Much has been written about the importance of meaning in driving a productive and motivated workforce.
Already in 1964, Frederick Herzberg’s Motivation-Hygiene Theory differentiated work satisfiers (aka motivators) such as challenging work, achievement, and responsibility, from dis-satisfiers (aka hygiene factors) such as the absence of status, job security, adequate salary/benefits, and pleasant work conditions.
In other words, motivation is driven primarily by the underlying meaningful and the productive work, not by the context of the work such as the money and fringe benefits.
In that vein, Harvard Business Review in “A Spotlight on Productivity” in May 2011 describes how poor managers “unwittingly drain work of its meaning“–in essence destroying their employees motivation and their productivity.
1) Trivializing Your Workers Input–“managers may dismiss the importance of employees work or ideas.” In a sense, this one is about marginalizing employees, their creativity, and their contributions and is extremely destructive to the employees and the organization.
2) Decoupling Employee Ownership From Their Work–“Frequent and abrupt reassignments often have this affect.” Also, not assigning clear roles and responsibilities to projects can have this affect. Either way, if employees don’t have ownership of their projects, then the productivity will suffer amidst the workplace chaos and lack of ultimate accountability for “your work.”
3) The Big Black Hole–“Managers may send the message that the work employees are doing will never see the light of day.” In other words, employees are just being forced to “spin their wheels” and their is truly no purpose to the “shelfware” they are producing.
4) Communication, Not–Managers “may neglect to inform employees about unexpected changes in a customers priorities” or a shift in organizational strategy due to changes in internal or external market drivers. When employees don’t know that the landscape has shifted and moreover are not involved in the decision process, they may not know what has changed, why, or feel invested in it. Without adequate communication, you will actually be leaving your employees blind and your organization behind.
So while it is tempting to think that we can drive a great work force through pay, benefits and titles alone, the lesson is clear…these are not what ultimately attracts and retains a talented and productive work force.
The magic sauce is clear–help your work force to know and feel two things:
1) Their work–is ultimately useful and usable.
2) That they–are important and have a future of growth and challenge.
When they and their work mean something, they will get behind it and truly own it.
In short: mean something, do something.
To get this outcome, I believe managers have to:
1) Make the meaning explicit—Identify your customers, the services you are providing, and articulate why it is important to provide these.
2) Determine strengths and weaknesses of each employee and capitalize on their strengths, while at the same time coach, mentor, and train to the weaknesses.
3) When workers go “off track,” be able to give them constructive feedback and suggestions for improvement without demeaning and demoralizing them.
4) Find the inner strength and self confidence not to be threatened by your employees actually doing a good job and being productive–that’s ultimately what you’ve hired them for!
5) Recognize the importance of everyone’s contributions–It is not a one-person show, and it takes a bigger boss to recognize that other people’s contributions don’t take away from their own.
6) Be a team and communicate, honestly and openly–information hoarding and being the smartest one in the room is an ego thing; the best leaders (such as Jack Welch) surround themselves with people that are smarter than them and information is something to be leveraged for the team’s benefit, not weaponized by the individual.
There are more, but this is just a blog and not a book…so hopefully more to come on this topic.
There are all sorts of theories about what motivates people. The two most popular are Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and Hertzberg’s Theory of Motivation.
Maslow (1954) believed that people fulfill needs from the lowest to the highest order in terms of physiological, safety, social, esteem, and self-actualization.
Herzberg (1959) understood that more specifically at work, there were five key motivators to job satisfaction: achievement, recognition, the work itself, responsibility, and advancement. Things like salary and working conditions were believed to not provide satisfaction, but could lead to job dissatisfaction.
An article in Harvard Business Review (January-February 2010) underscores Hertzberg’s belief that achievement is the greatest work satisfier of all, as the article states: “we now know what the top motivator of performance is…It’s progress.”
·Workers are energized when “they’re making headway in their jobs, or when they receive support that helps them overcome obstacles.”
·Workers are demoralized when “they feel they are spinning their wheels or encountering roadblocks to meaningful accomplishment.”
Bottom line is that most people generally want to work and be productive human beings: when we contribute positively to the world, we feel a purpose to life. Achievement and progress means that we somehow leave this world a little bit better than when we arrived, and the whole thing is not meaningless. The daily growing pains of life are not in vain—we are contributing to something greater—something that outlasts ourselves.
Recently, I read that only 45% of workers were satisfied with their jobs (based on finding from the Corporate Executive Board). Even in a horrible economy, people are not satisfied with a paycheck. They want to feel good about what they are doing and that they are doing something.
Something is getting in the way of people’s feeling of progress at work or their level of job satisfaction wouldn’t be the worst in decades.
The authors of the Harvard Business Review article state “the strongest advice we offer [to leaders] from this study…”scrupulously avoid impeding progress by changing goals autocratically, being indecisive or holding up resources.”
The point is that a leader is first and foremost an enabler for progress. If they are holding back their people, rather than helping them, we have dysfunctional leadership at its core.
So in simple terms—effective leaders must:
·VISION: Set and articulate a compelling vision/strategic direction for organization bringing their people into the process through genuine inclusion.
·DECISION: Make decisions with a reasonable and responsible level of analysis and consideration, but avoid analysis-paralysis, wavering, and indecision.
·EXECUTION: Give your people the authority, accountability, resources, training, and tools to execute or as the saying goes, “put your money where your mouth is.”
Progress and employee satisfaction will not be achieved with just one or two of the three: If the employees want to move forward on leadership vision, but they can’t get needed decisions to really execute, the vision is for all intensive purposes, dead on arrival. And even if employees have a vision and the needed decisions to operationalize it, but they can’t get the resources to really see it through, progress is slowed, stunted, or perhaps, not even possible at all.
Perhaps this is one reason for the high project failure rate in organizations that we’ve seen for years now resulting in cost overruns, missed project schedules, and requirements that go unmet.
Yes, workers will always seek job satisfaction, but its not just about more money, more benefits, more recognition, more advancement, like so many erroneously still believe. Rather, the Holy Grail to worker satisfaction is a leadership that knows how to let them really be productive.
I believe that true leadership success is measured in progress, and a sure sign of organizational progress is when employees feel productive. A good metric for “progress” is whether employees are engaged and (to put it simply) happy.