Category Archives: Meaningful Work

The Power of Praise and Recognition on Organizational Success

Note: If you have trouble viewing the video, you can watch it on YouTube.

In this video Chester Elton, co-author of The Carrot Principle, talks about how to use the power of carrots (praise & recognition) to motivate your employees and maximize business results.

In “The Carrot Principle” Gostick and Elton maintain that unlike the latest leadership fads, principles don’t go out of style. A principle is “not a program [or] an activity” (p. 192), but a constant.

Drawing from more than 200,000 interviews, the book highlights the relationship between recognition (carrots) and individual and organizational manager success (Gostick & Elton, 2009).

The authors created a recognition model based on 4 elements: Goal Setting, Communication, Trust, and Accountability. Next, the model introduces recognition as an “accelerator,” increasing supervisor relevance and employee engagement leading to improved business results (Gostick & Elton, 2009).

Gostick & Elton (2009) assert that in order to boost engagement and create organizational results, recognition should have two things:

(1) Alignment (“recognizing what matters most”) – which is what matters most in your organization. This includes the desired objectives, values, and culture.

(2) Impact (“recognizing people the right way”) – which is having inclusive programs that are clearly understood and meaningful to the employees and making sure that it is based on performance.

“Recognition accelerates business results. It amplifies the effect of every action and quickens every process. It also heightens your ability to see employee achievements, sharpens your communication skills, creates cause for celebration, boosts trust between you and your employees, and improves accountability” (Gostick & Elton, 2009, pp. 192-193).

Reference

Gostick, A. & Elton, C. (2009). The Carrot Principle: How the Best Managers Use Recognition to Engage Their People, Retain Talent, and Accelerate Performance. New York: Free Press.

Coping With Fear-Lessons for Business and Life

In his book, Rules of Thumb, Alan Webber talks about one of the rules in his book: When things get tough.

Rule #1: When the going gets tough, the tough relax.

In crisis management, I teach people that fear is normal and natural. In fact, what matters most is our behaviors in these stressful, frightening situations that strongly determine the difference between a safe or disastrous outcome. If it weren’t for our ability to experience fear, we would not be able to survive for too long in this world. Just think about the number of times your own fears warned you of impending dangers (a car coming dangerously close to yours on the freeway, a stranger who seems a bit creepy, etc.). Most of us are familiar with the “fight-or-flight response,” which experts describe as a physiological arousal response in which the body prepares to fight or escape a real or perceived threat (Donatelle, 2009). Although this instinctual response is designed to help us, if overused, it can actually damage our bodies.

Simply stated, although it’s normal to be afraid, if you live a life based on fear, you will hurt yourself and those around you.

In Webber’s case, his fear was of failure, of being embarrassed, or appearing to ask a stupid question. The person he was scheduled to interview, Helmut Schmidt (a former German chancellor), was “notoriously difficult.” It was completely understandable that Webber was fearful of this guy “dismissing my questions as stupid” (Webber, 2009, p. 3).

However, rather than letting his fear get in the way, Webber decided to jot down some notes to himself on a yellow legal pad. On it he wrote: “Relax! Smile! This is a blessing, a treat, and an honor. It’s not a punishment to be endured.” After all, “[h]ow many people get to sit across from a world leader and ask him questions?”

Webber’s advice, applicable to business and life, is this:

“Anytime you approach a task with fear you are at least a double loser. First, you color the work with fear and increase the chances of failure…Second, you guarantee that you won’t enjoy the experience. Whether you succeed or fail, wouldn’t you like to remember the experience as one you enjoyed, not one you suffered through?” (Webber, 2009, p. 5)

“Don’t let fear undermine your chance to do that one thing you’ve wanted to do.” -Alan M. Webber

References

Donatelle, R. (2009). Health: The basics (8th ed.). San Francisco, CA: Pearson Benjamin Cummings.

Webber, A. M. (2009). Rules of Thumb: 52 Truths for Winning at Business without Losing Your Self. New York: HarperCollins.

Failure is Failing to Try

I love Half Price Books. You can pick up a $25 book for less than $7.00 and there’s even an educator’s discount. Earlier today, I picked up a book called “Rules of Thumb: 52 Truths for Winning at Business without Losing Your Self” by Alan M. Webber. Webber is the cofounding editor of Fast Company and was the managing editor and editorial director of the Harvard Business Review.

I think I decided to get the book because on the book jacket flap Webber said that one of the high points of his life was being told he looked like Bruce Willis when he visited Japan. For the record, I don’t think he does and I’m Asian. Hey, I like an author with a sense of humor.

Webber’s Rule #45 caught my eye. It says: Failure isn’t failing. Failure is failing to try. Webber recounts the time, while working at the Harvard Business Review (HBR), that he felt that needed to “take shot at starting my own magazine (Fast Company)” (p. 225). He had been mulling over the idea of leaving HBR and starting Fast Company.

The decision wasn’t easy because the advice from his colleagues was to stay and use his position to further his career or stick with the job and he would be rewarded with a better one later on. It was hard to ignore the obvious advantages of the Harvard Business Review (prestige, security, and money). But Webber was determined to answer his inner calling of starting his own magazine.

As he said: “The question wasn’t whether it was a good idea. The question wasn’t even whether it would work. The question was, would I have the courage to try?

What was the worst thing that he could tell himself, that he tried to start a magazine and failed or that he failed to try at all?

This story of yearning to follow your heart resonates with me because in 2004, I left my life and home in Dallas, Texas to live and work on a tiny island in the North Pacific Ocean called Saipan.

That life-changing decision was one of the best things I’ve ever done in my life. I had been living my life vicariously, dreaming about great things but not having the courage to try them. In the end, the heart won out and I could no longer ignore the yearning of living abroad.

It’s hard to describe how fulfilled I felt when I came to Saipan. Within the first week or so, I knew that I had made the right decision. No one told me that I had made the right choice. No self-help or personal development book answered my deep longings. Rather, it was simply a feeling I felt in my heart. It just felt right.

I think Alan Webber felt the same thing when he left what was comfortable to start his own magazine.

“Ten years from now, what will you regret never having tried?” -Alan Webber

Reference

Webber, A. M. (2009). Rules of Thumb: 52 Truths for Winning at Business without Losing Your Self. New York: HarperCollins.

Dan Pink’s Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us

Note: If you have trouble viewing the video, you can watch it on YouTube.

I want to thank WorkplacePsychology.Net reader Chris Webb for sending me a link to this video about Dan Pink’s book, “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us.”

What’s so impressive are the visual illustrations done by the artist (also called a “graphic facilitator”) at Cognitive Media to visually capture what the author is trying to verbally communicate about motivation.

The video is a great complement to two earlier posts, 3 Primary Goals of People at Work and What Really Motivates Employees.

If you are like me, someone who loves to “think visually,” you’ll love this video. Thanks again Chris!

Do All Employees Want a Challenging Job?

In their classic text, Organizational Behavior, Robbins & Judge (2009) posed and answered an interesting question about employee motivation. The professors asked in a blurb titled, “Myth or Science: ‘Everyone Wants a Challenging Job?’”

In response to this question, Robbins & Judge (2009) say the answer is FALSE! While many employees do seek and desire challenging, engaging work, some employees do not. It might surprise some to read this because it certainly sounds contrary to what we often hear from the media and even some academics. Instead, Robbins & Judge (2009) contend that “some people prosper in simple, routinized work” (p. 219).

But what exactly is it that explains those who prefer challenging work and those who prefer simple, routinized work? Robbins & Judge (2009) maintain that the “strength of an individual’s higher-order needs” is the key. They assert that “[i]ndividuals with high growth needs are more responsive to challenging work” (p. 219).

No current data exist but an older study from the 1970s estimate roughly 15% of employees seek higher-order need satisfaction (i.e. challenging, engaging work). “Even after adjusting for technological and economic changes in the nature of work, it seems unlikely that the number today exceeds 40 percent” (p. 219).

“Many employees relish challenging work. But this desire has been overgeneralized to all workers. Organizations increasingly have pushed extra responsibilities onto workers, often without knowing whether this is desired or how an employee will handle the increased responsibilities” (Robbins & Judge, 2009, p. 219).

Reference

Robbins, S.P. & Judge, T.A. (2009). Organizational Behavior (13th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

3 Primary Goals of People at Work

In “The Enthusiastic Employee” authors Sirota, Mischkind, and Meltzer (2005), working under Sirota Consulting, surveyed 2.5 million employees in 237 organizations in 89 countries about what they want from their jobs.

Contrary to wide and unsubstantiated claims made about worker attitudes, the authors found through their research that the overall satisfaction of workers with their work is strong and consistent across a wide variety of industries, occupations, and cultures. Furthermore, these researchers maintain that there is no evidence that younger workers are any more or less disenchanted than older workers.

The majority of the responses fall into three factors. The authors call this the Three Factor Theory of Human Motivation in the Workplace. They are: equity, achievement and camaraderie.

  1. Equity: To be treated justly in relation to the basic conditions of employment. These basic conditions include physiological (e.g., safe work environment), economic (e.g., job security, fair pay), and psychological (e.g., treated respectfully & fairly).
  2. Achievement: Employees are enthusiastic working for organizations that provide them with a clear, credible and inspiring organizational purpose – “reason for being here.” There are four sources of employee pride. In essence they reflect the idea of excellence:
    • Excellence in the organization’s financial performance.
    • Excellence in the efficiency with which the work of the organization gets done.
    • Excellence in the characteristics of the organization’s products such as their usefulness, distinctness and quality.
    • Excellence in the organization’s moral character.
  3. Camaraderie: Employees want to work collaboratively. They get the greatest satisfaction from being a member of and working on a team to achieve a common goal. In fact, the authors assert that cooperation, and not job descriptions or organizational charts, is the unifying force holding the various parts of an organization together.

Sirota, Mischkind, and Meltzer (2005) say that one key to overcome conflict and encourage cooperation is to build partnerships. The parties involved do this by collaborating to work toward common goals.

However, they caution that in order to build partnerships within and throughout the organization,

“[A]ction must begin with, and be sustained by, senior management” (p. 283).

It is only when senior leadership has the foresight to see what can be, not just what is, along with the perseverance and hard work to translate philosophy into concrete daily policies will partnership organizations emerge. Above all, it requires “seeing and treating employees as genuine allies in achieving change” (Sirota, Mischkind, & Meltzer, 2005, p. 301).

Reference

Sirota, D., Mischkind, L.A., & Meltzer, M.I. (2005). The Enthusiastic Employee: How Companies Profit by Giving Workers What They Want. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Wharton School Publishing.

5 Reasons Why Employees Stay

Earlier in 2010, the Conference Board surveyed 5,000 U.S. households and found that only 45 percent of those surveyed say they’re satisfied with their jobs. It notes that this number is down from 61.1 percent in 1987.

According to Lynn Franco, director of the Consumer Research Center of The Conference Board, “[w]hile one in 10 Americans is now unemployed, their working compatriots of all ages and incomes continue to grow increasingly unhappy.”

John Gibbons, program director of employee engagement research and services at The Conference Board, believes that challenging and meaningful work is important to engaging workers and that “[w]idespread job dissatisfaction negatively affects employee behavior and retention, which can impact enterprise-level success.”

These findings offer valid concerns and serve as a wake-up call to organizations of employee discontent and why they ultimately leave.

Ok, so we know why employees leave. But, why do they stay?

I’m sure there are lots of good reasons, but I like what the editors of Harvard Business Review’s Answer Exchange (a forum to ask questions, get answers, and engage with other business professionals) say about why employees stay.

5 REASONS WHY EMPLOYEES STAY:

  1. Pride in the organization. People want to work for well-managed companies.
  2. Compatible supervisor. People may stay just to work for a particular individual who is supportive of them.
  3. Compensation. People want to work for companies that offer fair compensation, including competitive wages and benefits as well as opportunities to learn and achieve.
  4. Affiliation. People want to continue working with colleagues they respect and like.
  5. Meaningful work. People want to work for companies that let them do work that appeals to their deepest, most passionate interests.

References

Originally posted on HBR Answer Exchange (now defunct); Adapted from the book Harvard Business Essentials: Guide to Hiring and Keeping the Best People, Harvard Business Press

I Can’t Get No…Job Satisfaction, That Is: America’s Unhappy Workers. Research Report #1459-09-RR. The Conference Board.

How Giving Just One Dollar Can Make a Big Difference

Can You Spare Just $1.00?
(click below to give)
Help end child hunger

 

Nothing tugs at my heart more than the topics of poverty and hunger. The month of April marks the 30th year my family and I have been here in the U.S. It’s a good reminder for me of how lucky I am to be living in a country that grants me the freedom and opportunities that I’ve been given.

Growing up in Vietnam (I was born during the Vietnam War) and having a physician for a father meant that I didn’t really have to endure as much hardship as others. I don’t recall ever being truly “hungry.” However, it would be naïve for me to say that we didn’t suffer politically, socially, and financially.

The person who taught me most about helping others is my mom. Whenever I think of someone with a kind and pure heart I think of her. As a child, I would watch her slip money into the pockets of people who really needed it. She did it because she didn’t want to draw attention to what she was doing and also because she didn’t want anyone to know that it was her.

Back then I thought she was crazy. I mean, who goes around giving away money?

Funny how life reminds you that this world is just not about you. Unlike Bill Gates who has billions and can afford to give away billions, I struggle financially. There I said it. And yet, I can’t explain this longing to “give” back to help others.

Please understand that I am not sharing these things because I want people to like me better. I already have a long list of people who care about me and am fairly emotionally secure that I don’t need that kind of extra validation. What I want, no what I feel compelled to do, is to share the importance of philanthropy (donating money to help make the lives of others better).

Jesus sat across from the collection box for the temple treasury and observed how the crowd gave their money. Many rich people were throwing in lots of money. One poor widow came forward and put in two small copper coins worth a penny. Jesus called his disciples to him and said, ‘I assure you that this poor widow has put in more than everyone who’s been putting money in the treasury. All of them are giving out of their spare change. But she from her hopeless poverty has given everything she had, even what she needed to live on.’ (Mark 12:41-44, Common English Bible)

Visitors to WorkplacePsychology.Net might notice me posting a World Food Programme (yes, it’s spelled with an “e”) graphic on the sidebar. Started in 1962, the WFP is part of the United Nations system. It envisions a world in which every man, woman and child has access at all times to the food needed for an active and healthy life.

I have made a small contribution to the World Food Programme because that was something I felt I needed to do. I didn’t give very much because I don’t have much to give. But that’s not the point. If everyone who reads this post donated just $1.00 to the World Food Programme (WFP), it would fill 4 cups of food. It might not seem like much, but when you’re starving every cup of food matters.

I’ve decided that I’m going to forgo the membership dues I normally pay to some of the professional associations I’m a member of. Instead, I’m donating those fees to the World Food Programme. Please join me in helping to feed the hungry by donating a small financial gift.

Won’t You Spare Just $1.00 to Feed the Hungry?
(Seriously, just one dollar. Click on the photo of the smiling child above to donate.)

7 Reasons Why Employees Leave

In “The 7 Hidden Reasons Employees Leave (2005),” Leigh Branham outlined seven reasons why workers quit or leave their jobs:

  • Reason #1: The Job or Workplace Was Not as Expected
  • Reason #2: The Mismatch Between Job and Person
  • Reason #3: Too Little Coaching and Feedback
  • Reason #4: Too Few Growth and Advancement Opportunities
  • Reason #5: Feeling Devalued And Unrecognized
  • Reason #6: Stress From Overwork and Work-Life Imbalance
  • Reason #7: Loss of Trust and Confidence in Senior Leaders

Branham asserts that there are two distinct periods when an employee thinks about leaving. The first period is the time between his or her first thoughts of leaving and the subsequent decision to leave. The second period in which the employee considers leaving is the time between his/her decision to leave and actually leaving.

Branham shares three tips that leaders can do to avoid losing employees:

  1. Inspire confidence in a clear vision, a workable plan and the competence to achieve it.
  2. Back up words with actions.
  3. Place the leader’s trust and confidence in the work force.

Reference

Branham, L. (2005). The 7 Hidden Reasons Employees Leave. Broadway, NY: AMACOM.

Adopting a Child’s Perspective Helps Adults Regain our Inborn Talents

My niece is so adorable and creative. She can turn something as simple as a blank sheet of paper and transform it into a game of checking into a plush hotel with concierge service. Kids are amazing because they see the world not as it is but what it can be. Unlike adults, children have a natural gift of creativity and imagination.

The 1988 movie “Big” (starring Tom Hanks) is a story of a 12-year old boy named Josh who got his wish to be “big.” He wakes up the next day to find that while his physical body had grown and aged to that of a man, he was still the same 12-year old kid on the inside.

The heart-warming story follows Josh as he finds work at a toy company. Unlike the other executives and managers who conduct market research into what kids like about toys, Josh actually plays with them. In a meeting on bringing a toy robot to market, a manager stated that research with children of a certain demographic indicated that the toy robot would be successful. As the manager is showing how the robot works (it’s a robot that transforms into a house), Josh raised his hand to ask,

“What’s so fun about that?”

Imagine if we could bring the candid outlook of kids into the workplace as Tom Hanks’ character did in the movie! Instead, we conduct research and analyze things so much (e.g., SWOT analysis) that we sometimes miss the golden opportunity to act.

Arnold Lazarus, a psychologist who founded multimodal therapy, shared a story of a friend who (by profession, a dentist) was “an absolute natural when it came to understanding people and showing genuine warmth, wisdom, and empathy” (Lazarus, 1990, p. 352). The dentist friend was so good that many people confided in him with their troubles.

Due to his natural talents, this dentist friend decided to pursue training in psychology and eventually obtained a Ph.D. in social and clinical psychology. Ironically, Lazarus observed that “as my friend learned more and more psychology, as he took more and more readings and courses in assessment, diagnosis, and treatment, it seemed to me that his natural skills eroded” (Lazarus, 1990, p. 352).

Shortly after Lazarus’ mother died, Lazarus opened his heart to this friend, someone who Lazarus had previously considered a “naturally great therapist” (Lazarus, 1990, p. 352). But, instead of the natural warmth, support, and understanding that the—former dentist now psychologist—friend once exhibited, this now trained psychologist responded to Lazarus’ sorrows with psychological clichés and labels (Lazarus, 1990).

“The formal psychology and psychotherapy courses he had received were tantamount to taking a can of spray-paint to an artistic masterpiece” (Lazarus, 1990, p. 352).

What happened to the dentist-turned-psychologist friend made Lazarus question, “whether formal training causes most of us to undergo a similar truncation of our helpful inborn capacities” (Lazarus, 1990, p. 352).

Now don’t get me wrong, education, training, and experience are great, but…

Has “growing up” and being indoctrinated with formal knowledge and training hindered our natural-born skills of creativity, curiosity, and common sense to be a better worker or leader?

Reference

Lazarus, A. (1990). Can psychotherapists transcend the shackles of their training and superstitions? Journal of Clinical Psychology, 46(3), 351-358. doi: 10.1002/1097-4679(199005)46:3<351::AID-JCLP2270460316>3.0.CO;2-V

Consumerism & Affluenza – How Society Shapes Our Thinking about Happiness

Within the past several decades, an alarming trend has developed, one that goes far beyond just “keeping up with the Joneses.” You see, no longer is it enough to simply “keep up.” It seems that in today’s microwave mentality, we have to have things, and we have to have them right now. Everything becomes a necessity. We no longer eat to live. We live to eat. We no longer shop to survive. We survive to shop. Or as I heard it on the radio – shop til you drop, then crawl!

We have, in fact, become a society of conspicuous consumption [spending lavishly on goods and services for the sole purpose of showing off] and consumerism [equating happiness with buying and consuming goods].

There is a name/description/label to this madness. It’s called AFFLUENZA, formed from the words affluence (wealth) and influenza (also known as the flu).

Affluenza is defined as (1) The bloated, sluggish and unfulfilled feeling that results from efforts to keep up with the Joneses; (2) An epidemic of stress, overwork, waste and indebtedness caused by dogged pursuit of the American Dream (Affluenza, n.d.). Affluenza is the term used to explain the problems that occur “when individuals are in pursuit of money, wealth, and material possession at the expense of other sources of self-esteem and contentment” (Koplewicz & Williams, 2006, p. 1).

Although I originally wrote about this topic of affluenza (several years ago while working in the school system) to address the madness that parents go through to feed into their children’s demands to have the latest and greatest material things, I am presenting it here now to shed light on this epidemic and its impact on adults.

Affluenza affects people across all age groups and socio-economic and cultural backgrounds. “Contemporary affluenza researchers contend that if we do not begin to reject our culture’s incessant demands to work harder, spend more, and buy more, our society will begin to pay later with significant effects thrust upon our offspring” (Koplewicz & Williams, 2006, p. 1).

The incessant pressure to acquire material goods can result in the following (Koplewicz & Williams, 2006): As you go through the list below, notice that it easily applies to both children and adults.

  • Inability to delay gratification or tolerate frustration
  • Difficulty maintaining interest in anything requiring effort
  • False sense of entitlement
  • Expectation of material goods without responsibility
  • Loss of future motivation
  • Life activities don’t seem very real and nothing matters much
  • Low self esteem, self worth, and loss of self confidence
  • Approval dependent on possessions and status rather than on personal values
  • Preoccupation with externals and habituation for more material goods
  • Difficulty believing people like them for themselves rather than for possessions and status
  • Inability to trust prevents true friendships
  • Emotional energy becomes invested in material gains and sensitivity toward others declines

Here are some interesting tidbits (Affluenza…Diagnosis, n.d.):

  • Americans carry $1 trillion in personal debt, approximately $4,000 for every man, woman and child, not including real estate and mortgages. On average, Americans save only 4 percent of their income, in contrast to the Japanese, who save an average of 16 percent.
  • Since 1950, Americans alone have used more resources than everyone who ever lived before them. Each American individual uses up 20 tons of basic raw materials annually. Americans throw away 7 million cars a year, 2 million plastic bottles an hour and enough aluminum cans annually to make six thousand DC-10 airplanes.
  • Even though Americans comprise only five percent of the world’s population, in 1996 we used nearly a third of its resources and produced almost half of its hazardous waste. The average North American consumes five times as much as an average Mexican, 10 times as much as an average Chinese and 30 times as much as the average person in India.
  • Americans on average spend only 40 minutes a week playing with their children, and members of working couples talk with one another on average only 12 minutes a day.

Back in December 2009, I wrote about the hyperactive workplace. I believe what lies at the root of the hyperactive workplace is affluenza – the “epidemic of stress, overwork, waste and indebtedness caused by dogged pursuit of the American Dream” (Affluenza, n.d.). We work long hours and remain in a state of frenzy to pursue that elusive dollar to buy the things we and our families desire. And we do this day in and day out like the hamster running in circles in a cage.

In “Success Intelligence,” (2005) Robert Holden wrote, “The rise of consumerism has certainly influenced our thinking about happiness and success…We are making every effort to ‘buy, buy, buy!’ our way to happiness and success” (pp. 110, 111). While buying things can temporarily bring short-term pleasure, our prior levels of happiness soon return. In other words, we can’t buy our way to happiness.

“[W]e place all our faith in external things to make us happy. The danger here is that we lose sight of inner happiness…We forget how to be happy” (Holden, 2005, p. 112).

Imagine what your own work and workplaces would be like if you changed your views about overconsumption and what it means to be happy.

References

Affluenza. (n.d.). In Affluenza: PBS Program on the Epidemic of Overconsumption. Retrieved from http://www.pbs.org/kcts/affluenza/

Affluenza…Diagnosis (n.d.). In Affluenza: PBS Program on the Epidemic of Overconsumption. Retrieved from http://www.pbs.org/kcts/affluenza/diag/what.html

Holden, R. (2005). Success intelligence: Essential lessons and practices from the world’s leading coaching program on authentic success. Carlsbad, CA: Hay House, Inc.

Koplewicz, H.S. & Williams, K. (2006). Affluence-Benefit or Handicap? New York University Child Study Center Letter, 11(2), 1-3. Retrieved from http://www.aboutourkids.org/files/articles/dec.pdf

The Importance of Work

“If you were to get enough money to live as comfortably as you would like for the rest of your life, would you continue to work or would you stop working?” (NRC, 1999, p. 50)

Year % of Americans Who Said They Would Continue to Work
1973 69.1
1974 64.8
1976 69.0
1977 70.0
1980 76.9
1982 72.3
1984 76.0
1985 69.5
1987 75.4
1988 71.0
1989 72.2
1990 72.7
1991 66.9
1993 69.0
1994 65.8
1996 68.0

These data confirm that “Americans are highly committed to work as a central activity in their lives” (NRC, 1999, p. 51).

Reference

National Research Council. (1999). The changing nature of work: Implications for occupational analysis. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.

Follow Your Heart

One of my all-time favorite quote is from Steve Jobs, Apple’s CEO. It was a speech given to the graduating class at Stanford University in June 2005. Jobs was diagnosed with a rare form of pancreatic cancer in 2004, the year before. Luckily, it was eradicated through surgery and he has since recovered. Below is part of his commencement speech:

“Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything – all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart…”

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”

What Really Motivates Employees

In an article titled, “What Really Motivates Workers” in the January-February 2010 issue of the Harvard Business Review, Amabile & Kramer (2010) invited over 600 managers from dozens of companies to rank the impact on employee motivation and emotions of five workplace factors:

  1. recognition,
  2. incentives,
  3. interpersonal support,
  4. support for making progress, and
  5. clear goals

The #1 ranking of the managers was “recognition for good work.”

However, and this surprised me, from their multiyear study in which they tracked the day-to-day activities, emotions, and motivation levels of hundreds of knowledge workers in various settings, Amabile & Kramer (2010) discovered that the #1 motivator for employees is progress.

You read that right folks, the top motivation for workers is making progress.

On days when workers have the sense they’re making headway in their jobs, or when they receive support that helps them overcome obstacles, their emotions are most positive and their drive to succeed is at its peak. (Amabile & Kramer, 2010, p. 44.)

Ironically, progress was the factor ranked dead last by managers as something that motivates employees.

The researchers analyzes nearly 12,000 diary entries, along with the writer’ daily ratings of their motivation and emotions. The analysis indicated that “making progress in one’s work – even incremental progress – is more frequently associated with positive emotions and high motivation than any other workday event” (Amabile & Kramer, 2010, p. 44).

The HBR article offered this advice to managers:

Avoid impeding progress by changing goals unilaterally, being indecisive, or holding up resources (Amabile & Kramer, 2010).

How managers can help facilitate progress (Amabile & Kramer, 2010):

  • Clarify overall goals
  • Ensure employees’ efforts are properly supported
  • Refrain from exerting time pressure so extreme such that minor glitches are seen as crises
  • Cultivate a culture of helpfulness
  • Roll up your own sleeves and help out
  • Celebrate progress, even small ones

Reference

Amabile, T.M. & Kramer, S.J. (2010). What really motivates workers. Harvard Business Review, 88(1), 44-45.

Corporate Irresponsibility or Just Plain Heartless?

My wife and I enjoy volunteering to help others. While living in Saipan (Northern Mariana Islands), we volunteered to help clean up the island and helped start a group to combat the stigma of mental illness.

Back during my college days at Baylor University, I would make my group do volunteer work. And though some of them didn’t like it at first, they thanked me for it later on. For almost two years, I volunteered at a food pantry center, cleaning and organizing can goods which would then be given to those who needed food.

It’s a great feeling knowing deep down that what you do (i.e. helping others without any financial reward) comes back tenfold in the form of emotional gifts of thanks or just knowing that you did the right thing.

So when I came across this story in the New York Times about a clothing store discarding brand new clothes rather than giving them away to those who could use them, it made me really sad and then mad.

According to the New York Times, “bags of garments that appear to have never been worn” were found at the back entrance of the H&M clothing store. What’s even more disturbing was that these unworn garments were “slashed most of them with box cutters or razors” to make sure that no one could wear them!

Not too far from the H&M store were trash bags (found the week before Christmas) with clothing tagged for sale in Walmart stores. These garments had “holes punched through it by a machine” to also prevent people from being able to use them.

With phrases on the H&M’s website like corporate responsibility and statements promising to donate clothes to charity, I wonder if these acts (they’ve happened before) of destroying unworn clothes rather than giving them away are indications of a disregard for the well-being of others and a general decline in our collective moral conscience.

Kassin, Fein, & Markus (2008) found that there are two qualities that predict helping behaviors, empathy and moral reasoning.

Here are two questions for us to ask ourselves:

  1. Why have we forgotten or ignored the cries of our fellow men and women in need?
  2. Where is our sense of decency and compassion?

References

Dwyer, J. (2010). A Clothing Clearance Where More Than Just the Prices Have Been Slashed. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/06/nyregion/06about.html

Kassin, S., Fein, S., & Markus, H.R. (2008). Social psychology (7th ed.). Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin.