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August 2012

Standing on the shoulders of ...

Success is never a solitary achievement.

Isaac Newton recognised this when he said, “If I have been able to see further it is because I have stood on the shoulders of giants.”

Yet none of us achieve anything without depending on others. Perhaps there is a bit of poetic licence in Newton’s description, but the reality is that none of us can do anything without the efforts of others. Do you ever drive along the motorway and wonder about the people who helped to build it? Or travelled by train without thinking about the pioneers who built the first railway lines?

The fact is without their efforts nothing which we take for granted today would be possible. And that is as true in business as it is anywhere else. For example, greateManchester United might not be quite the same team without Wayne Rooney, but without the efforts of the groundsmen who keep the field in shape for Premier League and Champions’ League action, Rooney et al would find their game a lot more challenging. Similarly, Amazon might never have become the force it has without the people who locate, pack and ship your order.

Business is all about people. So ultimately it all boils down to your people. That is why it is more than a cliché to think of your people as your greatest asset. And the good news is that nobody wants to do a bad job, which means that the dice are loaded in your favour. That is why employee engagement is such a key issue. For, if your people are disengaged, you have lost your major competitive advantage.

Even, more significant, however, is the fact that if your people are disengaged, the problem resides with you. The culture you create and the environment you engender is what determines their level of engagement. So where do you and your organisation stand on that front?

Human pyramidIf you don’t know if your people are engaged or not, or – even worse - if you know that they are disengaged, then you have a challenge. Unlike a reputation, engagement does not take a long time to create, but like your reputation it can be destroyed in an instant. And if it is, it takes a long time to restore. That is why you need to stop just talking about your people as assets and actually treat and manage them as though they were. That way you’ll be able to stand on their shoulders to create a human pyramid of success, without them feeling abused or taken advantage of.

The Joy of Satisfaction and its Power

Would you dispute the power of appreciation? No, me neither. But something that must come pretty close to it is the joy of satisfaction. You could even say that satisfaction is the ultimate of self-appreciation.

Of course that is something that was clearly evidenced at the recent Olympics. Who could ever forget the joy of achievement witnessed by medal winning athletes? The joyful celebrations of a Usain Bolt or a Mo Farah?

Sometimes such celebrations were a stark contrast to the tears of those who failed to win a medal. Of course neither really fits with the Olympic spirit that it not the winning but the participating that counts. But in both cases the extreme emotions are shaped by expectation.  For the winners the joy of meeting or exceeding expectations crowned their efforts while the desolation of those who didn’t win stemmed from their inability to meet their own expectations.

Yet these emotions were not unique to medal-winners and non-medal winners respectively. There were many instances of disappointment from silver and bronze medal winners who had expected gold. And, on the other hand, there were many non-medal winners who were ecstatic to have achieved PB’s (Personal Bests.) So it would seem that the pleasure of participating is in fact tied to personal performance and, more pertinently, to the ability to claim that you had performed to your potential.   

And, when you think about it, this is no different to life generally. When you perform to or exceed expectations you are happy, and when you fail to do so, you are unhappy.

So what lessons are there here for you and your business?

Satisfied businessman_000017847074XSmallSurely the most glaring is that the more people you have who are performing to their expectations, the more happy people you will have. Unfortunately business is ongoing and, unlike the Olympics, is not concertina’d into a single two week period. Thus you not only have to ensure you help make your people happy, but you have to ensure that you sustain that happiness.

But don’t despair. You are not responsible for this! Just as an athlete is ultimately responsible for their own performance so your people are responsible for theirs. If they cannot perform to their own expectations they will not be satisfied and nothing you can do will make them happy.

However, you may be doing things that make them unhappy. Persisting in identifying new ways to monitor and measure performance and then trying to find ways to incentivise superior performance is definitely one of these. The key lesson from the Olympics is that the emotional response is personal. Satisfaction brings joy and joy is power. But this power is intrinsic. Thus you need to be looking for more intrinsic motivators to engage your employers.  

Daniel Pink is a champion for research that proves that extrinsic motivators – sticks and carrots – not only don’t work for any non-mechanistic task, but can be counter-productive. In his book “Drive” he states that “For too long there has been a mismatch between what science knows and what business does.” Are you failing to follow the science? Are you persisting with extrinsic motivators rather than developing the intrinsic ones?

You only have to take a look at your own life experience to understand the science and recognise how powerful intrinsic motivators are. So why persist looking for the wrong sort of motivators? Give your people autonomy of determining their own performance and you will create the joy of satisfaction. You will also release a power that will transform your team and organisational performance.      

Medal Winning Performance: The Power of Purpose and its Teambuilding Potential

Olympic medalsSo the Olympics are over for another 4 years. However, the London Olympics were so chock-a-block-full of awe-inspiring deeds that the memories will remain. And there are a couple that really stand out.

The first was Kate Walsh, the captain of the Great Britain (field) hockey team. Her jaw was broken by an opponent’s stick very early in the competition. However, instead of accepting that her Games were over, Kate had surgery to insert a steel plate in her jaw and resumed playing two days later, with a face mask and the help of some pain killing drugs. She missed only one game and her team went on to win the bronze medal.

The other was US sprinter Manteo Mitchell who broke his leg half way through the first leg of the men’s 4x400 relay. You might think this was disaster (or, at the very least, a major blow) but he ran on, finished his race and ensured that his team qualified! Describing what happened Manteo said, “As soon as I took the first step past the 200 metres mark, I felt it break. I heard it. I even put out a little war cry, but the crowd was so loud you couldn’t hear it. I didn’t want to let those three guys down, or the team down, so I just ran on. It hurt so bad.” So perhaps it was justice that his team not only qualified, but ended up winning the silver medal in the final.

Both these events are mere footnotes to the final outcome and, as the Games recede into the annals of history, are likely to be forgotten. You could say that “these things happen” and “it’s just sport and not really important.” However, if you were to do that you would be missing so much: there is so much more to them and a much greater lesson to be learned.

You see these examples epitomise what a team is all about. A team is a corps where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts and the interests of the collective transcend those of its individual members. But this only happens when there is shared purpose and a common commitment to that purpose. So, while sport provides a good – almost universal – example of this, you would make a great mistake not to seek to apply it more widely. And can you think of anywhere you could apply this more than in business? After all, a business has a purpose and therefore, by definition, everyone in the organisation is working for a single team.

Yet, unfortunately, two major distortions dilute this concept.

  1. The size of the organisation and the scale of its operations. All too often this means that you break the team down into smaller teams. While there is nothing inherently wrong with this, it means all too often you lose the concept of the organisation as one team. (If you doubt that, just ask yourself to what extent the concept of “need to know” pervades your organisation?)
  2. The pre-occupation with trying to motivate people and the almost universal belief that you do this best by creating a competitive environment that has the smaller teams vying with one another. 

Olympic Gold Medal WinnersIf you are looking for medal-winning performance you need to recognise and create this power of purpose. Only then will you have a team - dedicated people who are totally committed and who will ensure the results you are looking for. It doesn’t even have to be a gold medal, but you will never succeed without this. So start by asking, “Is there a common purpose in our organisation? Are we a single team?”  

3 Key Principles for an Engaged, Energetic & Effective Organisation

In another Eureka moment the other day I realised that I have never shared the key principles that drive all my business endeavours. This is despite the fact that they are integral to everything I have been doing and all that I have been striving for.

However, what makes it worse is that these principles are fundamental to all business and commercial activity.

Still, they say it is never too late, so let me rectify my oversight and spell them out now.

Embracing these 3 principles enables you to cut through complexity, reduce the sense of personal pressure and empowers you and your co-workers to build and sustain personal and organisational success. You will also make your life – and theirs – more enjoyable, more fulfilling and more rewarding.

1.    The organisation has a purpose. Any organisation exists to provide a product or service and as such has a clear role to play in the world. This provides its raison d’être and is the central axis around which everything revolves.

2.    The organisation is one team. As long as the organisation is clear about its purpose everyone in the organisation has a part to play in enabling it to fulfil that purpose.

3.    Organisational success depends on every single member of the team. Nobody wants to do a bad job and we all want to make a difference. Thus the more fulfilled and successful each team member is individually, the more successful the team.

You will agree there is nothing radical or alarming here. In fact there is nothing new: it is all stuff you already know but have somehow buried and forgotten. And, in doing so, you have made your own life more difficult. It is no wonder your efforts to restore a sense of engagement, energy and enthusiasm feel futile. How can you expect to inspire others when you are sabotaging your own endeavours?

Of course reawakening to, resurrecting and recommitting to these principles is only a first step. You must still put them into practice. You need to weave them together to craft the organisational integrity that enables you to optimise your people and their potential, inspiring greater personal effort, energy and engagement that powers through your organisation to bring improved performance, better results and sustained success.
So wouldn’t it be great if you had a mechanism to do all this? Well, it exists. And my mission is to help you to find out more about it and successfully shape the new tapestry for your organisation. So why not explore with me how my employee ownership model could help you to win the talent war, transform your organisation and shape a future that benefits everyone?