Posts Tagged morale
Two new articles by motivation expert Susan Fowler point to some of the challenges leaders face in trying to create an engaging and motivating work environment for team members. The two big challenges? Weaning yourself and others off suboptimal motivators—which Fowler labels as “junk food” motivation—and focusing instead on six best practices that support autonomy, relatedness and competence.
In The Science Behind Why You Don’t Feel Motivated, Fowler shares that people bring different motivational outlooks to the projects they face at work. Three of these outlooks are suboptimal—disinterested, imposed, and external. Fowler asks readers to consider a couple of questions to identify if they might be exhibiting signs of one of these three outlooks. Ask yourself, Am I…
- Unable to find value or meaning in the project?
- Feeling imposed? Is there someone pressuring me to get this done? Am I pressuring myself?
- Feeling resentful?
- Fearful of what might happen if I don’t do it? Am I concerned about disappointing someone else—or myself?
- Doing the work in an effort to avoid guilt or shame?
- Doing the work for the money?
- Doing the work with hopes of gaining favor, power or status in the eyes of others?
- Am I taking this on to impress someone else?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, your motivation is suboptimal explains Fowler.
“Suboptimal motivation is like junk food. Think about what happens when you are low on energy and go for the quick fix—a candy bar, an order of fries, a caffeinated drink. Your blood sugar spikes and then you crash. That doughnut tasted really good going down, but it didn’t do your body any good—especially in the long term. When your motivation is based on disinterest, external rewards (tangible and intangible), or feeling imposed, you will simply not have the energy, vitality or sense of well-being required to achieve your goals.”
To move in a better direction Fowler suggests a different approach. In an article on What to Do When Rewards and Incentives Don’t Work Fowler recommends looking at three basic human needs and three ways to rediscover your own personal motivation.
As she explains, “The best motivation comes from three basic psychological needs: autonomy, relatedness and competence, or ARC. When psychological needs are satisfied, people flourish. When these needs are undermined, people languish.”
You can wean yourself—and others—off carrots and sticks by adopting six motivation best practices that support autonomy, relatedness and competence. Here are Fowler’s recommendations:
Encourage autonomy. Frame deadlines as useful information critical for achieving important goals rather than sticks for applying pressure.
Deepen relatedness. Reframe metrics that have no emotional meaning. Conduct motivational outlook conversations with employees to help them attribute their own sense of meaning to critical organizational goals and outcomes. You cannot impose your values or feelings on others, but you can guide their exploration of values and sense of purpose they find compelling.
Develop people’s competence. Focus on setting learning goals, not just output goals. Shift your focus from accomplishment to building competence. Instead of just asking, “What did you get done today?” try asking, “What did you learn today?”
Promote mindfulness. Prompt awareness of options a person may not have considered. Ask questions such as “Why is this important to you (or not)?” and “Why are you finding this goal so challenging (or rewarding)?” These simple yet powerful, open-ended questions help individuals rise above patterns of behavior that often sabotage their best intentions.
Align with values. Conduct a values conversation with individuals you lead. They may have succumbed to suboptimal motivation based on money, rewards, incentives, power, status, fear, pressure, guilt or shame because they have not consciously or deliberately aligned their work to meaningful values that generate sustained positive energy, vitality and sense of well-being.
Connect to purpose. Your organization has probably spent enormous resources crafting and socializing its vision, purpose and mission. Now help individuals do the same. Encourage the people you lead to develop their own workplace purpose statements. There are few things in life more powerful than acting from a noble purpose.
As Fowler encourages, “The more mindful you are, the more opportunity you have to shift to an optimal motivational outlook. Motivation is a skill. You can learn to experience high-quality motivation any time and any place you choose.”
You can read more on Susan Fowler’s approach to motivation at SUCCESS online.
Moving from Employee Engagement to Employee Work Passion: 3 Key Ideas and Resources to Help You Get Started
Once an individual in an official manager role recognizes there is more to do than simply manage the activity of others, a great opportunity exists to take leadership to a next level—by creating employee work passion.
While often seen as comparable to the generic idea of employee engagement, employee work passion is actually a carefully identified construct. It is about leaders creating a work environment where direct reports perform at a high level, apply discretionary effort as needed, stay with an organization, recommend the organization to others, and act as good corporate citizens. This is an important distinction and one that has garnered The Ken Blanchard Companies recent awards for excellence in research and cutting edge application.*
Blanchard’s core research has identified 12 work environment factors that lead to intentions by employees to perform in a positive manner. The research has also identified the individual process employees go through in determining whether any specific work environment is deserving of their best efforts. This is the missing ingredient in so many of today’s engagement initiatives—and a major reason for the lack of improvement after their implementation.
Leaders looking to improve engagement scores in their organizations can learn from Blanchard’s research findings. Here are three key takeaways.
- Evaluate your present work environment. Review Blanchard’s 12 Employee Work Passion Factors. Consider what you could do as a leader to enhance your work environment in each area. If you are a senior leader, think about how your agency promotes and supports larger culture initiatives and how leadership training can develop and support leaders at all levels.
- Understand the personal nature of employee engagement. Recognize ways that each employee is unique. Engage in conversations with employees about their experiences in each of the 12 areas. Take the time to learn more about individual work styles, the manner in which direct reports choose to receive feedback, and how they prefer to be supported in the completion of work activities. Adjust as necessary.
- See leadership as a partnership. Work together with employees to make necessary changes. The good news is that partnering with them will signal that you value their agenda as much as your own. This alone will help build connectedness, credibility, respect and commitment. People who perceive their manager to be “others-focused” tend to score higher in each of the employee work passion intentions.
Employees appreciate working for a manager who has their best interests at heart. When managers value both results and people, they put the needs, desires, and effectiveness of their teams ahead of any personal agenda. Agency leadership must begin to acknowledge that how people feel about the way they are treated and managed is a key component to long-term success. This treatment is an integral part of the relationships that are established, built, and maintained by leaders at all levels.
For more information on improving employee work passion in your department or agency, be sure to download The Ken Blanchard Companies’ government-focused four page overview which looks specifically at increasing levels of employee work passion in a government agency setting. It’s available for immediate download at the government section of the Blanchard website. For complete access to all Blanchard research, please visit the Blanchard research archives.
*Shuck, B., Ghosh, R., Zigarmi, D., and Nimon, K. 2013. “The Jingle Jangle of Employee Engagement: Further Exploration of the Emerging Construct and Implications for Workplace Learning and Performance.” Human Resource Development Review. Volume 14, issue 1, pages 11–35.
*Zigarmi, D., Nimon, K., Houson, D., Witt, D., and Diehl, J. 2012. “The Work Intention Inventory: Initial Evidence of Construct Validity.” Journal of Business Administration Research. Volume 1, issue 1, pages 13–23.
Research by The Ken Blanchard Companies shows that employees are constantly appraising their work experiences—and that their intent to stay, use discretionary effort, perform at a high level, endorse the organization, and be good organizational citizens translates into behaviors that can be positive or negative.
Employee intentions can also influence the opinions of others—especially in the case of a disgruntled employee who, through social media or other channels, expresses negative views. When that happens, one individual’s pessimistic attitude can shape the intentions of many other prospective employees, potentially resulting in their being negatively influenced about joining the federal government workforce.
Blanchard’s ongoing research into employee work passion has identified 12 factors that influence employee perceptions of whether or not a specific work environment is deserving of their loyalty and best effort. These factors can be grouped into three broad categories.
Job factors. These include Meaningful Work, Autonomy, Task Variety, and Workload Balance. This area should be fairly straightforward and achievable for government agencies. While much debate has existed about the size of the government workforce and corresponding budgets, there is minimal argument about the significance of the work. Individual autonomy—when earned—is in everyone’s best interest. Leaders need to learn how to empower and delegate while also having in place an appropriate check and balance system to prevent errors and catastrophic failures. Task variety is also important. Leaders should be well versed in how to minimize repetitive tasks when making assignments. Workload balance also needs to be factored in to avoid employee burnout.
Organizational factors. These address fairness—both Distributive Justice, having to do with pay, and Procedural Justice, which involves decision making. Performance Expectations and Growth opportunities are also under this category. Employees want to know that compensation and decision making are fair. Leaders can demonstrate fairness by ensuring that merit increases, career growth, and performance evaluation processes are as transparent as possible. Another important driver in this category is the degree to which information is shared. Leaders need to err on the side of openness whenever possible, to ensure there is a steady flow of information sharing.
Relationship factors. These look at how connected employees are with their colleagues and also with their leaders. This is basic leadership, and involves the degree to which leaders are visibly and actively connecting to their teams with regular communication. Many employees, especially those that are salaried, spend a majority of their waking hours working. Developing relationships is critical to creating a sense of Connectedness (both with Colleagues and Leader.) Feedback and Collaboration also play a role. Leaders can enhance a sense of connectedness by demonstrating an interest in their teams, encouraging collaboration, and providing feedback. This can be accomplished in a relatively simple way by inquiring about tasks at hand and their progress, discussing resources that might be needed to perform the work, and generating ideas for continuous improvement.
Perceptions, Intentions, and Performance
Don’t let negative employee intentions undermine your agency’s culture and performance. When leaders understand and act on employee perceptions and intentions, overall engagement and productivity will improve. To learn more about The Ken Blanchard Companies’ research in this area, and how this information has helped private and public sector clients develop leadership practices that foster positive employee intentions, visit Blanchard’s research page.
Who should be held accountable for employee engagement in the federal workspace? Many different arguments and perspectives surface when this question is posed. Recently, the White House, the GAO, Cabinet leaders, the SES community, and direct managers have all been mentioned.
But in some ways, it is a misleading question. Engagement is addressed best when there is a collaborative accountability. Collaborative, or joint, accountability ensures that resources necessary to support engagement initiatives are planned for and allocated, targets are set, and managers are provided with refresher and advanced skills training needed to manage and lead daily activities.
While it might be a radical paradigm shift with respect to the current situation, it would make perfect sense to design and deploy a check and balance system of accountability. Such an approach would be consistent with the principles of government that hold the three branches of government accountable to one another. In the instance of engagement, this check and balance system should ensure that frontline managers to SES staff are held accountable only if budget authorizations are approved in a timely manner, and that such budgets make provisions for training leaders in improving employee engagement on a continuous basis.
Assuming that the budget authorization and allocation process provides for the necessary tools and techniques to appropriately and adequately lead and manage engagement efforts, there must be some consequence associated with not driving and achieving higher levels of engagement.
That seems to be where the current conversation is headed. However, in a joint accountability scenario the following would need to be in place:
Set a Baseline: With the introduction of consequences, a baseline must be established that would represent a starting point upon which improvement must be made. A timeframe would also need to be set. In our experience at The Ken Blanchard Companies, a two-year cycle would be an equitable timeframe that would give managers an opportunity to influence engagement outcomes.
Provide Training: A proven skill-building program that provides insights into key drivers of engagement can help focus the application of tools and techniques. This would allow agency managers to concentrate on specific interventions proven to influence engagement scores. The idea here is something new that goes beyond the standard satisfaction survey approach of the past. Knowing where employees draw their energy and passion from and how to address it is essential to focusing time and energy.
Measure Results: When we reference consequence, there has to be a tangible byproduct. One that has certainly captured a lot of attention recently has been indexing agency leader compensation to engagement scores. However, in the spirit of the two-year cycle (or window) for improvement, only the second year of the cycle would connect pay to engagement outcomes. This will provide the time to work through the responsibility, motivation, and attention all parties need to explore resources, budget, execution, and outcomes.
In working with organizations large and small in the government and private sectors, The Ken Blanchard Companies has found that a collaborative effort, where strategic and operational leaders work together, generates the best results. Employee engagement is a big issue. Plans, alone, won’t fix it. Accountability, alone, won’t fix it. Only collaborative efforts will generate the long-term, sustainable results that everyone is looking for.
Why do people work? Thinking beyond the basics (health insurance, income to meet obligations, etc.) is crucial for any agency leader looking to develop initiatives designed to improve engagement and productivity.
Asking why helps leaders identify ways to move from compliance to commitment. When that occurs, individuals and teams will put forth extra effort to achieve desired outcomes, contribute to continuous improvement efforts, and anticipate actions that will prevent undesired consequences.
Here are three methods for sparking a vested interest in your agency’s mission and moving individuals beyond compliance. (And they don’t require any incremental costs beyond fiscal year budgets!)
- Give employees a voice.
When employees feel as if they have a voice in how things get done, a vested interest is created. This vested interest builds commitment and a desire to exercise discretionary effort. Focus groups are a good place to start—they provide a forum for employees to respond to a basic framing question: “What’s working well and what’s not?” Be sure to create a safe harbor of anonymity where employees know their ideas and constructive feedback will not be met with punishment. Also, make sure that focus group ideas are acknowledged and acted upon.
- Use action learning projects.
Appoint teams to address potential solutions. In this context, requesting a team of individual contributors to explore options demonstrates that other views and opinions count and can make a difference. Moreover, individuals who normally do not work together can have an opportunity to collaborate and build connections across departments. A corresponding benefit is that the selection of individuals for these teams can be treated as a form of recognition.
- Create process improvement teams.
Launch a practice by which individuals can recommend changes. This practice will generate excitement about shaping agency practices and demonstrate that going beyond compliance can be rewarding. This is a place where a proven methodology such as Six Sigma can provide structure and a proven framework to ensure constructive channeling.
Empower Your People to Identify, Solve, and Recommend
When employees are asked to explore options, provide solutions, and recommend action steps, they become an extension of leadership and are increasingly engaged in agency decision making and success. Don’t miss the opportunity to inject a healthy dose of empowerment into your work environment. Give people an opportunity to contribute in ways beyond the basic need to work. You’ll be surprised at the difference it can make in turning a compliance mentality into commitment.
These three kitchen items might not appear to have much to do with employee engagement. However, as we exit 2014 and enter another year of opportunity and challenge on the employee engagement front, these items are very central to the current debate and necessity to proactively address and improve Employee Viewpoint Survey (EVS) engagement scores.
Specifically, a December 23, 2014 GAO decision (File: B-326021) overturned an arbitrator’s decision to honor a memorandum of understanding enabling the National Weather Service to provide disposable plates, cups, and cutlery for employees. An arbitrator issued an opinion on December 19, 2013 supporting the purchase of these items as they could help Commerce maintain a healthy work environment and employee sickness could be an inconvenience to the agency. Further, the arbitrator noted that employees might spend less time away from their work stations if they were provided disposable items rather than having to wash non-disposable items in break rooms.
Seems like a reasonable decision and one that promotes engagement in addition to a healthy and productive work environment.
On the other hand, the National Weather Service’s acting chief financial officer directed management to stop purchasing the disposable items because it is illegal to use appropriated funds to purchase items for the personal convenience, comfort, or protection of employees. This directive was based on a 1924 decision of the Comptroller General, issued during the Calvin Coolidge Administration.
The GAO decision banning these purchases relies on statute stipulating that any such purchase has to advance the agency mission and that the benefit accruing to the agency has to clearly outweigh the ancillary benefit to the employee.
An appeal requiring the expenditure of additional taxpayer funds will now follow the GAO decision.
Is engagement related to agency mission?
This scenario clearly illustrates the debate surrounding the focus on employee engagement and how enhanced engagement supports desired agency outcomes. Sure, the disposable kitchen items were purchased as part of an H1N1 flu preparedness plan of action. However, in the spirit of the time-tested Hawthorne studies conducted at Western Electric, one could fashion an argument that the cutlery and cups are a negligible expense that does support the agency mission by “putting a spring in the step” of employees. That is, when attention is provided to employees, there is empirical evidence that productivity increases. Consequently, whether or not the disposable items support flu prevention, there is a dimension of improving engagement and consequently agency mission.
Looking at this issue in another way, the question has to be asked: what does the disposable item intervention cost on a per employee basis? The equation looks like this: (Walmart cost of disposable forks, knives, plates, and hot/cold cups [$598.30 for a one time supply of 5,000 units per item]) / 5,000 (# of National Weather Service employees) = $.12 (12 cents) per employee. How many other engagement interventions can be acquired for an investment of a few cents per employee? In fact, the arbitration, GAO review, and appeal will cost more than the one-time cost of these items.
Three fundamental issues
- Should the acting CFO have relied on a 1924 decision to support the directive?
- When will engagement be unequivocally understood and recognized as fundamentally central to achieving world class public service and improved EVS results?
- When will leaders be fully trained in leadership practices and held accountable for facilitating decisions that support engagement (particularly when the costs are so negligible)?
There is a reason why the current Administration has a People & Culture initiative. It’s simple: nothing gets done without people. Therefore, a motivated and engaged workforce is central to agency mission and provides high levels of service to the taxpayer. Whether or not the GAO decision is fundamentally sound (which we will find out upon appeal), there must be a hard look at the state of human capital strategy if this decision is representative of what is occurring inside our federal agencies. Given the state of EVS trends and recent results, we should not be reading about decisions banning the purchase of cutlery; rather, investments in the public sector workforce.
Doesn’t it seem odd that when industry, Wall Street, and academia consider and explore human capital strategy and best practices, United States government workforce practices are usually not cited as a standard to emulate? It’s even more peculiar when you consider that our federal government is the world’s largest workforce with three million individuals on the payroll, providing services and products on a scale parallel to some of the most valuable publicly traded companies in the world.
The results of the 2014 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS) point to several opportunities and challenges in the government workforce. For example:
- Only 62 percent of federal workforce respondents indicated they would recommend their organization as a good place to work—down from 69 percent in 2011.
- Just 38 percent of respondents believe survey results will be used to make the agency a better place to work. This trend has steadily dropped from 45 to 38 percent over the past four survey cycles (2011-2014).
- A mere 38 percent of the respondents believe that senior leaders generate high levels of motivation and commitment in the workforce.
- From an information sharing and recognition perspective, only 46 percent of the respondents are satisfied with information provided by management and just 45 percent are satisfied with the recognition that is received for doing a good job.
- Overall, only 50 percent of the respondents have a high level of respect for their senior leaders.
Although these trends are not necessarily unique from a human capital strategy perspective, it makes you wonder what it will take to help the world’s largest workforce begin to move the needle on human capital management. The good news is that an increase in taxes is not necessary. Instead, the manner in which strategy is designed and deployed needs to be developed across agencies in order to:
- effectively support teams of employees from the front lines —give them a voice;
- reduce overlap and leverage buying power; and
- utilize experts who can accelerate the development of practice and policy by drawing from practical and proven experience.
My last post argued that there is not a difference between private and public sector leadership capabilities and corresponding organization outcomes. In the context of developing and leading the world’s largest workforce, there is much to be gained by an open and thoughtful exchange between private and public sector human capital strategy executives. In my next post, I’ll begin to explore those strategies.