You have a big problem. And you’re trying to solve it, but you just can’t. You keep saying to yourself and your team “Okay, here’s the problem”. “Here’s the issue.” “Let’s clarify the issue”. And all those words and focus, and the attempt to really gain an understanding of the problem… just aren’t working.
How do you get everyone to come together and find an explanation? Maybe you should try a new tactic: focus on the potential, not the problem. Be outcome-oriented.
The term “outcome-oriented” comes up in discussions about problem-solving, goal-setting, and strategy. Some people don’t like it. They say that you should instead focus on the process, because if you keep your eyes squarely on the prize, you’ll lose sight of everything that needs to happen along the way. There’s a simple answer to that: every big project is made up of a bunch of little projects; manage those projects capably, and you’re golden.
Naysayers of an outcome-oriented approach sometimes think that with too much focus on the end result, any means are justifiable. But I think that’s largely determined by your overall corporate culture. It won’t be a problem for you, because all throughout your company, from the tippy-top corner office to the basement broom closet, your employees know that your Big Goal is to help people – you’re good guys. You’re not greedy, you’re not going to lie, cheat or steal to improve the bottom line.
So, now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s take a look at the upside of an outcome-oriented approach.
If you approach a problem scenario from an at-the-finish-line perspective, you can put together a plan that, when you account as best you can for the unforeseen, lets you finish the race on time and injury-free.
There is a bridge that I cross nearly every day. It’s an intersection bridge, with three lanes in each direction. I usually wind up waiting at the light to turn left. A while ago, when waiting for my green arrow, I noticed my car shaking. At first I thought it was car trouble, but then I realized the whole bridge was shaking, from the weight and movement of traffic crossing over it in opposite directions. What a cheap bridge, I thought. Shaking and quaking and – this thing could cave in at any minute! Eventually, I had an epiphany – the bridge was not dangerous because it shook. The bridge would be dangerous if it didn’t shake. That “shaking” was caused by the bridge flexing. If it didn’t flex, I realized, then it really could cave in! The engineers who built that bridge knew that flexibility was key to ensuring thousands of cars could safely traverse it each day. Without that flexibility, the columns supporting the bridge would experience too much friction and pressure – they’d crack and eventually crumble. The same is true in your business.
In today’s business world, there is no such thing as a constant. Changes come swiftly, and while consistency is vital, the only way to keep from crumbling is to be flexible. Whether working on a short-term project or mapping out long-term strategy, you must be prepared for the unexpected, and build flexibility into your blueprints. Good strategy means thinking up “if, then” scenarios ahead of time, but sometimes all the “ifs” can’t be predicted. So you have to prepare your team to react, and adapt, to change. Make sure your team has the tools to deal effectively with the unexpected: accountability and authority.
Accountability has to do with accepting responsibility and then taking actions that will get you to the place you wish to be. As a component of flexibility, accountability allows each team member to take on a role in adapting to change, and follow through with their tasks in an efficient manner – since they know that every other team member is also reliably completing his portion of the project (being accountable,) they have a sense of freedom to do their own work, because they know they are contributing to a viable project.
Authority is the power to make decisions and take actions that are in line with those decisions. As a component of flexibility, authority allows each team member to redefine the scope of their work and then do the work accordingly. Responsibility without authority is a deadly burden, and will drag your team members straight down into the water under the crumbling bridge.
A bridge is designed to get you from point a to point b. Maybe your whole business is a bridge; maybe one project is a bridge to larger business goals. Maybe you’re in a start-up phase and your bridge will take you to long-term viability or acquisition goals. Regardless of what phase you’re in, what your “bridge” is, you must engineer flexibility from the start, to ensure the business can handle the friction from multiple traffic streams and all the changes that will arise along the way. Flexibility should be an integral part of the way your business is structured – at every level, with every team, and in every employee’s duties.
A friend of mine recently said that he wants to change the culture at his company. He’d been talking with one of his co-workers and they both agreed that they wanted to banish the negativity in the workplace, and boost efficiency. In effect, they wanted to increase engagement. He asked me how he could do this without getting management involved. My answer: “You can’t”. I was only partly wrong.
The fact is that culture change needs to come from the top. A group of committed employees, hungry for growth and engagement, can indeed make a difference, but it will be too small to affect the whole organization, as well as too short-lived. They’ll start an effort, strive to rally support, and wind up taking one step forward and two steps back the whole way. Management ultimately sets the tone for the organization. If your CEO, president, operating manager or Whoever’s-In-Charge has an attitude that employee’s are not the company’s greatest asset, then so will the next person in the chain of command, and so on. Managers, supervisors and team leads can definitely have an impact on their department or team, and the impact may spread – but unless it reaches the top, it won’t spread company-wide. As one of my favorite old-school children’s television hosts would say, you don’t have to take my word for it.
In an article by Gallup, “Leading Engagement From the Top,” (the title says it all, right?) researchers point out that engagement isn’t about happy-fuzzy feelings; it’s an integral reflection of the overall health of the company, right down to the bottom line: “Workplace engagement is the core of the unwritten social contract between employers and employees. It also serves as a leading indicator of financial performance.”
Here’s a healthy excerpt from the article, which has a lot of other great info, too:
“Engagement comes from leaders. People look to leadership to set the tone and expectations.” says [Sangeeta Agrawal, a Gallup consultant]. “If executives don’t set the stage and practice what they preach about engagement, it’ll be harder for others to follow”… The numbers support this. Managers who are directly supervised by highly engaged executive teams are 39% more likely to be engaged than managers who are supervised by executive teams with below-average engagement.
Bill Scott, a partner in Innovation Partners International, generously provided me with the following facts about the current state of employee engagement:
- Only 29% of the working population is fully engaged in the work that they do
- The American economy loses an estimated $350 Billion of productivity each year to unengaged workers. This figure comes from the Department of Labor
- Only 47% of senior leaders – the people who presumably have the most control over what they do – say they are fully engaged in their work
- Business units with engaged employees (1) average 27% less absenteeism, (2) are rated 12% higher by customers and (3) are 18% more productive than their competitors
These statistics are scary, and should be viewed as a call to action. The good news? According to another Gallup study outlined in the article “How Strengths Boost Engagement,” even in a situation where not every employee can understand and fully utilize his own strengths, there is a significant boost in team engagement when a manager receives coaching (typically a one-hour coaching conversation, according to the article,) on understanding and using his own strengths, and developing the strengths of others. A huge boost, in just one hour of coaching time.
Further, the concept of accountability tells us that we must each accept responsibility for our part of the problem. So if, like my friend, you’re not yet a CEO and you want to boost engagement in your workplace, what can you do? While it’s true that without the support of upper management, you will not be able to change the culture of the whole company, you can always change your own attitude and perceptions. Here are a few suggestions for generating your own sense of engagement:
- Find ways to use your strengths, even if your primary job function does not rely heavily on them. If possible, develop a “pet project” that can make use of your strengths – to make sure you get management buy-in, first ensure that all your “regular” work is done, and then make sure your boss understands how your pet project aligns with personal and company goals
- Choose to have a positive attitude
- Look for other ways to get involved in your company – is there a company-sponsored sports team, or a committee that you can join? Maybe you can start one (talk to HR about it)
Don’t give up trying to create a culture of engagement. There are always solutions to the problem before us – we just have to look for them – and if we don’t find the best solution, we must make our own.
During an interview, there’s a lot of uncertainty. The company and the candidate are both curious and nervous – it’s kind of like a first date – everyone’s scared to ask the wrong questions, to say the wrong things. One thing’s for sure: If you’re a hiring manager (and possibly if you’re on a first date,) you’re missing out if you’re not asking “What’s your motivation?”
If you can get someone to divulge what really motivates him, you can determine if you will in fact be able to make that motivator available to the potential hire-e. When you are able to deliver motivating factors to an employee, you’ll get the best work out of him, sans faute*.
Examples of motivating factors:
- Input into strategy
- Strengths-based work
- Ability to delegate
Of course this list is not exhaustive; motivation can be complex and unique. Keep in mind, too, that motivations can change over time. A new hire who is desperate for a job may be motivated by money initially, because she has bills to pay and at least one mouth to feed. However, once she has a steady paycheck, she may realize that she is not satisfied, and want more authority, or more responsibilities. She may want an intern so that she can delegate less-important tasks and focus on the more creative aspects of her role. By asking the right questions at the outset, a hiring manager may be able to predict these changes in motivation. One of the principals of Management by Objectives, as defined by Suters in his book, Succeed In Spite of Yourself, is that you tailor a job description for the person you are hiring. Doing so creates a solid foundation for success and growth. You can do this, in part, by ensuring that you know what will keep your new employee satisfied over the long-haul.
Another thing to consider, when examining employee motivation, is that younger generations view the corporate world very differently from their predecessors. Baby Boomers are often thought of as more loyal, because they stay with a company for the long-term; they want the gold watch. Generations X and Y, however, are often viewed as less loyal, more demanding. According to Henry Evans’ article “Gen X, Y, Z: How to Earn Their Loyalty,” younger generations simply value different things; they have different motivating factors. While Boomers may value a title, a reserved parking spot, and job security, younger generations care about feeling valued; they want to be involved and challenged. They want to be recognized for their contributions, and to be given guidance along the way.
Really, it seems to me that what most people want is what should be SOP for every company, anyway: clearly defined objectives based on the company’s overall mission and vision, channeled through to every level of the organization.
People want to work for efficient companies that value employee contributions, recognize and reward achievements, and allow employees to shine and grow. Here’s the thing: lip-service won’t do it. What today’s employees are looking for is engagement, and if you can’t give it to them, they will find a company that can – or they’ll leave to start their own business.
So, when looking to fill your next empty spot, try to really uncover what the interviewee wants – not just short-term, but long-term. And interviewees, please, answer honestly – because if you can find a company that’s willing to keep you engaged, that’s more golden than any gold watch.
I recently heard about a study conducted for Princeton University in 2010 by economist Angus Deaton and psychologist Daniel Kahneman, which indicates that a person’s level of happiness rises according to his salary, up to $75K/year. Once a person makes $75K, his salary no longer impacts his day-to-day happiness. According to Kelly Blair’s Time Magazine article about the study, “For people who earn that much or more, individual temperament and life circumstances have much more sway over their lightness of heart than money.” The concept that money does not buy happiness is familiar to all of us, though there are times, I am sure, when each of us has a hard time believing it. However, in general, we think about the people we love, or the beauty of a sunrise, and recognize that, no, we don’t need money to be happy.
That’s because money, in itself, is not a need. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is a theory of motivation which tells us that we have multiple levels of need, with the lowest (but most urgently necessary to satisfy,) being biological (i.e. food/water,) and the highest being self-actualization/self-fulfillment. In Everett T. Suters’ book Succeed In Spite Of Yourself, the author uses Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs to point out that money is but a means to an end: “No one needs money. Money is only a satisfier of a need. I may be hungry (biological), deep in dept (need for security) and want to live in a better neighborhood (social or group acceptance). Money can satisfy these lower levels of need”.
What about the higher levels of need? How do we find self-confidence, a sense of achievement, and the pinnacle: self-actualization? If it has to do with individual temperament and life circumstances, as Kelly’s article suggests, then certainly we have some control. Now, I remember learning a lot about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs in my Organizational Behavior class in grad school. My professor, Peter F. Sorensen, Jr., literally wrote the book on organizational behavior (along with some of his colleagues,) and according to that book, “Self-Actualization” is defined as: “Being all you can be, involving full use of creativity, personal and spiritual growth”. Hmmm… being all that you can be. Sounds like we’re talking about working from strengths, here.
There’s another widely used theory of motivation, based on Maslow’s Hierarchy. Herzberg’s “Motivation-Hygiene Theory” says that Maslow’s lower levels of need are “hygiene factors,” which from an employee-motivation standpoint are encompassed in the work environment but do not ultimately impact happiness, and that the upper two levels, ego and self-fulfillment, are motivating factors and have to do with the work itself. These motivating factors directly impact a person’s happiness.
According to Dr. Sorensen’s book, a central premise to Maslow’s Hierarchy is that “a satisfied need cannot serve as a source of motivation”. In other words, once you’ve got food and clothing and you’re safe and people like you, those factors cannot serve as motivation; so long as they remain fulfilled, they cannot impact happiness. So we know that, in order to motivate ourselves or others, we need to go beyond the basics; we need to surpass the happiness threshold attainable through money, and provide satisfying work that utilizes strengths and provides people with ongoing opportunity for success.
What happens once a person has achieved a healthy ego and finds her work fulfilling – does that mean she’s reached the peak of the needs heirarchy, and it’s all downhill? No. Because, according to Suters, success begets success.
Suters does a great job of defining success, breaking it down into twelve interdependent components, one of which is that “Success has an appetite which grows at the higher levels of need… at the high levels of need involving the need to feel important and the need for experiencing a sense of fulfillment, these appetites are almost insatiable”.
Therefore, the more success you achieve, the more success you need – it is a need which cannot be satisfied. Thus, success has an ongoing impact on happiness, and serves as its own source of motivation. If you are being all that you can be – being true to your authentic self and building a life, a career, a team or a company based on strengths – you will experience a constant replenishment of self-confidence and self-actualization, unhindered by a happiness threshold that maxes out at any dollar amount.