A Lifetime in Hawaii!
We all dream of going to Hawaii, don’t we? Who doesn’t imagine a carefree weekend lying on those sandy beaches and sipping cocktails without a care in the world!
Okay, that’s cool. But can you do that all year?
It’s not possible. You can unwind on a weekend, or at best holiday for a week, but certainly not for a year. (Unless, of course, you are a lazy millionaire.)
A bit of unwinding occasionally is fine, but humans thrive on challenges. In its absence, we face one of the following:
A self-motivated person would ask why it’s been weeks and she is still lying there sipping cocktails and eating shrimps. She’ll get up, wear boots and clothes and head out.
Or, if she is happy or didn’t even realize time is passing, she’d forget about the world, laze around and continue to live on the beaches.
Now, map this scenario with respect to workforce effectiveness at your organization. Is it possible that your team is so relaxed that they think they’re in Hawaii? How do you learn of this? Ask two questions: Do you frequently lose members in your team? Or do you have a lot of people staying in the same position for an unusually long time?
Wait! There’s a third question: when was the last time you offered them anything remotely challenging?
It may be possible that the employees are stuck in a Groundhog Work Day. If that’s the case, you can’t suddenly present them with a huge challenge. Such a change may not go down well either.
Now the question is how do we motivate them to be accepting challenges all the time? Can we use the age-old Carrot and Stick method? Do this and you are rewarded, and if you fail, you are punished.
These Carrot and Stick approaches may work in the short term, and only with those that are at the bottom of the intellectual pyramid. It’s more like training a chimp. You can’t use this convincingly with smart people.
Well, the enticement of rewards does work, but you can’t keep handing out gift vouchers every weekend. Also, there may be a better and sustainable approach to keeping your team motivated and deliver improved performance.
Here are the five time-tested strategies. Stick with these and your team need not worry about vouchers or paid leaves.
Give Them A Shark
Imagine you have an aquarium and you take good care of it. You feed them regularly and clean the tank frequently. The fish are happy. They actively swim around. As time passes, they start to become less and less perky. Now, you put a shark in this tank, the shoal would return to being active because they’d now be running with the shark.
But the shark too would soon find the tank cozy and you would probably have to put a bigger shark then.
What does this Shark Theory tell us about our workforce? Here, the metaphorical shark can either be a person or a thing. It can be a young professional from an Ivy League, or a project with a tight and punishing deadline. That Ivy Leaguer may question the status quo that may awaken others. And such projects not only put fire in their belly, but they also bring the team together and help improve bonding.
So, do not hesitate to change your employees’ routine.
Let Them Flow
What do Mike Trout, Michael Jordan, Lionel Messi, Beyoncé, and Usain Bolt have in common?
Yes, we all know they are famous. But they are famous because they are world-class at what they do. Now, what makes them world-class? They all work in the “flow” state. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a Hungarian-American psychologist recognized this state of flow. He argues that people find genuine satisfaction during a state of consciousness called Flow.
To build the “flow channel” for your team, assign tasks that are neither too mundane, nor too difficult. The former would leave them bored and the latter would make them nervous about their capabilities. So, try to stay in between and create a state where they have a constant flow of energy and are “in the zone”. Let them be engaged in a way that balances their skills and challenges. Know their strengths and weaknesses and play in between.
Don’t Silence Them While You Amputate the Wrong Leg
Dr Moore was a renowned surgeon notorious for his authoritative ways. He always held his hand high and scorned at any advice that came his way. Once, when he was operating on a patient with a foot infection, one of his interns tried to stop him. This angered Dr Moore and he ordered him to leave the OT. The rest of the interns and junior surgeons kept quiet for the rest of the procedure. Turned out, Dr. Moore ended up amputating the healthy leg of the patient. All the surgeons remained quiet because nobody wanted to attract the wrath of the renowned surgeon.
At our workplace too, there may be instances where we tend to silence the voice of our subordinates. As leaders, we often think they are naïve and less experienced and, therefore, so would their ideas be.
If you want your team to operate more with zest and zeal, let them voice their opinions. Especially allow dissent. If their solution is not fit enough, guide them, but allow such voices. You never know when you would be caught amputating the wrong leg.
Give Them Intrinsic Motivation
We discussed about rewards and punishments approach — the carrot and stick method. We also learnt that offering your employees gift vouchers and paid leaves is not sustainable. These are just extrinsic ways of driving motivation. In his book Drive, Daniel Pink argues how intrinsic motivation is the key to driving your team to give their best.
Consider these two situations:
A. Your manager assigns a task you like but she keeps telling you how you should execute it. She frequently follows up. She assures you, though, that once the task is over, you will get a dinner voucher for two.
B. Your manager assigns a task you like and encourages you to find the best way to execute it. She encourages you to unleash your creative ideas. When you come up with the solution, she praises your creativity.
Which of the two would you find most comfortable? If you’re the type that values creativity and problem-solving, you would go with the second. Yet, why is it that, when it comes to our team, we become the nagging bosses that micromanage everything? The work that you do should keep innovation alive always. Same applies to your team. The work that they do, should always give them that intrinsic joie de vivre of working and not just superficial gratification.
Together You Learn
Most organizations train their employees in being the best at their work. Where many often fail is in training to make them work as teams. The result? Organizations produce great individual contributors who have no idea how to work within teams. If we train our employees to flourish within teams, learn how to work with people who bring different skills to the table, and make the most of learning from everyone’s experiences, we can very easily do away with “managers” and build what experts call “self-managing teams”.
The teams work together, solve problems together and make decisions together. The managers, if needed at all, are there only to resolve a conflict or handle an escalation, if one were to arise.
If we were fish in a tank, we would have always relied on our owners to drive our actions. But, fortunately, we are all humans. We possess the ability to make informed decisions and acknowledge someone else’s decision. At work, when we bring our collective ideas into the room and form a shared vision to align our goals with, the distinction between bosses and employees starts to fade and a new team dynamic starts developing. This collective learning, this shared brainstorming lets our brains bloom and become open to more and more ideas. This motivation and this strategy could well be the key to delivering 3X performance.
Co-founder and CEO of Disprz, the mobile learning company of 2017 and #3 small start-up to work for in 2017.
A serial entrepreneur, Subbu loves translating ideas to products and products to companies. His earlier two ventures were in the enterprise and ed-tech space. Subbu is an alum of IIT-Madras, ISB-Hyderabad and McKinsey.