business, innovation, Leadership

What Drives Your Team? Leadership?

Carrot on a stick isolated on white

The world has changed a lot since the first personal computer hit the workplace. We are a more open, inclusive society. We are better educated, even if its just self education, and our ability to adapt to changing workplace has made us more resilient in hard economic times. But what about our leaders? Has the leadership of our companies changed?

All the talk, articles, blogs and news about engaging our customers through social media and relevant content….at what point do the leaders of companies make the same call to action for their own team? Isn’t it time we focused attention on engaging our employees?

When customers are emotionally committed to an organization or cause they are “engaged.” The same should go for the people who work for those organizations. What is happening today is that people are showing up to work and getting their job done, but I would say they are “involved”in their work, but engaged?  If employees are not excited about what they are doing, then they are not committed or engaged in their work, and that, leaders, is a problem.

So what makes people engaged in their work? What motivate them? Daniel Pink, author of Drive, gives us a great example of how people become engaged in their work through the “Motivation Trifecta.”

He outlines the three elements: Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose.

Autonomy is giving people real control over the various aspects of their work. That doesn’t mean “free-for-all” management, it means, giving your team control over what they do in their job. Traditional management says that you order your staff to do certain things. It’s a big carrot to color between the lines so to speak. But what if you let go of the carrot and gave your team a more self-directed approach?

“Hey, it looks like you want to do some innovative things for your department, let me get out of your way and let you do them”

What do think would happen if we let people innovate?

And if you are wondering why your team doesn’t innovate now…well think about it. If your leadership style is to hold failure over the heads of your team with the added benefit of possibly being fired for the failure, then no one will take a risk. No one will offer you suggestions, be creative in their work, problem solve or innovate. In other words, when fear is a leadership style your team cannot possibly grow.

Mastery is a tricky one for people to understand, but if you are a Millennial you will totally get this principle of motivation. Mastery simply means that you get better at something, but as a motivator, it has to include the desire to get better first. Why is it that your whole department hasn’t yet learned how to use the new program you installed, yet they are absorbed for a full hour with Candy Crush on their lunch hour? Duh, it’s fun for one thing, and it makes them feel good when they get to new and harder levels! It is satisfaction over the mastery of the task, even when its computer game. We feel good about moving higher because at the end of each level accomplishment are rewards—OK, they are just virtual ones, but they make us feel good.

The computer software you bought, probably without asking anyone’s opinion, is necessary, but just too hard to even imagine spending time on. It is one more thing on the list of things to squeeze into their day. But what if you offered your team an incentive to get that done? What if offered them the chance to take 20% of their day to work on projects that matter to them? No limits. Sort of like “autonomy,” but with the added benefit of motivating the team to master the things are normally not so fun. GMAIL was the brainchild of an employee who used his “20% creative project time,” at Google. The rest of the day was spent on other company driven tasks, and this portion of his day was just fun time trying to figure out email. Fun time that ended up defining email as we know it. It can be done.

Purpose is the final part of the motivation trifecta. Purpose is and always should be the number one part of any job, any business. Leaders assume that their teams of employees know what the big picture is: the mission and the vision of the company. But where are employees expected to learn that? Is it posted anywhere around the office? Does management talk about it before meetings or at all?

Harley Davidson employees know that they are building and selling motorcycles, but that is not their purpose for coming to work. It’s on their website:

“Fulfilling dreams of personal freedom is more than a phrase. It’s our purpose and our passion. We bring a commitment of exceptional customer experiences to everything we do – from the innovation of our products to the precision of our manufacturing – culminating with our strong supplier and dealer networks.
We are Harley-Davidson. “

They are connected to a higher cause. They have an intention. They work with determination to give people that personal freedom they crave. Every single person who builds and sells a Harley doesn’t need a carrot to get their job done, they were given a purpose to show up and do good work.

I wonder if the whole corporate structure of leadership hasn’t been eroding over the last 20 years. In the climate of layoffs as a strategy for profitability, perhaps corporate leadership forgot that employees are people and not a line item in the annual budget. When people fear for their jobs, fear to speak up about ideas and problems that need to be solved, they are not motivated to do exceptional and engaged work.

Leaders need to begin to reward their employees for being honest and creative, even when it doesn’t always work out. The best innovations were accidents—just ask 3M how they got Velcro! Perhaps America is not a manufacturing powerhouse today, but it is a thought leader. The same companies year after year are moving higher and higher in growth and innovations because they are treating their employees like the rare and exceptional beings that they are: creative problem solvers. By giving your team the ability to enjoy their work you motivate them to do the best job possible. I think we could use a little bit more of that nowadays.

Someone asked today why we are not talking about leadership more. I wonder if it’s because we need a new definition of what leadership should be. What is your definition?

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