The motivation rules of the industrial game in the last decades can be summarized as a “carrot-and-stick approach.” This worked well for routine, unchallenging, and highly controlled tasks. The process is straightforward and lateral thinking is not necessary, thus benefits and incentives can provide a small motivational boost without side effects. But the environment has changed dramatically, as have jobs in the digital industry. They are more complex, more interesting, and more self-directed…and this is where the carrot- and-stick approach does not work anymore. So what are the new rules of the game? What works and makes us achieve the best performance in these challenging days of the digital transformation?
Climbing the Mount Everest in a Bikini
Thanks to different disciplines from brain research to behavioral sciences, from sociology to psychology, from medicine to organizational development, we possess today more knowledge and scientifically proven evidence on how to achieve the best performance than ever before. We understand today what we do, why we do things, what makes us do things better, and what we can do to increase and decrease our performance in any aspect of life. If we only applied what we knew. That’s the real pity of today: there are all the answers on managing our performance in the best possible way, but in terms of what we apply, what we teach our students, what we incorporate into our organizations, and what we implement in our daily life, it is like climbing Mount Everest in a bikini. No wonder we experience so much trouble with frequently falling down and being hurt, getting off track, not making it to full speed, and never experiencing the greatness of reaching the top.
Ante portas awareness
Thanks to the new values and success criteria embraced by visionary leaders, there is finally a chance now at the digital entrance to the twenty-first century to implement what scientists have been trying to tell us for decades:
- Motivation: People have a strong intrinsic motivation to perform a task, especially where there is a great degree of autonomy.
- Community: A good community will solve any problem, especially complex ones, faster than individual firefighters.
- Purpose: Humans are much more interested in serving a purpose than doing tasks for monetary rewards only.
True motivation comes from within
To understand what is needed for the best performance, one has to analyze what drives us, what motivates us to perform at the top level, to reach our best. Psychologists and management practitioners came up with different theories about and approaches to human motivation: Maslow approached it from a psychological realm, with motivation revolving around human needs and motives. Management scholars like Herzberg focused their theories around incentives and inducement frameworks. And Gestalt psychologists focus on perception being the only determinant of behavior. It is not only the intensity of the motivation that counts but also the quality or type of motivation an individual experiences. Qualitative or controlled motivation occurs when external forces affect an individual’s behavior, whereas the much more appreciated autonomous or intrinsic motivation occurs when individuals feel that the reason for their motivation comes from within, making them act autonomously, according to their will, as they have internalized the reason for acting.
In the flow is the place to be
Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi can be described as one of the pioneers and founding fathers of analyzing and understanding top performance and happiness. He observed high performers in different disciplines—sports, science, economics—and realized that they are capable of achieving excellent performance over a long period of time without getting exhausted. He called this state flow—a state of concentration on the activity at hand and the situation, in which nothing else matters. This flow state is an optimal state of intrinsic motivation, in which the person is fully immersed in what he or she is doing. In order to make a flowlike state and “full happiness” possible, three main parameters must be met:
- Autonomy: I can decide for myself which task I perform when, how, and with whom.
- Competence: I have (or have access to) the necessary skills, resources, and environment needed to perform a task.
- Relatedness: I understand why I am doing this task, what this task means for the bigger cause, and I experience a feeling of security and belonging.
To make the best performance possible in the digital economyy, we need to make sure that these three key parameters for allowing flow to happen are understood by each individual leader and the organization as such. Even more importantly, we change the organizational setting in a way that allows individuals to act autonomously, easily acquire and access the needed competencies, and understand the purpose of the work they do.
For some organizations this sounds like a difficult, tedious task, whereas others consider this the basics of a good leadership practice. Wherever you and your team are on this scale, make sure you are NOW actively having these discussions within your leadership team AND subsequently an implementation of good measures in your organization… because wasting time on these mission-critical pieces is not an option you want to go for!
You might have heard of the board-level talk or maybe were even part of it: Top leaders agree that it is time to change the mindset of the organization. If you listen to all the good reasons why, it sounds so easy. Yet it’s one of the most challenging but also most pressing tasks if you are aiming high with your organization in the future.
The tricky thing with that task is this: It requires just slightly more time than many other tasks on your monthly objectives. You can’t delegate it to anyone and can only act as a model with your own behavior. Finally, you have to treat almost every employee individually. Maybe with the help of this recipe, you can find a good path to change the mindset of your organization in order to lay the foundation for the real transformation that can only be built on this new mindset.
1. Mindset is individual and collective at once.
Let’s first get clarity on the definition of mindset: Looking up the term in the dictionary, it refers to a person’s way of thinking and their opinions. Changing the mindset of the organization is a very individual task in the end because you need to change the habits and perspectives of every single person. It’s the sum of all the individuals and their mindsets that makes up your organization’s mindset! To change in this context means to replace the old way of looking at things, the old patterns of doing things, the old principles and values with new ones. For example, if it’s common in your organization to say “I have to do what I am told to,” then this might have to change to “I am empowered to take decisions within my team.” Despite these being two simple sentences, it’s like decades of leadership practices are between those two different approaches!
2. Mindset drives action and vice versa.
Organizations developing toward more agile structures aim for self-leadership and individual responsibility on the individual and team level. As much as you can shift values in your hallways or in your shiny company presentations, there is not much impact if you don’t let the behavior reflect the new values as well. Changing the mindset is only visible when it causes a change in the behavior of each individual — top to bottom and vice versa. So let’s say you aim to make fewer decisions as a boss of a team (the old pattern) and want your team to become more self-driven and have them make their own decisions (the new pattern). In order to achieve this, you have to reduce the number of times you apply the old pattern and replace it daily with the new pattern — in this case, encouraging your team to come up with their decision and take responsibility.
3. Mindset asks for embarking on a fragile journey.
Critical voices often claim that it is not good to change the mindset of people. Some say it is even forbidden to do so. It’s said to be woo-woo and bad practice if you are trying to change how people think and behave. These are all valid points if you don’t care for the critical three: transparency in what you do, how you do it and why you do it. Always accompany any kind of mindset shift with loads of communication. There is no such thing as over-communicating, and in this context, it is essential to spend more than just a fair amount of time on doing the talking, getting everybody on the same page.
And even if you’ve done more than enough of explaining why, how and what, it is still every individual’s right to decide whether they want to join you on this mindset-shift journey. They say yes and embark on this rocket ship? Make sure you acknowledge their commitment and don’t let them stand in the uncomfortable dark, in this fragile in-between-two-worlds. Offer them high-quality support along the way with professional coaching and executive sparring. Top-level leaders especially are so used to knowing how to do things, it’s the most daunting task for them to say “I don’t know.” Explore with them how the new way of doing could unfold, even without having a clear plan of who does what and when. Give them a professional partner who nudges them toward the right structures and habits that are then in line with the new mindset they are trying to adopt and put into practice.
4. Mindset sticks with positive reinforcement.
It’s the oldest learning mechanism: Do something right and get a nice treat; do something wrong and get punished. When it comes to implementing a new mindset in your organization, the same logic applies: Make sure you incentivize individuals in a smart way for demonstrating behavior that is in line with the new mindset. For example, if you continue to treat them with promotions for doing what the boss says (the old pattern), you will hinder the mindset shift that you are trying to implement. Encourage them to make decisions themselves (the new pattern) and don’t punish them if things don’t work out perfectly well; you then reinforce the new behavior that reflects the new mindset.
5. Mindset of the organization starts with your mindset.
There is nothing more powerful than to model the change you’d love to see in others. So instead of wasting more time in board-level discussions about the importance of changing the mindset of your organization, get over it, define what’s needed and start implementing and driving your own behavior in a way that is more and more in line with the new mindset. Be authentic in how you do it. Allow for throwbacks and troubles. Communicate why you do what you do and how important it is for others to join. By doing so, you will kick off a transformation that is much more than “simply” changing the mindset of your organization but preparing your teams for the real transformation that’s still ahead of 99% of all organizations. Well done!
There are constantly articles in the news that rank the employee experience at one company over another. Years back it was cool to have casual Fridays, frequent team events and a budget to spend on personal development. Those goodies have become more of the norm and don’t make a good differentiator anymore. So, what’s next? What should you do as head of talent development, as a recruiter for young talent or even as the CEO of any growing company that is in need of high performers? Sometimes the solution can’t be found through reviewing hard facts or looking to the outside world. Often, it has to come from the inside. The solution lies with you as the decision-maker of an organization! What a company has to offer is important in today’s workforce, but what will set you apart is your organization’s ability to showcase agility. That’s what I believe will attract the next generation of talent.
A company that provides an agile way of working makes for happier, more engaged employees and less turnover. If you want to improve the employee experience your company offers, you need to know what today’s workers want, and you need to make sure that your leadership team is aware of how big of a role they play in gaining and retaining high-performing talent. Let’s take a look at some of the more common “wants” shared by this new workforce.
Wanted: Agile leaders … but please make it authentic and real!
An agile leader is someone who wants to include every member of their organization so that they can work together and strive for the company’s highest goals while remaining flexible to what people need. Leaders like this are inclusive. They want more feedback and ideas from every person they surround themselves with. The goal is to take knowledge from everyone and create the greatest possible employee experience because that translates into the greatest possible experience for everyone involved. That boosts how clients feel and get treated, which makes the company better as a whole.
Wanted: Transparency … but please make it go both ways!
Many people in supervisory or leadership roles want to know what their employees are up to every moment of the workday. However, they are not willing to provide the same transparency in return. Employees want to know that they are part of a bigger goal. They want to become part of the organization’s culture and be able to respect the leaders of the company. An agile leader will be transparent. They will respond when people ask what projects are being worked on. That way, the employee can see how his or her project relates and feel as though they truly are part of the bigger picture.
Wanted: A coach … but please make it a good one!
In order to create the best work environment possible, agile leaders look at themselves in a more unique perspective. The goal of an agile leader is not just to lead, or even to instruct others, but to coach others on how to grow. When leaders begin seeing themselves as coaches, role models and guides, they approach their employees differently and see higher performance, more passion and happier employees in return.
Wanted: The chance to learn … but please let me make mistakes first!
There is an old saying along the lines of, “If you’re not making mistakes, you’re not trying.” This is true when it comes to employee experience as well. True leaders want their employees to reach out, try new things and learn from the experiments they conduct along the way. Some of the things they try will produce amazing results. However, there will also be things that fail and this is a good result. This teaches the employees and the leaders what to avoid in the future while allowing for team building as the experiment goes along.
Wanted: Good old feedback … but please make it open!
When an outstanding employee experience is the goal, thoughtful feedback is a must. People want the chance to talk about what is imperfect about a company so that it can be fixed. In my experience, if there is a constant circle of feedback and you’re able to fix what’s not working, your people’s jobs become their passion and their individual performance will rise even higher — so will your company’s overall performance! It goes from a way of earning a paycheck to a dream career. Agile leaders strive for more feedback at every turn. They use the feedback given to help iron out any bumps in the organization’s culture and create a happy, healthy environment full of inspiration.
I believe the digital transformation is less about technology and more about people and their ability to thrive and perform at their best. Make sure that someone in your leadership team has a hard-coded goal to create an agile organization where young leadership talents have space to thrive and find their passion. Teach your existing and more seasoned leaders how to become more agile, more inclusive and resilient in today’s business world and nudge them into more and more self-reflection. The question should be, “What can I do personally to be the leader my company needs, so I can have some of the happiest, healthiest employees around?” The time to show an agile way of working is now. Not yesterday, not tomorrow — now!