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.