Do you really think that you motivate your people?

Part 2

Ioannis C. Papaconstantinou*

Task Significance, and the consequent methods we use to accentuate it, leads us to another important dimension: Feedback. The classical way to provide information to your employees is through the quarterly, semester or annual performance appraisal review. Is this enough? Shouldn’t your people be able to understand their performance more often and receive “evaluations” constantly? Under the motivation perspective Feedback gets two forms: 1. Feedback from job which is related to the degree that the job itself and the activities entailed into it provide clear information about the effectiveness of the task performance, 2. Feedback from others which is related to the degree that the employee is receiving positive or constructive feedback from the supervisor, coworkers customers and clients. Is Feedback really that necessary: Well, a meta-analysis on feedback interventions on performance has shown that on average these interventions increased performance at 41% of the times. However, are all types of feedback leading to an enduring increase in performance? Surprisingly, praise and discouragement feedback decrease the effectiveness of feedback interventions. The reason behind that is that the feedback receiver is focusing on him/herself and not on learning and task motivation. Furthermore, feedback that increases or threatens an employee’s self-esteem has the same results since again is perceived as a personal message. So, what type of feedback is more effective? Your employees will probably demonstrate a lasting improvement in their performance when they receive feedback about the rate of change of their performance over time (called also velocity feedback). This will help them to enhance task-goal focus and move away from self focus. Furthermore, feedback that highlights correct solutions hence facilitating learning and eliminates poor solutions is also considered to increase performance. Thus, next time you want to give feedback to your people focus on the task and not on the person. Say to him/her what he did right and what can be improved. Any other approach might “touch” the sensitive issue of personality and as you probably know humans at working age, cannot change dramatically their personality unless a major event happens to them. At the end it is the manager’s job to identify the strengths of his/her people and capitalize on them. This should be done for all positions in an organization.

Further in our discussion of the notion of the work itself and how it influences performance, is the much contested notion of Autonomy. The initial conceptualization of Autonomy was related to the amount of freedom and independence a person has in terms of carrying out his/her working assignments. Nevertheless, the increasing complexity of today’s business world has led to the development of more complex jobs and the good old job descriptions are blurring. Autonomy is now related to three interrelated aspects that focus on freedom of a) work scheduling, b) decision making and c) work methods. Work scheduling refers mostly to the time schedule of the work. Daniel Pink (2009) has given some examples on this dimension by quoting companies such as Meddius, Attlasian and Google that give their employees the freedom to schedule their work and create a Results Only Work Environment. Even some of the most popular Google applications were created under the 20% “work on what you want” regime. Actually, Google gives its people the freedom to work on whatever projects they want (their own initiative) one day out of five of the working week. But, can really all jobs provide this freedom for work scheduling? Definitely not. However, in case you manage people that have the opportunity for work scheduling, don’t miss it!!! Decision making and work methods aspects of Autonomy are entailed in one of the most recently development notions related to work motivation: Job Crafting. The aim of Job Crafting is to make employees experience greater meaningfulness of their work. Although there are scholars that believe that meaningful work may come with negative side effects, the main stream is that the more meaningful the work the more motivated an employee will be. Job crafting is a way to think about job design that puts employees “in the driver’s seat” in cultivating meaningfulness in their work. Employees who craft their jobs proactively reform the boundaries of their jobs using three techniques: task, relational and cognitive crafting. We need to clarify that Job Crafting is different from Task Variety in the sense that the first is a bottom-up approach initiated by the employees while the second is a top-down approach initiated by management. Job Crafting can take many forms and its dimensions cannot be explained in detail in the context of the current article. Nevertheless, we will try to highlight some of its aspects which we consider important and practical.

Forms of Task Crafting might include: a) adding tasks (e.g. A floor supervisor at an exhibition center that incorporates in his tasks consultation with the prospective client on the stand construction) which will enhance learning new skills and meaningfulness, b) emphasizing tasks already included in the job description by allocating more time, attention and energy (e.g. a sales representative that focuses on monitoring direct and substitute competition for his company’s products) which creates more meaning and value in his/her work. If you doubt that employees adopt these tactics, take a job description of any position in your organization and compare it with the actual work of the employee. Since you’ve read the above, you must not be surprised of your findings.

Relationship Crafting refers to work interactions, initially short, momentary interactions that can advance into or contribute to a longer-term relationship. Stop and reflect for a while: during your business career, and apart from your colleagues in your department, unit, division or formal team, didn’t you ever meet someone in the organization or outside (customer or supplier) with whom you have experienced mutual trust, positive regard and vigor? And didn’t you then develop a longer term relationship with this person that yielded some very positive business results or exchange of experience? I am sure you did. Why did this happen? Because you perceived this person as a valuable addition to your business relationships which could will lead to a fruitful result. Did this relationship enhance your meaningfulness of your work and your performance? I am sure it did and contributed to your advancement.

Cognitive Job Crafting is not related to the alteration of the tasks or relationships but is directly connected to the mind-set. Enhancement of meaningfulness can be increased by the way employees are thinking of their tasks, relationships or the job as a whole. A hospital cleaner can expand his/her perception of work by adopting the view of his work being an important part of the care giving process to patients. This perception of the greater good done to beneficiaries (patients) increases meaningfulness. Contrary to this expansion, a software engineer that dreads the process of finding new ideas (which is part of his/her tasks) might focus on the task of actual coding that is involved in implementing the idea. We, and our employees don’t like every task that we do. However, by effectively leveraging the parts of our job that are more meaningful to us can help us bear those tasks that are less meaningful.

Job Crafting is a strategy of employees that aim to improve the person-job fit. That is the extent to which their motives (e.g. enjoyment, personal growth, etc.), strengths (e.g. problem solving skills, public speaking, etc.) and passions (learning, technology use, etc.) are exercised on their job making them far more satisfied and performing. This process is an ongoing and dynamic one and not a momentary alteration. One might ask: “If Job Crafting is an employee driven initiative, that is heavily dependent on their proactive mind-set, how can managers really intervene and cultivate a job crafting mentality?” Firstly, managers need to identify the scope that a position gives for job crafting. Not all positions allow such autonomy especially for task and relationship job crafting. Nevertheless, all positions allow cognitive job crafting although this might come into contrast and not be sustained in the long term if there are task and relationship constraints that contradict the change of mind-set. In positions where there is a considerable scope for Job Crafting, managers can adopt one-to-one coaching sessions, discuss with the employees their motives, strengths and passions and encourage them towards a mutually beneficial change. During these sessions, managers can help their employees to prepare a schedule of incremental goals that will provide a better form of their job and check the employee’s crafting progress. Furthermore, team workshops can foster a multiple perspective view of the crafting possibilities at an individual and group level.

Job Crafting is not a panacea for job dissatisfaction and low performance. It is a new concept that tries to shed light on new ways to understand the motivational role of work in today’s complex business world. There are lots of issues that will inhibit your attempts to implement Job Crafting as a motivation tool. The most important? Employees’ personalities. A non-proactive and Self Determined employee will be very reluctant to even think of altering aspects of his job. However, aren’t their employees in your team that have the above mentioned personal traits? I am sure there are. So, let us make the assumption that you run a team of ten people. If just two of them can adopt a complete set of job crafting methods this might lead to a potential 20% improvement at the motivation levels of your team (disregarding the potential multiplicative effect that it will have on the whole team). Not bad, is it?

Do you really think that you motivate your people?


Part 1

Ioannis C. Papaconstantinou*

We have to admit it. One of the most dreadful managerial tasks is employees’ motivation!!! “Yes”, now you say “it is, but not for me”. I couldn’t agree more with you. But, suppose that you were asked from a friend that recently undertook a managerial position “How should I go about motivating my people?”. You will be tempted to give a relatively simple and straightforward answer such as: “Pay them well, say thank you or tap them in the back, give some bonus, if possible, and you are all set”. I am sure you know this is not true. But, if it is not true, and you know that there are so many parameters and things to consider when you approach your employees’ motivation, why don’t you take them into consideration? You are very busy with other things? You think it is very complex and energy absorbing? You don’t really have the time? It requires lots of interpersonal contact and this is difficult? I bet that all these excuses are valid. However, have you really wandered how much better you would perform if your people were fully energized and engaged to what they do? Ultimately, as a manager, what is your major objective? To deliver results. If you believe in the fallacy that you can deliver as a “one band man” then you are definitely not suited for a managerial position.

Long lasting business success stories are based on companies and leaders that invested heavily in people. General Electric, for example, under the reigns of both Jack Welch and Jeff Immelt, has pursued talent spotting and nurturing religiously. This investment requires a complex consideration of the multiple facets of work and the job being done as well as of the context within which it is delivered. Employee motivation has been a “hot” topic ever since its’ appearance in the early years of the 20th century and has gone through lots of developments till the late 1970’s when we thought we know everything on the topic. However, the dawn of the 21st century has shed new light on the topic with new theories from top scholars from Harvard Business School (P. Lawrence, N. Nohria, B. Groysberg) or by considerably enriching older theories like Adam Grant (The Wharton School), Sharon Parker (University of Sheffield) and others did with the Job Characteristics Theory. These new approaches identify some innovative aspects on the field that attempt to capture both intrinsic (coming internally from the employee) and extrinsic (external practices that energize employees) motivation. Furthermore, they take into consideration the notion of increasing job complexity which derives from the most turbulent business environment we have ever faced. Really, how often do we pay attention on what our people are doing daily and, even more important, how they feel about what they are doing. One would say “why bother? My employees have to do what they are told to do or what their job description defines.” And this makes them happy? “Well they are happy as long as they get paid on time”. Well, yes they will not really complain if they are getting paid (they are in the level of no dissatisfaction) but truly, wouldn’t you be more comfortable if your employees were not just delivering what they were told to do but in addition “make the extra mile” that will bring more value to your company? Let’s put it in simple words. What would you prefer? An employee’s attitude towards work which is pictured in the following phrase: “I do my work because I’ll get rewarded with money or other tangible rewards”? Or one that would say: “I do my work because it is meaningful to me and of my best interest”? We all know the answer.

Nohria (2008) presented a new model on employee motivation which espouses that humans have four (4) deeply innate drives that energize their behaviors (Acquire, Bond, Comprehend and Defend). They argue that those drives are inherited from very old times and that they apply in all cultures and societies. One of the drives is the drive to Comprehend (also quoted as the drive to be Challenged and Learn). This drive is described as follows: “We want very much to make sense of the world around us, to produce theories and accounts that make events comprehensible and suggest reasonable actions and responses. We are frustrated when things seem senseless. In the workplace, the drive to comprehend accounts for the desire to make a meaningful contribution. Employees are motivated by jobs that challenge them and enable them to grow and learn, and they are demoralized by those that seem to be monotonous and lead to a dead end. Talented employees who feel trapped often leave their companies to find new challenges elsewhere.” This last phrase can be demonstrated by a recent sports example: Probably you know Radamel Falcao, one of the top football players in the world. Falcao joined the French football club A.S. Monaco in June 2013 with a very high annual salary contract (not taxed in Monaco) and with a team with a very ambitious project. One year after, and with the objectives of the team met, Falcao asked to leave Monaco. The reasons behind this decision? He wanted a new challenge. The owner of AS Monaco deflated next year’s objectives for the team and allowed some key players to leave (including Falcao’s best friend James Rodriguez that hurt the drive to Bond). Falcao felt that staying with the team doesn’t make sense anymore since the team did not satisfy his drive to be challenged. So what happens with our employees and their drive to Comprehend?

Nohria et al. (2008) argue that the drive to comprehend is best addressed by designing jobs that are meaningful, interesting and challenging, that have distinct and important role in the organization and that foster a sense of contribution to the organization. Sounds great, doesn’t it? However, consider how can you make the work of a call center employee, who is continuously monitored, to entail all these characteristics? Work design is one of the major approaches to employee motivation. Recent research has enriched this approach with multiple factors that affect the motivational and subsequently the performance levels of employees. The limits of the article would not allow for an extensive and deep analysis. Nevertheless, we will highlight the major issues that can yield important results for our companies. Some of the issues are not applicable in all positions and companies. Nevertheless, an improvement in some of them can make a big difference. Before we start, I need to stress that we, as managers, need to know the people we manage one by one, their skills, knowledge, aspirations even personal issues (not intimate). This will get them out of anonymity and make them feel that the “boss” cares, and this is a prerequisite for effective work design.

First we examine the task characteristics which are primarily concerned with the way the work itself is carried out and the extent and kind of tasks associated with a particular job.

The degree to which a job requires employees to perform a wide range of tasks on the job is called Task Variety. Think about it: what else could the receptionist in your organization do apart from welcoming and possibly showing your business visitors to the office they want to get? Are there lag times that could be exploited for the benefit of the employee and the organization? This type of questions should be posed for any position. Research has shown that positions that comprise the execution of different work activities are most likely to be appealing and pleasant to perform. By the way, the receptionist (or the security guard) is the first face that someone sees when he/she visits your company. Would you be happy to be welcomed by a bored and demotivated person?

The degree to which a job influences the lives or work of others, whether inside or outside the organization is called Task Significance. Humans want to be needed and be reminded of that frequently. If they perceive that their work is irrelevant and meaningless to others they just “pass away” emotionally. Rolls Royce Engines runs regular events it calls “Voice of the Customer” when customer teams visit Rolls-Royce and spend time with various parts of the business, including maintenance and engineering, to share their experiences with the Rolls-Royce teams and vice versa and emphasize to employees that they are very important for the safety of airplane passengers. Doesn’t this increase the feeling of responsibility and pride in what they do? Of course not all companies can bring their customers to discuss with its employees neither all positions have interactions outside the organization. Well, then, find “internal customers”. Other people or departments that your employees work affect them and is important for them too. This must be a policy for your company to make more noticeable to individuals, departments, units of the significance that employees’ work has on each other. Sounds difficult? O.k. then YOU should become their internal customer!!! These people are working with you, right? How often do you make them understand that their work has a meaningful impact on you? Many managers consider that by uttering a single “Thank you” they are passing the message over. Or, even worse, when they say to an employee “you did a great job” they still believe that they have passed the message. Instead, consider this feedback: “The report you prepared for the executive board was marvelous. They all expressed their enthusiasm and asked me to tell you that you did a nice job. And I want to accentuate to you that you have made me, and the whole department, stand out in the eyes of the CEO. Thank you.” Needless to say how your subordinate will feel and what he/she will do for you in the future. The American poet Maya Angelou wrote once: “People, will forget what you said, will forget what you did but they will never forget how you made them feel.”

To be continued…

Ioannis Papaconstantinou is the founder and CEO of New Mind Executives, an executive training and consulting firm, and he is the Unit Leader of the Unit “Organizational Behavior” at the Executive MBA of the University of Sheffield International Faculty in Thessaloniki.