Category Archives: Motivation Skills

Who Do You Have in Mind?

The ball lifted off the tee with a wobble before moving sideways from right to left, arching into moderate grass off the fairway. Harvey’s next shot went vertical, over his head, then smack into the turf at his feet.

“Who were you thinking of?” I asked.

“No one. What do you mean? It was just a lousy shot.”

“I mean your second swing. Who were you thinking of?”

“I was just letting off steam. Wasn’t thinking of anyone.”

“If you were thinking of someone, who would it be?”

“I don’t know. I was thinking about the guy who taught me how to play. He would have been a little disappointed.”

“Who is this guy? Do I know him?”

“No, he was a pretty old guy when I learned. And I was only nine years old.”

“I was just curious.”

Kurt Lewin tells us that individual action is a myth. Our behavior is always influenced by groups or individuals, even if they are not physically present. To gain insight into a person’s behavior, all you have to do is find out what group or person the individual has in mind.

Who do you have in mind, that is affecting your swing?

The Difference in Performance

How many of your team members, do you suppose, drove to work this morning, thinking, “I will come to work today and do a really crappy job?”

Wipe that smirk off of your face, you know it is not true.

What makes the difference in the performance of your team members? Each morning they arrive at work, ready for the day. They could perform well, or they could perform poorly. What makes the difference?

Managers will most often agree on this management challenge: How do I motivate my people? My team seems to suffer from a lack of motivation. If I could just figure out how to motivate my people, everything else would fall in line.

The difference between poor performance, good performance and superior performance is the simple result of a choice. Managers cannot motivate their teams into high performance. Individual team members choose high performance. For every manager, the challenge is to create the circumstances where people most often choose the high road.

Which Flag?

Marjorie was puzzled. Twenty minutes ago, she adjourned a meeting with her development team. The purpose of the meeting was to share the newly published annual business plan. For the first time since Marjorie joined the company, the vision, described in the plan, finally made sense. They staked out a customer base and nailed down objectives for the next twelve months. It was the clearest flag the company ever planted. Then, why didn’t the team respond enthusiastically?

Which flag do you care the most about? Which flag does your team member care the most about? Here’s the news, nobody cares about your flag. People only care about their own flag. Companies are great at describing their own flag, but nobody cares. Customers don’t care, employees don’t care. People only care about their own flag.

As a Manager, to have any hope in the areas of motivation and alignment, you have to find out the flags of each of your individual team members. Finding out about the flags of your customers doesn’t hurt either.

Happiness

“What makes you happy?” I asked.

“Not sure anymore,” Nate replied. “When things are going well, I am happy. Lately, though, not so much. Sometimes, the world just doesn’t go my way.”

“And, it will continue to go that way, making you unhappy until you come to this realization. Happiness is not something that happens to you. Happiness is a choice. Only when you choose to be happy, will you be happy.”

The Attractiveness of Work

“What is it that this game has, that is so attractive to your son, that he will go without food, water and sleep, in spite of discouragement from his mom (manager)?” I asked. “Your son has achieved a high level of competence in this video game without the traditional trappings of learning, without the traditional trappings of inducement. Yet he continues to play hard.”

“Well, for one thing, it must be fun, it’s play, not work,” Jamie explained.

“And, as a manager, what can we take from that, when we think about our teams and their behavior?”

“Yes, but work isn’t all that much fun,” Jamie protested. “People don’t like work. They like play, but they don’t like work.”

“Jamie, I have looked at your son playing a video game and it doesn’t look all that different than what some of your people do at work. They both sit at a keyboard, staring at a computer screen. As they touch the keys, things move on the screen.”

“I don’t see your comparison, they are two different things.”

“But if you could see the comparison, what would you see?”

Jamie had to think, but she finally spoke. “In the mind of my son, he is part of something bigger than himself, trying to achieve certain levels in the game. As he makes progress, he gets real-time feedback (automatically), so he can adjust his play. When he makes the level, there is a small electronic celebration on the screen.”
_____
Leaving Shanghai today, bound for San Francisco. Quick trip around the world in five days.

Didn’t Do It For the Money

The conversation was now personal. We talked about Jamie’s son and his behavior related to a video game. We had established that he never attended a training program, never read a training manual, was discouraged from learning the game by his manager (Jamie, his mom). Furthermore, in spite of all these front-end adverse conditions, he achieved a high level of mastery, in playing the game.

“So, Jamie, you also told me that you did not pay your son a bonus when he achieved certain levels within the game?”

Jamie started with a chuckle, but it quickly turned to an outright laugh. “You clearly don’t know my son. Paying him to play a video game is not part of our family culture. That would be a bit over the top. As his mom (manager), I would have to be crazy. He doesn’t play the game for money.”

“What? Teenagers don’t have expenses?” I asked.

“That’s not the point,” Jamie explained. “He doesn’t play for money.”

“So, what does he play for? What does he get from the game that has caused him to spend hours achieving a high level of competence, without external inducements for his performance?”

“Well, he must be getting some internal reward for it.” Jamie guessed.

“And how would describe that internal reward? What is it?”

“Motivation?”

I nodded. “Yes, motivation, and here is where the conversation gets interesting.”
____
First day in Shanghai. This place is very Chinese.

Sacrificing Sleep and Food

“So, what gives?” Jamie asked. “Our company spends a lot of its resources on training, planning, development programs. Why do they always seem to run out of gas? You suggest we are missing something on the back end.”

“When I look at behavior, I think we, as managers, truly miss the boat. We are always looking at the front end of the behavior instead of the back end. And the back end, the consequences of behavior, are much more powerful drivers than the front end.”

“I am not sure what you mean,” Jamie responded.

“Jamie, you have a teenager at home, right?”

“Oh, yeah, somewhere in his room, beneath the glow of some Realm vs Realm computer game, I think there is a teenager in there somewhere.”

“Tell me, how complicated is that video game?”

“Oh, boy, I can’t make heads or tails of it. When I look at that screen, there is so much stuff going on, including multiple chat channels, voice over the Internet, status panels, swords, animals, shields, walking, running, flying, transporting, vaporizing.”

“So, to learn how to play that game, you must have sent your son to an expensive training class?” I asked.

Jamie started to laugh. “Are you kidding? He just sat in there for hours and hours, without eating or sleeping. I don’t know how he learned it, but it wasn’t from a training class.”

“You mean, you didn’t encourage him. You didn’t bring in a motivational speaker. You didn’t make him practice?”

“No way, quite the opposite. We discourage him from playing the game, sometimes we even ground him from playing.”

“So, let me get this straight,” I began, “your son has learned to play a computer game at an extremely high level of competence, without going to a single training program. Sometimes he skips meals and sleep to continue playing this game. He does it in spite of his manager’s (mom’s) discouragement. Everything that has been done, up front, violates everything we know about competence and mastery. So, what’s happening?”
____
At this moment, I am likely in the air between Vienna, Austria and Shanghai, China. Presenting to two groups of managers on Levels of Work.

Failure of Front End Influence

“So, what do you think was missing?” I asked.

Jamie retraced the steps of her company’s Quality Circles program. Like many good ideas, there was nothing wrong with the program. It was clearly designed to bring out the best in her people. It had short term results, but, in spite of a great deal of up-front planning and expense, the program experienced an early death.

“You are suggesting,” Jamie began, “that we did our front end work well, but we were missing something on the back end?”

I nodded. “One primary function of a manager is to influence behavior. Indeed, to influence behavior, we spend a lot of time in meetings, developing programs, teaching, training, writing manuals. We spend a lot of time up front, trying to influence behavior.”

It was Jamie’s turn to nod. I continued. “While those things we do up front do have an influence, most behavior is not prompted by what comes before but by the consequences that happen after. As Managers, we spend a lot of time training. We see high performance in the training room, but a week later, nothing has changed in the field. The fire is out, the behavior gone.”

What Curbed the Enthusiasm?

“Why do you think your Quality Circles program eventually ran out of gas?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” Jamie explained, “people just lost interest, I guess.”

“And why did they lose interest?”

“Well, at first, there was this gung-ho enthusiasm. It was new, but eventually the newness wore off.”

“When you look at the Quality Circles program (or any program) that your company developed, what did you design in, to sustain the program?”

Jamie almost chortled. “Design? We figured if it got started, it would just keep going.”

“Jamie, if you could, think back. Exactly how long did it take for the Quality Circles behavior to die off?”

“I remember, pretty clearly, we started right after the new year, but by March, it was over.”

“So, it took two and half months for the behavior to die off,” I guessed. “And you spent a bunch of money on a consultant to show you how to do this?”

“Oh, yeah, we had a couple of books that we had to read, and we had meetings, planning sessions. It was a big production, right down to the costumes.”

“Costumes?”

“Well, yeah, we had these shirts we were supposed to wear. It was okay, at first, but after a while, people started making fun of the people who wore the shirts.”

“So, there was a great deal of activity, planning and thinking about this beforehand, but not much thinking about what happened after. Jamie, I want you to think long and hard about this sequence.

  • A lot of activity before the behavior
  • Then the behavior
  • The behavior died off.”

Jamie squinted her eyes, clearly imagining the sequence. “So, we did a lot of stuff up front, but didn’t do much on the back end.”

“Yes, so what do you think was missing?”

Keep Them or Transition Them Out

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
In an attempt to retain their highest producers, a call center instituted an incentive plan that highly favored a group of seven. These “Magnificent Seven,” as the partners called them, did produce a high percentage of the revenues. But they were also highly dysfunctional as a group as each one was high maintenance with lots of personal baggage in his/her own right. While the reward system worked to retain these seven, the churn rate for the remaining 23 seats was over 400%. In effect, the incentives to retain seven people came at the expense of morale, work environment, job satisfaction and even the bottom line. The cost of continuously replacing the 23 employees far exceeded the benefit of retaining the seven. Your thoughts?

Response:
So, if I was a direct manager and needed high volume sales for only the next three months, I would go the M-7 every time. But, that is not the way most organizations work. Most organizations need sustained revenue over years and decades. Most organizations need a sustainable system of sales which contemplates sales methodology, recruiting, orientation, portfolio growth, levels of work, promotion and retirement. This goes back to time span.

Three months time span – Magnificent Seven
Ten year time span – Not the Magnificent Seven