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April 2008

Beyond Motivation

Question: “What is the difference between motivation and commitment?”
Answer: “A hen and a pig both contributed to your grill but while the hen was motivated, only the pig was committed.” 

I know! It's not new and it is really hardly even funny. But yet it keeps cropping up in motivational talks and seminars. On one level this certainly seems to be a rather facile illustration, rather endorsing my sense of the whole approach to motivation. I mean how would one assess the hen’s motivation, while there can be little doubt it wasn’t the pig’s commitment that saw him end up on your plate! Nevertheless the analogy has staying power because it serves to make a telling point. Motivation is certainly far more transitory and less substantial than commitment.

Given the choice, which would you rather have: motivated people or committed people?

Motivation has shallow roots and is easily dissipated; rapidly eroded by changing conditions and circumstances that somehow derive discouragement. Commitment on the other hand is less corruptible. It is tenacious and bold; the never-say-die attitude that looks upon obstacles as opportunities; challenges that make the cause more worthwhile. Commitment cannot conceive of defeat or, if it does, damns it as a bully and stands defiant. That is why, to truly succeed in anything, we need far more than motivation – we need commitment.

The difference between motivation and commitment is in fact the theme of virtually any romance. The happy-ever-after ending only comes when the commitment is sealed; prior to that it is all about motivation. And the same is true of life. Success derives from commitment.

It thus seems insane that such a disproportionate amount of management time is spent on employee motivation. If employee engagement is a problem, should we not be looking to improve employee commitment rather than employee motivation? And there is no better way to do this than to adopt the Zealise proposition and actually treat people as the human assets they are. Let's stop talking about human capital and human capital management in the abstract and make it a practical reality.  It might not guarantee we live happily ever after, but it sure improves the odds of being happier at work and thus in our lives.

Spotlight on Success

Have you ever stopped to think about success? What it is? Whether you have it? How you get it? How important is it? How much of it is there? What is the price you have to pay for it? 

“Enough already!” I can just hear your reaction as you drown in the questions. But if you do stop to think about it I am sure you will agree success is a rather strange phenomenon. Easily defined, it is not so easily measured. This is because it is ultimately completely subjective: a roomful of people asked to quantify personal success would probably produce as many answers as there were people in the room.

Perhaps it would be easier if we took Maya Angelou’s definition: “Success is liking yourself, liking what you do and liking how you do it.” Simple yet profound, this highlights that – no matter how or how much other people may judge you – success is ultimately personal.  But what is really remarkable is how closely it resembles Mahatma Gandhi’s statement: “Happiness is when what you think, what you say and what you do are in harmony.” The essence of the two statements is so similar that it is only a small step to conclude that success and happiness are one and the same! And that is certainly enough to make one pause to think.

And there is even more to think about if we apply this logic to organisational success. It would mean that organisational success is the same as organisational happiness – a new concept for all but the most progressive organisations.

Yet this is perhaps not the leap of logic it may first seem. The natural corollary to the statement ‘you are only as strong as your weakest link’ is that the most successful team is the one with the most successful players. And since any organisation is ultimately a team, it is entirely logical that the more successful its people are individually, the more successful the organisation will be. Dale Carnegie said, “You never achieve real success unless you like what you are doing” and it thus makes perfect sense that a company should focus its efforts on ensuring people like what they are doing. Numerous studies indicate that companies with happy people outperform those where the people are not.

In fact the link between happiness and success is neither as surprising nor as tenuous as one might first think. It brings us back full circle to the Harvard Business Review comment quoted in my last blog, “Most companies have it all wrong. They don’t have to motivate their employees. They have to stop demotivating them.” To do this they simply have to create an environment in which fulfilled people can engage all their talents and so like themselves, what they do and how they do it. Yet we do seem to be very slow learners. Albert Schweitzer identified this secret more than a century ago when he said, “Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing you will be successful.” This applies equally to organisations. The most successful organisation will be the one with the highest proportion of successful (happy) people - those who are using all their talents. 

Motivation: The Rainbow's End?

“It is not the job of the manager to motivate employees. That is impossible. It’s a manager’s job to create a happy work environment in which employees are naturally motivated.” (Alexander Kjerulf: “Happy Hour is 9 to 5”)

This statement has stuck with me for 10 days since I first read it. Why? Perhaps because it is so simply expressed, and yet so profound. More likely though, it is because it seems so blindingly true!

Yet that cannot possibly be. A quick Google search on the word ‘motivation’ returned an incredible 5,640,000 hits. The top 5 sponsored links were:
•    Improve Staff Motivation (Leading rewards scheme provider)
•    Motivation (Reward and incentive schemes to improve employee motivation)
•    Employee Surveys (Try something new)
•    Employee Motivation (How are your employees doing?)
•    Improve Staff Motivation (For a wide range of incentive schemes….)

Interestingly the 7th sponsored link was “Book Motivational Speaker” and a follow-up Google search of motivational speakers returned 131,000 hits!

Clearly there are whole industries focussed on motivating people. With so many people earning livelihoods, and in many cases pretty lucrative livelihoods, from motivating others, it seems pretty far-fetched to say that it is impossible to motivate people. And it would be stretching the bounds of cynicism to suggest that all these people are charlatans! Yet, both positions cannot be true. 

As ever when two opposing positions both appear to be true, it is best to go back to definitions. Webster’s dictionary defines ‘motivate’ as ‘to provide with a motive.’ Motive, in turn is defined as ‘that within an individual, rather than without, that incites him to action.’ This is crucial, for it means motive is innate, driven by personal values. The whole purpose of motivating people, however, is to get them to do what you want them to do rather than what they want.  This can only happen when both parties want the same thing. Thus outside forces can do no more than inspire behaviour that coincides with the individual’s personal values.

Mahatma Gandhi said, “Happiness is when what you think, what you say and what you do are in harmony.” Thus, if motivation is not impossible, it is very nearly so, and certainly beyond most managers’ capabilities. It is unreasonable to expect managers to be able to align the various and variable values of all the different people for whom he is responsible. American entrepreneur Russell Simmons put it this way: “Your happiness ultimately comes from the way you work, not where you work.” 

So trying to motivate employees is rather like looking for the fabled pot at the end of the rainbow. We can all see the rainbow, and to that extent it exists, but it really has no end and certainly no pot of gold at the end. The Harvard Business Review article was spot on when it stated, “Most companies have it all wrong. They don’t have to motivate their employees. They have to stop demotivating them.”

Mistakes: A disaster or an opportunity?

“We all make mistakes. Anyone willing and determined to strive for something better will probably make more mistakes than someone who provides only status quo service. But mistakes are a small price to pay for the successes that follow failed attempts. A true test of exceptional service can be found in the actions a company or an individual takes to turn mistakes into a positive experience.”

This is certainly a topical issue in the light of the fiasco that was the launch of Heathrow’s Terminal 5 last week. As mistakes go that one is way up there in the order of magnitude.

One might argue, however, that it was a rather unfortunate consequence for British Airways when their original goal was to move way beyond “status quo service.” Unfortunately there can be no doubt, when it comes to the second part of that statement, that they completely missed the boat (or should that be the plane?) There certainly does not appear to have been any effort to turn the negative into a positive, and statements apologising “for the inconvenience” would have been more likely to raise hackles than soothe the feelings of those traveller’s whose annual holidays or important business trips were totally disrupted.

Apart from the television coverage of the mountains of luggage piling up, the lasting impression for me was the one of the senior executive turning his back on a camera crew and refusing to answer the reporter’s questions. That conveyed the sense of personal embarrassment with no feeling whatsoever for the customers’ feelings and absolutely no clue of the need to do everything possible to retrieve the situation. Subsequent acceptance of ‘total responsibility’ by the CEO simply confirmed the sense that, even at that late stage, he was only expressing what he thought he had to, with no feeling for the customer.

Undoubtedly the scale of the predicament was unprecedented and there was no text book for them to refer to, but the management handling of the situation turned what was a company disaster into a complete catastrophe. There was absolutely no concept of the fact that “It is better to spend money refunding clients when they aren’t satisfied than to forfeit money in lost accounts for the same reason.” Unfortunately this is a service business where compensation is as important as refunds, and efforts to minimise customer claims for hotel accommodation actually suggested the completely opposite philosophy.

No doubt there will be a massive enquiry to find out how BA ever got itself into this mess, and rightly questions will be asked as to:
1.    Why was such a massive conversion attempted in the first place, rather than having a more traditional ‘phased’ implementation?
2.    What kind of risk assessment was done?
3.    Why was there not a contingency plan in place for if things did go wrong?
And that doesn’t include the probing to find out what actually did go wrong and why. But how many will ask 'Where did customer service come into the equation?' and 'What could have been done to minimise the loss of goodwill?'   

Forget for a moment that it happened to BA and ask yourself, ‘What would my company have done if it had happened to us?’ And then consider the wisdom of Hal Rosenbluth’s words, and the lessons they contain. However, there is little point in asking what he would have done in such a situation, for, with his philosophy, such disasters would never happen in the first place.