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?

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