Tag Archives: motivation

Motivating staff – the Dan Pink seminar

Excited Businessman Speaking on Cell PhoneMotivating staff is not the easiest thing to do. In fact is it possible to motivate someone else to do something at all?

We can coerce or threaten and, to use that horrible word, “incentivise” people but most people only really do things they want to unless in desperate straits. In other words motivation, for most people, is internally generated.

Maslow‘s idea of people seeking self-actualisation may be considered old hat now but you can still see evidence of that human potential philosophy in the field of positive psychology.

Similarly Herzberg’s two-factor theory distinguished between motivators –  which were intrinsic to the job, and demotivators, or hygiene factors, which constantly need attention like money which motivates for a while but then loses its incentive value.

Dan Pink‘s seminar on this topic is interesting and thought-provoking and you can watch it by clicking here.

First posted September 2010

Management Books …..!

Kindadukish's Blog - I am not a number, I am a free man (The Prisoner)

I recently walked through the “business section” at Waterston’s Manchester branch and was simply staggered by the number of “expert” books on “leadership” “culture change” “emotional intelligence” and every other subject that you might consider to be directly or indirectly related to the effective running of organisations.


Similarly visit any bookshop at an airport and you will find it stacked high with “management” books…………surely you would have to be in a desperate state to want to start buying and even reading a management book on a flight.

Perhaps it is about the international businessmen feeling that they have to justify their business class seats by giving the impression that they are doing something business related.

But back to the books………….given that these books have been produced for over 50 years now one would think that they would have had a major impact upon organisational performance yet one has only to…

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It doesn’t pay to be too nice 

P1000657 - Version 2Professor Adrian Furnham’s column in The Sunday Times is always of interest to psychologically minded executives and his book; “The Elephant in the Boardroom – the causes of leadership derailment”, should be essential reading for all would-be directors.

As a psychologist I liked the piece in which he explained why nice guys don’t always win – because of their Agreeable personality.

Agreeableness is one of the Big 5 Personality Factors (along with Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, and Neuroticism).

He points out that Agreeableness can be a handicap in business as the higher you score on this factor, the less likely you are to succeed as a business leader!

Most of us would prefer to work for an agreeable rather than a disagreeable boss, wouldn’t we? Well perhaps not says Furnham. Agreeable bosses may make you dissatisfied by not dealing with poor performers and being too forgiving, maybe treating you all the same, or being manipulated by your more devious colleagues.

One of my earlier posts Sometimes you just have to tell em” was about research at Roffey Park that showed that we are not very good at dealing with underperformance or telling people what we want, that strong managers get more respect, and that a firm consistent approach is better for morale and performance generally.

And it gets worse – if you’re a female. The Times reported last year on some research carried out by the Institute of Employment Research and concluded that;  “It doesn’t pay for a female boss to be too nice. The research showed that personality factors do come into account and that, for example, nice people earn less.

Too niceApparently nice women are being swept away by openly aggressive ones who know what they want.

A more recent paper presented to the Academy of Management by Beth A Livingston from Cornell University analysed surveys spread over 20 years. She found that  significantly less agreeable men earned 18.3% more than men who were significantly more agreeable. For women the difference was less, just 5.5%.

Livingston said; “Men’s disagreeable behaviour conforms to expectations of masculine behaviour“.

Apparently nice women are being swept away by openly aggressive ones who know what they want.

Working hard obviously helps but if you are too conscientious you may be seen as neurotic (or get bullied), and extraverts do no better than introverts.

Professor Cary Cooper, at the University of Lancaster Management School, agrees but also thinks women have more emotional intelligence than men and are not generally as egocentric.

So agreeable managers have to learn how to toughen up – for the sake of their team and the organisation, just as the disagreeable ones have to learn how to be nice – if only for the PR.

The July 2010 issue of Psychologies magazine has picked up on this topic in their article; “Why it pays to be tough at work“. It suggests that the prevailing view that it’s not the cleverest (presumably meaning IQ) but those with the highest emotional intelligence that succeed is wrong.

That was always a simplistic view at best and one that Adrian Furnham disagrees with as he says there is evidence that disagreeable poeple do better. The German research quoted says agreeable women earned £40,000 less over a lifetime than women who behaved more like ruthless men.

The article’s author then has a go at empathy. She quotes Jack Welch’s wife as saying that; “too much empathy is paralysing” when you have to give tough feedback or make tough decisions, and goes on to talk about women being prone to slipping into “good mother” roles where they create “gardens of entitlement” sowing seeds of future problems (such as?).

After dismissing empathy – by quoting Neutron Jack’s wife for goodness sake – the author next attacks self-knowledge which she doesn’t consider essential for top jobs as it can detract from self-confidence if it makes you aware of your failings (is she serious that these people don’t need feedback ?

Some people have short memories; what about Enron, the banks or BP?. Furnham is quoted as saying that people who get on may be narcissistic – which is not the only dark-side attribute.

If men overestimate their abilities and don’t navel gaze while women underestimate themselves and have self-doubt (imposter syndrome) then women seemed doomed to fail according to the author and people like Suzy Welch.

In fact the author seems to welcome emotional stupidity as it makes less demands on her. She even has a dig at Anne Mulcahy, ex-CEO of Xerox, because, although she has written about what women can bring to the workplace in terms of emotionality which makes them better leaders, she cut 1/3 of the workforce.

Did she not wonder how Neutron Jack got his nickname?

Original published on 12 April 2010

Are your employees engaged?

The Sunday Times “Best Companies to Work For survey”, which has now canvassed over a million workers since 2000, has identified eight factors that foster workplace engagement.

The factor with the strongest correlation is Leadership: employees must have faith and trust in their senior management team to be engaged.

To do that leaders must gain their trust, live the values, and inspire the team.

Their 2009 survey revealed, in answer to the statement “I have great confidence in the leadership skills of the SMT”, there was a 54% difference between engaged and disengaged employees. In answer to the statement; “senior management truly live the values of this organisation”, there was a 51% difference.

In the top 10% of companies there was a massive 94% confidence rating that the leader ran the company on moral principles.  Would that figure be so high today in the depths of a recession?

Giving something Back (GSB) is one way of engaging employees. Organisations with a good track record of this get higher scores from staff for leadership, pride in their company, and personal well-being.

There does seem to be a rash of books and articles on the new leadership approach needed since the recession. And values and principles are high up among the key factors which is maybe why organisations turn to women when they are in a crisis as they appear to be more trusted as CEOs even though, or maybe because, they  seem more willing to criticise their organisations.

Updated since first published 02/04/2010

Drive – the secret of motivation?

I saw the video, then read the book. Drive by Daniel Pink is fascinating.

He takes us back to the work of Harlow (more famous for his surrogate monkey mother experiments), McGregor‘s “Theory X, theory Y”, and Type A/B theory.

He reports numerous studies showing that altruistic behaviour can be tainted by financial incentives and suggests that financial incentives only work for certain kinds of work and that even then over the long run they don’t  – remember Herzberg‘s 2-factor theory?

He asks why people contribute to Wikipedia and devote hours to work for which they receive no financial recompense. It’s not always about the money.

In fact he believes that it’s more about Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose.

He suggests that you can be a Type I or a Type X which he describes as:

Type I behavior: A way of thinking and an approach to life built around intrinsic, rather than extrinsic, motivators. It is powered by our innate need to direct our own lives, to learn and create new things, and to do better by ourselves and our world.

Type X behavior: Behavior that is fuelled more by extrinsic desires than intrinsic ones and that concerns itself less with the inherent satisfaction of an activity and more with the external rewards to which that activity leads.

If you want to know which you are, go to his web-site and complete a free self-assessment questionnaire.

And if you haven’t seen the RSAnimate on Youtube it’s here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?gl=US&v=u6XAPnuFjJc

Are US managers really the best in the world?

Well they are according to the World Management Survey.

A research team from Harvard, the LSE, McKinsey and Stanford surveyed over 10,000 companies in 20 countries about management practices including operational and people management.

They ranked the US managers as the best in the world followed by those in Japan, Germany and Sweden. Great Britain, Italy, France and Australia came next with India, Brazil and China propping up the list.

The study reports that American managers are the best at managing and motivating staff. “American firms are ruthless at rapidly rewarding and promoting good employees and retraining or firing bad employees”

The authors think it’s because there is more competition with large and open markets which allow only the best-managed firms to survive. They also state that America traditionally gets far more of its population into college than other nations. And (perhaps more importantly) it is easier to hire and fire employees in America.

They contract the USA with China where companies often employ managers who don’t speak the same language as the workers and have to rely on interpreters or sign language to communicate with them.

So how true is this?

The American College Board report (on education in the USA) shows that in terms of the percentage of 15-24 year olds with Associate degrees or higher America, with 40%, ranks 12th just ahead of Sweden but just behind Australia. Canada. Korea, and Russia top the list, Japan comes 4th, the UK 17th and Germany well down the list. Of the bottom three in the best-managed survey only Brazil is included in the college board report and they come last.

When it comes to older employees aged 55 – 64 America comes 4th behind Russia, Israel, and Canada. So not quite as good as the survey suggests in terms of education.

When it comes to employment flexibility it’s hard to identify data about employment protection. The USA came bottom of the list of OECD countries based on 2003 data ie it was the least strict/most flexible.

If we look at holiday entitlement it appears that America is the only country in the OECD which doesn’t require employers to grant any paid vacation/holidays and so 25% of all employees get no paid holidays at all. For others 9 days with 8 national holidays is the average. Some companies provide 2 or 3 weeks but usually insist that employees take only 1 week at a time and keep in contact. (Military service employees get 30 days plus national days).

The EU stipulates 2o days or 4 weeks as the minimum for paid holidays whilst Canada and Japan only legislate for 10 days. And not every country legislates for paid public holidays including the UK, the USA, Sweden, Japan, the Netherlands and Switzerland.

When it comes to sick pay most countries provide some relief for short-term sickness but again America is the exception with no national guaranteed scheme. 40% of US workers receive no paid sick leave and for lower paid workers that figure reached 80%. Apparently three-quarters of Americans don’t think it’s important although 1 in 6 say they would be punished for taking short-term sick leave.

And what about the American economy? It’s all about jobs at the moment with an unemployment rate of 9.2% compared with 7.7% in the UK (although comparisons are not straightforward because of definitions and people on JSA here in the UK). With a potential US workforce of 155 million there were only 18,000 jobs created in June. Unemployment rates are up, job creation is down, so whichever way you look at it it’s not good news.

So it seems that the cards are stacked against employees in the USA with very little employment protection, minimal holidays, and little or no sick pay. Cynics might argue that it’s the economic situation and the culture that makes US companies successful and managers have very little to do with it. So is it really true that American managers are better motivators?

Do family firms have more loyal employees?

Having once worked for a family owned business I was intrigued by the headlines about family firms having happier or more satisfied employees than other forms of enterprise.

When I read more on the research carried out by Stanley Siebert, a professor of labour economics at the University of Birmingham, it seemed to be measuring loyalty – but perhaps loyal employees are happier and more satisfied.

Anyway the survey of 20,00 employees in over 2,000 companies found that 28% of employees strongly agreed that they felt loyal compared with 22% in other organisations and 26% felt they had job security compared with 20% elsewhere.

This is apparently statistically significant. So whilst the figures are higher for family firms it’s still not a very encouraging picture overall is it? And doesn’t it also mean that 62% didn’t feel very loyal and 74% felt they didn’t have job security? 

So the headlines could have read: “Fewer than 1/3 of employees in family firms feel loyal”. And why should this be?

According to the survey staff employed in family firms:

  • have less job security and little protection from redundancies (only 7% of these companies have “no redundancy” policies)
  • work almost a day longer (5.5 hours) each week than employees in the public and private sectors (who average just under 33 hours a week)
  • aren’t paid any more than employees working elsewhere
  • have no or little Trades Union support (only 3% membership compared with 33% in private sector and 50% in public sector)
  • don’t receive much formal training (it’s mostly on-the-job)

Despite this the report claims that staff in family owned business are proud to say who they work for, feel more valued, are closer to the decision-making, and share the values of the company.

These companies are reported to have inclusive management practices and encourage the expectation of long-term employment (but don’t guarantee it – and job tenure is actually shorter than elsewhere).

Research at Warwick University demonstrated that happy workers are more productive so if companies can get employees better aligned with the company’s goals they will probably get more discretionary effort from them ie they will go the extra mile.

But note these are not your typical SMEs. The report was commissioned by the Unquoted Companies Group which includes companies such as Clarks shoes and JCB. Doubtless these are reputable companies but the group has lobbied parliament in the past opposing the growth of EU employment protection legislation and the working time directive.

Make a team smarter – add more women

Putting a group of highly intelligent people in a team doesn’t always produce the best results.

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University and MIT Sloan School of Management have found there is no correlation between individual IQ scores and group intelligence.

Participants were first given standard intelligence tests and then randomly assigned to teams. The teams were asked to brainstorm, solve visual puzzles and one complex problem, and then each team’s collective intelligence was assessed.

The teams that had members with higher IQ scores didn’t score much higher than the average but teams that had more women in them did.

Factors such as group cohesion, motivation, and satisfaction were not predictive of the teams’ performance but gender diversity was correlated. The researchers put this down to what they call social sensitivity (which sound similar to the emotional intelligence factors of empathy and awareness of others).

Teams displaying social sensitivity would be more open to feedback and constructive criticism. Teams that had smart people dominating the discussions didn’t turn out to be so intelligent as a group.

So in theory a group of high IQ members could score better on the team tests but it would probably be because they had higher levels of social sensitivity as well. Women score higher on this than men but if you had more socially sensitive men that would work too.

The researchers also suggest that extremely diverse groups and highly homogeneous groups aren’t as intelligent as groups with a moderate degree of variety in IQ scores. They also see the potential for improving IQ at organisational level through changing the make-up of a group and rewarding collaboration, although the larger a group gets the less opportunity there is for face to face interaction.

This research is interesting because it uses collective IQ as a predictor. We know now that IQ scores can vary depending on the motivation of the individual and that when you are stressed your IQ level drops. Putting people in a more collaborative and supportive environment probably contributes to the enhanced group effect.

Source: HBR June 2011

The downside of excellence

High performing leaders can undermine themselves by being afraid of showing their weaknesses.

Many smart professionals don’t do as well as expected and plateau in their careers because they get anxious about their performance which impedes their progress.

That’s according to Thomas J & Sarah DeLong in an article called “The Paradox of Excellence”  (HBR of June 2011). The Harvard professor and his psychiatrist daughter say many high performers would rather do the wrong things well than do the right things badly. Because they are used to success they may shy away from really testing opportunities because they carry risk or require new skills and would rather preserve their image.

High achievers are often independent-minded and don’t easily ask for help and people may tell them what they think they want to hear anyway. So the trick is to have a good support network that will give you honest and constructive feedback.

We know leaders often move on before they experience failure so are not prepared for it and don’t  learn from it –  cynics might say they move on before they are found out. The DeLongs suggest that you need to  expose yourself to new learning experiences that make you feel uncertain or even incompetent and to remember these are temporary feelings and can lead to greater professional ability. That all sounds admirable but I wonder if that is really possible when share values seem to rule corporate decision-making?

They also identify behaviours that can help you succeed but also get in the way. They say classic high achievers are:

  • driven to get results – but may be so involved that they don’t let colleagues know what they are doing and think helping others is a waste of time
  • doers– they believe nobody else can do things as well as they. They make poor delegators and may micromanage
  • highly motivated – but because they take all aspects of their job seriously may not distinguish between what is urgent and what is important
  • need positive feedback – they care what others think but may obsess over criticism
  • competitive – but may be obsessed with comparisons with others leading to a sense of insufficiency
  • passionate about work – but intense highs can be followed by crippling lows
  • safe risk takers – they won’t damage the company by risky moves but may shy away from the unknown and miss opportunities
  • guilt-ridden – they are driven to produce but no matter what they accomplish may feel they aren’t doing enough
The DeLongs are describing leaders and professionals who are behaving more cautiously then they should and thereby hampering their careers. On the opposite side of the coin there are those who over-do their strengths and begin to demonstrate the dark side of their personalities, often with devastating results for themselves and people around them.
And they are not the first to suggest that leaders should show their weaknesses. Goffee and Morgan made the same point, also in HBR, in 2000 although they cautioned that leaders should do so selectively.