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Increase Employee Engagement with the Most Potent Performance Tool: Self-Motivation

Posted by Joe Robinson

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POPEYE HAS SPINACH. Managers and leaders have something that bulks up employee effort, except they don’t know it. It’s the hidden potential that lies within each employee when self-motivation is turned up to warp factor eight, something that happens with employee engagement.

When employees are engaged, they are willing to put out effort beyond the call of duty without anyone badgering them to do it. Work units in the top quarter of employee engagement in a Gallup meta-study of 192 firms and 1.4 million employees had 21% higher productivity outcomes, 22% higher profitability, and a 25% lower probability of high turnover. 

ENGAGEMENT IS NOT ABOUT PING-PONG TABLES

In my experience leading employee engagement training programs, engagement is something every leader wants, but few know how to get it. That is because it involves an approach to leadership that is the opposite of the norm—command-and-control, rewards-and-punishment. The carrot-and stick-approach has long been thought to be the only motivational model. Want more sales? Offer a bonus. Want more engagement? Provide a perk.

Motivation research pioneered by Edward Deci and Richard Ryan of the University of Rochester, shows, though, that external rewards only motivate a need for more rewards. External payoffs are ephemeral, because they are about what others think. That doesn’t last.

It turns out that the most potent motivation comes from a burning core within, from intrinsic motivation, acting for the inherent interest in the activity itself, not for a result. Employees who are intrinsically motivated are continuously interested in the work that they are doing, because they are driven by goals such as excellence, challenge, or craft that place the emphasis on the activity for its own sake.

Intrinsically motivated people have been shown to be more persistent and will stick with difficult tasks longer, because their aim is the task, not to get done with it.

Employee engagement “is not about pay or ping-pong tables,” says Marcus Buckingham, author of First, Break All the Rules and strengths-based strategy book, StandOut. Buckingham tracked engagement at Gallup for two decades and now heads his own consulting firm, TMBC. “It’s employees asking, Do I have a chance to use my strengths every day? It’s about getting to know your people and focusing on them every week.”

THE JIU-JITSU OF GETTING PEOPLE TO DO WHAT YOU WANT

Dwight Eisenhower once said that, “leadership is the art of getting someone to do what you want, because he wants to do it.” Employee engagement is a kind of jiu-jitsu in which leaders unleash the energy of others and get out of the way. Engagement can’t be commanded, only enabled, because the discretionary effort that defines it has to be self-generated by the employee.

The shift from commanding employees to enabling their intrinsic engines doesn’t come automatic for leaders brought up on motivating through external metrics—promotions, money, bonuses. “They think motivating is something management does to employees,” says Deci, author of a great Penguin paperback, Why We Do What We Do, and a psychology professor whose research led to a new framework for motivation and need gratification.

“Motivation is something that employees do to themselves. The job of managers is to create the conditions so employees will do that.”

What makes employees want to work harder than they have to for no external gain? Researchers have found many engagement levers, from open communication with managers, to employee development opportunities, to trust, a chance to contribute, and recognition. In a nutshell, people are engaged when they feel valued and a have a sense of purpose in what they’re doing.

HIGHER NEEDS SATISFACTION

Employee engagement has three main dimensions: vigor, dedication, and absorption or focus, which are the opposite of burnout’s chief qualities—exhaustion and cynicism. If you want to kill the productivity and profitability gains of engagement, burn out employees.

Engagement goes beyond mere job satisfaction. You can like your job, but that alone is not enough to generate effort beyond the call of duty. In fact, studies show there is a low correlation between job satisfaction and performance.

The trigger for engagement is another order of satisfaction—“higher needs satisfaction,” as Deci describes it, something that is rooted in participation and involvement, not just a job title, and that is self-propelled when leaders allow employees to satisfy certain basic psychological needs.

For millennia, humans haven’t had a clue as to what we really need. We’ve had to rely on peers, desires, and billboards, which has led to a lot of heartburn. Deci and Ryan’s breakthrough research, though, uncovered three specific psychological nutriments that everyone needs, as opposed to desires, to thrive—autonomy, competence, and relatedness, or social connection with others. “They have to be met for people to perform optimally,” says Deci.

Each of these needs can only be gratified if the goal behind the activity is intrinsic, a force potent enough that it has been called Motivation 2.0. All three are realized through initiative and involvement, keys to engagement, and help people feel as if they are determining the content of their life.

Known as self-determination theory, or SDT, the basic needs framework developed by Deci and Ryan means that we all have a need to write our own script. It’s also a universal human need across cultures, races, and continents. Your employees also need to feel a sense of choice and have opportunities to demonstrate initiative and competence.

HAVE AN AUTONOMOUS DAY

Leaders can help employees gratify their basic needs through a model Deci created to take SDT into the workplace: autonomy support. How can employees feel autonomous working for someone else? “A lot of people take the word autonomy as independence, as doing something on their own. In SDT what autonomy means is a sense of volition, willingness, that, yes, at this moment I choose to be doing the activities I am doing,” explains Deci.

That feeling comes in the work setting from the autonomous decisions employees can take in how they do their job, process it in their minds, and communicate with their supervisors. Autonomy support is a style of managing in which leaders understand and acknowledge the employee perspective and encourage self-responsibility and initiative in goal-setting, decision-making, and work planning.

Autonomy support encourages free flow of communication between employees and leaders and has several main components: offering a sense of choice within limits, giving people a rationale for doing a task, and letting employees acknowledge feelings about a task. 

EXPRESSION ACTIVATES AUTONOMY

When you hear a rationale for doing something, it helps you feel like you are part of the team, more autonomous, competent, and connected to others. You internalize the reason, and the task becomes more important as a result, triggering buy-in/choice. The same thing happens when you are able to acknowledge how you feel about a task, even if it’s not positive. The expression of your view activates a sense of choice and autonomy and you are inclined to do it more willingly.

Key to autonomy support is communication and language. Everyone is encouraged to speak up and leaders try to make dialog more informational than controlling. “Stop using words like should, must, and have to,” says Deci. “Don’t tell them they did just what you expected.” That doesn’t go to their competence need. Instead, say ‘I like the way you did this.’"

Deci has demonstrated how autonomy can get employees more involved and engaged through interventions with companies such as Xerox, and  studies measuring self-determination theory in the workplace have found similar results.

One, led by Fordham’s Paul Baard, measured SDT in workers at an investment banking firm. They found that autonomy supportive managers activated employees’ intrinsic need satisfaction, which in turn resulted in the best performance and performance reviews.

“When managers are more autonomy supporting, employees are more engaged in their work, get better evaluations, are better adjusted psychologically on the job, and are sick less often,” says Deci.

AVOIDING MANAGER DEFAULT MODE

Nihal Parthasarathi, CEO and co-founder of Coursehorse.com, a portal for arts, business, and recreation classes in New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles, found that he needed to change his management approach when the company went from six to 12 employees. He wanted to build a company he would want to work at, where people had the freedom to solve problems and not be micromanaged.

“Managers default to telling other people what to do,” says Parthasarathi. “It’s easier, but it leaves a lot on the table in terms of human potential.”

After talking with his employees and advisors in the tech world, he and his partner, Katie Kapler, decided to make autonomy and self-responsibility the core of a management style designed to motivate and clear obstacles out of the way. Each employee decides the work they’re going to do on each goal and how they’re going to do it, which builds autonomy and competence.

There’s a high level of transparency, with performance metrics they can check every day to see how they and everyone else are doing. If someone isn’t hitting targets, they work with the founders to realign the goal. “They absolutely set their own agendas,” says Parthasarathi.

FEELING A BIGGER IMPACT

Since he rolled out the autonomy program, his staff “feel like they’re having a bigger impact. They’re happier when everyone shares autonomy. It’s like everyone has each other’s backs. The quality of engagement is much better.”

Another reason every company needs engaged employees is that the talent pool is shrinking and very used to having autonomy in the digital era. The biggest employee demographic, millennials, are accustomed to doing things on their own through apps or startups.

They want to know, “Are you going to help me achieve my dreams and goals?” says Bill Jensen, a management consultant and author of Future Strong. “If not, I can go to Kickstarter and start my own company.”

Jensen says only about 10% of employees at small companies feel they can achieve their goals. Across all companies, only 31% of employees are engaged, according to Gallup. Millennials are the least engaged demographic, at 28%. Jensen says managers need to engage their people with training and development programs that help them grow and give employees a cause or mission to believe in. That is crucial to develop intrinsic goals of purpose and meaning.

“Silicon Valley sets the standard on this. They get people to work very hard because they want to achieve the goals of the company.”

For those of you who think you don’t have enough time, that excuse won’t cut it. It’s about seven to eight minutes per person per week, says Buckingham. It boils down to two simple habits, listening and support, repeated on a weekly basis. “Check in with every employee every week. Ask, What are you working on and how can I help.”

If you would like to learn more about unleashing employee engagement on your team and how to roll out the motivational power of autonomy support, click the button below for details on my employee engagement training.

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Tags: intrinsic motivation, employee engagement, Edward Deci, self-determination theory, autonomy support, leadership

How Cynicism Undermines Health, Earning Power, and Productivity, and Work-Life Balance Trumps It

Posted by Joe Robinson

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THERE ARE SOME LIINES OF WORK where it pays to be a cynic—journalism, law, private investigating, car repossession. But when it comes to teams or organizations, cynicism doesn’t work so well. It’s the off-switch for effort and trust and spreads highly contagious negative affect like a virus.

Humans are designed to pick up on the emotions and expressions of others, thanks to the handiwork of mirror neurons in our brain, and that’s particularly true with negative emotions. We are wired to err on the side of the negative to begin with—a survival instinct—so it doesn’t take much to steer us in the direction of fear, betrayal, or ulterior motives. It takes three positive events to one negative to stay on the positive side, because the negative is so powerful, the University of North Carolina’s Barbara Fredrickson has reported.

COOL TO NOT CARE?

A cynical attitude is easily passed along to colleagues and customers. Misery loves company, after all. "Cynical employees tend to be less motivated, grumpy with customers, maybe rude to their boss. They’re bitter employees who don’t want to be there," says George Banks of Longwood University, a co-author of a study (Chiaburur, Peng, Oh, Banks, Lomeli) showing that cynicism reduces job performance.

We live in an era rife with distrust of institutions and anyone trying to sell us anything. It’s easier than ever to be a cynic, memes of which flow from TV, cable, movies and politics. It’s has become cool not to care.

That’s dangerous for individuals and the organizations they work in, since it makes people do exactly what their brains and leaders don’t want them to—which is to give up on effort, participation, and growth. Core needs such as autonomy and competence require that we be proactive and involved. Our brains want novelty and challenge more than anything else for long-term fulfillment. That requires curiosity and initiative, signs that you have interest, which the shield of cynical beliefs precludes.

Make the Best Work-Life Case Get the Top 5 Work-Life Arguments

Cynicism is a force field of suspicion that appears righteous—you won’t get fooled again—but is actually self-defeating on many levels. It’s an easy blanket indictment of everything, which writes off opportunities, people, and potential progress with the same stiff-arm. Suspicion undermines connection and health. One study that examined 97,000 women (Tindle, Chang et al) found that high levels of cynicism are associated with higher rates of mortality, heart disease, and cancer.

IN MORE EARNING POWER, WE TRUST

Another study found that cynical beliefs reduce earning power (Stavrova, Ehlebracht). People who are more trusting make more money, because they are open to collaboration and help from others.

Suspicion obviously isn’t the ticket to an engaged team. Instead, it creates just the opposite—the why-bother stance of presenteeism. Research shows that cynicism in the workplace leads to decreased job satisfaction and commitment, and increased motivation to leave the company (Dean, Brandeis, Dharwadkar).

Even though it has a big impact on organizations, cynicism is an issue almost universally avoided, because it brings up uncomfortable acknowledgment that something isn’t working in the culture, which can be hard to face. Yet employee engagement depends on facing it and understanding what is causing it. Willing effort to go the extra mile and deliver its dividend of 28% higher productivity will never happen in a cynical environment. It can only come from people who believe in their leaders and mission and feel trusted by them.

ENERGY SQUELCHER

Suspicion creates active disengagement. It undercuts individual competence and the organization’s bottom line. It fuels withdrawal and depersonalization, some of the same characteristics associated with burnout. And it drives negative affect, a state of grievance and grumpiness that drags in colleagues and customers.

Most of us aren’t aware of our “affect,” the way we broadcast our mood to others, but it’s clear that others get the message. When there’s high positive affect, people are enthusiastic, active, and alert, say researchers. With low positive affect, the mood is lethargic. Negative affect, meanwhile, prompts even lower energy. Which affect do you think would get more done and make people feel better about doing it?

Some people have a disposition or personal history that lends itself to pessimism and a route down the track to cynicism. Yet many others begin their jobs feeling positive and looking forward, but wind up in the defensive posture of cynicism as a result of organizational factors. Promises aren’t kept. Support never appears. Layoffs have left a bitter taste.

Where there is high overload, people can wind up feeling unfairly treated, which can lead to a cynical attitude (Banks, Whelpley, Oh, Shin). Those conditions also usually lead to stress, which specializes in driving false beliefs that lead to intense emotions and ruminating over them. There is also a connection between emotional exhaustion, a marker of burnout, and organizational cynicism (Johnson, O’Leary-Kelly).

The antidote to negative affect and cynicism is, not surprisingly, positive affect. It’s been shown to reduce organizational cynicism (Treadway). How do you encourage that shift? A company comedy troupe? A video game room?

The weapon is trust, the very thing that cynicism destroys, delivered by the antithesis of suspicion: engagement. Engaged employees exhibit the exact opposite trait of cynicism: dedication (Maslach, Leiter). 

EMPLOYEE DEVELOPMENT PROGRAMS PICK THE LOCK

Work-life balance programs and employee engagement traiiangs are an excellent way to build trust, dedication and a more supportive culture. They help pick the lock on employee attitudes. I have seen it time and again in work-life balance training programs for clients, when you provide tools to people to work with less difficulty and more support and provide opportunities to contribute, self-manage, and recharge, the walls recede and minds open.

It’s my experience that people are not as hard to reach as we think—and are secretly waiting to be released from their boxes of suspicion. They want to believe in what they’re doing. Provide them with a credible and sustained demonstration that shows them they are valuable, and many will respond.

They want to contribute, be recognized for what they do, have resources to do their jobs, know what to expect—all levers of employee engagement—because that is what their brains are designed for: participating, not the spectating of cynicism.

Besides training and development, managers also need to build trust at the personal level with their staff. Among engaged employees, 87% know their manager well and have frequent communication with that person. When you give people a rationale for doing assignments, for instance, and include them in a more collaborative way in solutions, you can change how they think about their work and their role in it, and they can go from active disengagement to engaged.

All it takes to get that extra effort is a little effort. It’s there waiting to be unleashed.

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If you would like to learn more about how our work-life balance and employee engagement trainings can help your organization unleash your greatest asset, your human talent, click the button above or reach out at 310-570-6987.

Tags: employee engagement programs, employee engagement, leadership, cynicism and productivity, cynicism and stress

Leadership: How to Get People to Do What You Want Because They Want to Do It

Posted by Joe Robinson

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YOU CAN LEAD a horse to water, but, as we all know, you can’t make them drink the stuff. Like animals, people also have minds of their own. Getting them to do what you want can be dicey. Compulsion and nagging can fail miserably on humans, but there is something that is highly persuasive: giving them a rationale for why they need to do what you want them to.

Research from the University of Rochester’s Edward Deci and Richard Ryan has shown that we are much more inclined to buy in to doing a task when we feel as if we are part of the process. Give an employee a reason for why something has to be done, and you sidestep the default resistance adults have to being told what to do and activate a key lever of employee engagement, choice.

AGENT OF ENGAGEMENT

Offering a rationale, instead of just telling someone what to do, plays to one of our core psychological needs: autonomy. We all have a strong need to feel that we are freely choosing things and not being forced and controlled, says Deci. How do leaders gratify that need when it’s the job of employees to do what others want? Through the agent of autonomy in the workplace, choice, in how the job is done—not what is done. We all have a job we have to do. How we do it is where we can build in choice, within limits, of course.

When you let someone know why he or she is being told to do something, it enables that person to feel autonomy by offering a sense of choice. Let them in on the purpose behind the action, and it makes them feel more a part of the team, more responsible, and a part of the decision to move forward. It’s a kind of jiu-jitsu that helps them feel they are doing the task because they want to.

Learn the 5 Keys to Engagement

That’s been the goal of leadership for a long time. As Dwight Eisenhower put it, “Leadership is the art of getting someone to do what you want because he wants to do it.” Now we have the science to tell us how and why this most potent of motivational systems works, whether on the job, at home, or anywhere you have to get folks to work with you. You let them satisfy core needs, they reciprocate.

The dynamic at the heart of autonomy and employee engagement is participation. Involvement gratifies two other core psychological needs—competence, or feeling effective, and connection with others. When all three needs have a chance to be expressed, people respond in a more participant way—taking initiative, more responsibility, going the extra mile willingly, which we know from the data on engaged employees can make them 28% more productive (Gallup).

SHIFTING LANGUAGE

Autonomy supportive leadership has been shown to increase trust, teamwork, and performance, Deci’s work and that of other psychology researchers show that, by turning loose the engines that motivate our deepest needs and drives, which come, not from external approval—the carrot-and-stick approach that runs counter to autonomy needs—but from goals such as excellence, craft, service, and learning, people are willing to do more, stick with it longer, and like what they’re doing more.

It’s a big shift from the command-and-control style of leadership we’ve all grown up with. For leaders, it requires a different language, less controlling, more informational. The idea is to forego the usual “have to,” “need to” phrasing and present tasks or issues in a way that allows others to play a role in the decision-making.

Getting a rationale for why something needs to be done allows the person to internalize the event, which creates a sense of importance and belief in the task. That holds true even if someone doesn’t want to do what he or she is being asked to do. When that is the case, letting someone express feelings about the task also results in a sense of autonomy through the act of expression, which makes the person more willing to do the task.

In this new world of leadership, the carrot and stick is supplied by the employee, enabled by the manager, just as Eisenhower observed decades ago. That is the definition of employee engagement—volitional extra effort, not because anyone demands it. We can’t command engagement, only enable someone else to unleash it with the proper tools, something our employee engagement training programs teach your team.

You can’t turn on the spigot of effort without filling up the tank with the juice—enfranchised people driving themselves with proactive involvement for goals that satisfy inner needs. Follow the trail of motivation blazed by Deci, Ryan, and their colleagues, and you discover there is a better way to engage employees through strategies that make everyone a driver of both their own, and your, bottom line.

If you would like more information about how our employee engagement training can supercharge motivation and effort in your organization, tap the button below for details.

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Tags: employee engagement training, employee engagement, work motivation, leadership

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