Are you in control? The truth may surprise you.

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Are you in control?

A simple enough queston but one that opens a whole new can of worms. For years, organizations that want to grow have done their best to attract the most outstanding talent they can afford and then offer them all kinds of rewards to take the business to new heights.

In any business situation, it’s interesting to look at who’s really in control of the progress made. I see, with many of my clients, situations where simple tasks cannot get done because ‘no one wants to do that’.

Huh!? No one wants to do that??? What the heck!  Aren’t they being paid to do what they’re told by the company that’s hired them? (Of course, within their job description and the legalities and moral / ethical parameters of normal society.)  So, how can employees just refuse to do something perfectly legitimate and guaranteed to help the organization achieve it’s goals?

A typical example: a retail organization employs sales staff.  The sales staff are required to occasionally phone customers as a customer service follow up or to let them know about in-store promotions.  The employees quit rather than phone.  (This, by the way, is a very common occurrence.)

Another example: A software organization puts up a very nice bonus for the achieving of a certain goal – say the development of a new app.  Nothing much happens. They get some mediocre submissions but there’s nothing really ground-breaking.

Who’s in control?  The employer or the employee?  And how did the one who’s in control, get in control?

How can an organization really motivate employees to perform to their full potential?

It all boils down to what really motivates us.  The Federal Reserve Bank funded a study undertaken by such notables as M.I.T., University of Chicago and Carnegie Mellon that uncovered some very interesting information regarding motivation.

Their research indicated that traditional means of motivation work very well for simple, mechanical type tasks.  However traditional motivation, especially financial rewards seemed to create the exact opposite behavior to what the organization wanted, when it came to more complex tasks requiring a higher level of cognitive skills.

The conclusion was that people have to be paid enough so that they’re not worried about money.  Then they have to be motivated to excel through gaining autonomy.

The three critical factors for higher level performance were found to be:

  • Challenge:
    the task has to provide the stimulation of challenge therefore it has to be outside of normal, daily parameters
  • Mastery:
    it has to provide personal satisfaction of improving the person’s skills i.e. they have to gain mastery through performance of the task
  • Making a contribution:
    the end result of the completed task has to have a higher purpose and contribute to making the world a better place

It was discovered that having a higher purpose not at all related to money, but one where the reward was seen as making a difference in the world, was the greatest motivation to excel.  This applied across the board in a number of studies in different socio-economic demographics.  The more complex the task, the less important financial reward becomes.

There’s a very interesting video by Don Pink / RSAnimate that gives some more details on this phenomena.

For the purpose of this post i.e. what organizations can do to motivate excellent performance, it’s clear that the critical success factors are:

  • provide a higher level of autonomy to employees who work on more complex tasks
  • make sure they are paid a reasonable amount so they are not distracted by wondering how they’ll pay their mortgage

Autonomy:  the challenge.

This is perhaps the most challenging issue facing an organization.  Especially a traditional organization with a strict hierarchical structure and a ‘do as you’re told’ attitude towards employees.  Granting employees autonomy may well mean turning the organizational back on some ‘set in stone’ daily methods of operation.

Abdicating control and sitting back to await results can be downright frightening.  However, handled correctly, this can be the most powerful strategy you can use to accelerate your organization’s progress and outsmart your competitors.

Napoleon Hill advocated ‘Master Mind’ groups for the simple reason that the more brains trained on a target, the more quickly and effectively the solution would be found.

By freeing your most valuable assets – the talent you spent so much on acquiring and training – you are making use of what could well be an almost entirely untapped resource: human potential.

We all want to feel in control of our lives.  It makes us feel as if we’re worthy.  When we add an element of altruism to that, our value rises in our own estimation and suddenly, we’re capable of – and determined to achieve – so much more.

If you’re organization has been stagnating or simply bumbling along with no real progress recently, empowering your employees may be just the boost it needs.

If you’d like to know more about how this might look for your organization, let me know and I’ll be happy to assist.

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