. But is it valid? Recently I have been compelled to question this.
It is that time of the year to take a break from business and the serious aspects of business and running a successful organisation and focus on things that are just as - and possibly even more - important. Accordingly, I take this opportunity to wish you and yours everything you wish yourself for the holidays and the coming New Year. May it see the fulfillment of them all.
I look forward to your company again in the New Year.
I did a Google search to find out. The first non-advertised result I saw was just a definition. It read, “Extremely large data sets that can be analysed computationally to reveal patterns, trends and associations, especially relating to human behaviour and interactions.” That seemed straightforward enough, but – after the ubiquitous Wikipedia link – the third result was a link to a Forbes article, “12 Big Data Definitions: What’s Yours?” This suggests that it is perhaps not so simple after all. Also, that it is apparently subjective.
Fortunately, the simple definition is enough for this discussion and we don’t need to get embroiled in any complexity. It highlights two things that warrant deeper thought.
Who doesn't like a bonus? It is always nice to get more in your pay packet than usual. A bonus naturally make you feel good about things, and – particularly when you have worked hard to earn it – helps you to feel appreciated and that all your effort was worthwhile. Even if it isn’t as much as you would have liked, it is still better than nothing! Yet I would wager that there have been times when you have questioned the whole process.
Possibly because you have seen others being rewarded when you didn’t think they deserved it. Or perhaps because earning it has caused colleagues to act in ways that have made your job more difficult. If you are totally honest, you might even admit that you have shaped your own performance targets or measures in ways that make earning your bonus more likely. And that, perhaps, is the major flaw with incentive remuneration or performance related pay schemes: everyone manipulates them but, because everyone has the personal potential to earn more, no-one ever stops to ascertain just how effective they really are.
Yet business publications and management books are full of stories, examples and case studies of the ill-effects of misguided incentives. The problem is that, even if they don’t motivate directly, incentives do shape behaviour, and invariably not to good effect. This is perfectly illustrated by Daniel Pink’s findings on motivation. (If you have not already seen this ten minute video I thoroughly recommend that you do so now.) However daunting the prospect, his conclusion that incentives are actually counter-productive should be enough to impel you to re-evaluate your incentive remuneration scheme.
I don’t know why. It is not a column I normally read. But somehow my eye was drawn to the report of a man who booked a cruise 18 months ahead, paying a significant (+/-20%, four figure) deposit. Unfortunately he suddenly died a few weeks later. So his daughter asked for this money to be refunded. Her request was refused. The managing director of the cruise company, no less, wrote to her saying, “With our guest demographic, we are all too regularly presented with requests for refund payments due to illness or a sad loss, all of which should be claimed by travel insurance.”
I struggled with this. The whole scenario suggested that the company puts revenue before customer experience. With the MD’s own words indicating that the “guest demographic” makes this a regular occurrence, you have to ask how much of the company’s profits result from this dubious practice of deriving revenue without providing any correlative service. Such justification seems unethical or morally bankrupt. It seems to illustrate a fine line between legal and ‘legitimate’: the decision may have been legitimate but was it is legal? I needed to think more.
Those are some of the questions I found myself asking this week after coming across an article in Chief Executive Magazine entitled, "How to turn your employees into your best brand ambassadors." My instinctive response was that this should not be new to any CEO worth his salt. After all, surely you need employees who believe in your brand, in order to deliver a customer experience that turns customers into raving fans. But, perhaps it is a subject that requires a refresher.
If my instinct is right, and making your people brand ambassadors isn’t already core to everything you do, you have a problem. If your people are not your best brand ambassadors, your brand will definitely not be all it should be. Certainly this research from my friend Alexander Kjerulf suggests that may be the case. So, now ask yourself just how good your brand is. This also makes it unlikely to be as secure as you might like to think.
I was shocked! And slightly disappointed in myself. In hindsight perhaps I shouldn’t have been, but I was – even though I suspect change professionals are just as prone to it as the rest of humanity. It highlighted something we probably all do often every day but that professional change managers should always guard against.