I’m honored once again to contribute to the Management Improvement Carnival series which John Hunter at the Curious Cat Management Improvement blog has kept going now to its 149th round. As I looked back over some of the blog posts and articles that caught my attention recently, a surprising theme emerged among many of them: motivation.
Motivation is something everyone shares. It is at the root cause of why we do many of the things we do, directly affects our attitude, our effort, our level of success, and therefore eventual happiness. Some organizations measure employee engagement scores, track the number of kaizen suggestions or otherwise attempt to track the level of motivation of people. Motivation is an incredibly valuable input to the success of a team but too often only the results are recognized. Where do we start in building a highly engaged, highly motivated organization?
Addressing the question of “Where do I start?” in learning lean thinking and putting it into practice, Mark Rosenthal suggests adopting the find the bright spots advice from the book Switch. Finding brights spots is always good advice. While companies fail at thing for a wide variety of local and specialized reasons, success tends to cluster around a handful of factors; motivated people; removing waste, variation and burden; a long-term view. We need to drill a level deeper in each one of these. Simply saying “remove waste” is not enough, we need to dig deeper to understand the best practices and “bright spots” at organizations we benchmark to the level where we can put them into practice. We need to learn not only what works well, but why. We need to ask, “What drives or motivates their most successful systems?”
Read more from Mark Rosenthal at The Lean Thinker.
As things are when it comes to understanding cutting edge management practices, the secret to motivating people is simple, age-old and often counter-intuitive at first glance. One article explains why you don’t have to do anything special to motivate employees. Rather, it is a matter of not demotivating people. Just as traditional improvement has focused on increasing the value while ignoring the waste, we need to stop the leaks rather than buy more piping. This is summarized in a quote attributed to Dr. Deming and others:
If management stopped demotivating their employees then they wouldn’t have to worry so much about motivating them.
Read more from Dan Markovitz at Time Back Management.
On productivity and motivation, one article began by explaining how researchers found that doing or saying something nice, even if this was a very small gesture, has proven to improve the job performance of people including doctors. The premise is that positivity promotes performance. This was not so surprising, but the articled also introduced an idea called Appreciative Inquiry, the explanation of which I will truncate to “valuing the best in people […], as opposed to fixing what’s not working”. As a firm believer in the importance of concise, constrained and well-worded problem statements struck me as counter to experience. It’s proponent Dr. David Cooperrider, of Case Western Reserve University was quoted:
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not advocating mindless happy talk. Appreciative Inquiry is a complex science designed to make things better. We can’t ignore problems–we just need to approach them from the other side.
I’m very curious to learn what that “other side” looks like, and how well we can dream and realize a vision of a better future without taking a cold, hard, even at times borderline demotivating look at the root causes of our troubles.
Read more by Matthew E. May.
The advice to accentuate the positive was counterbalanced by another article in a series on the importance of a leader’s grasp on human psychology and how to crush an employee’s enthusiasm, a commentary on a video by author and management research Jim Collins. Namely, Collins explains how 3 actions by leaders demotivate people: hype, futurism, and false democracy or appearing to listen to input but not acting on it. Futurism is a failure to link people’s day-to-day work and achievements with long-term objectives, and hype is defined as “a failure to acknowledge the real difficulties the organization faces.” Dr. Cooperrider agrees that “we can’t ignore problems” but Jim Collins warns leaders not to make the future too rosy or the picture too bright, as we may be tempted to “keep things positive” at the expense of working from the brutal facts
Read more from various experts at Big Think.
What if things are in turmoil and there is no time to reflect on the positives, paint a rosy picture of the future, and work on motivation – hype or no hype? Often we encounter leaders who say they are too busy with projects or problems and have no time for kaizen – neither to improve processes performance through direct technical intervention nor motivation of people, and certainly not both. Lack of time for kaizen is not an excuse, but rather a problem to be studied and countered through effective root cause corrective action. No doubt positive thinking can help in these situations, but practical problem solving is essential to unblock organizations in this state.
Read more by Mark Graban at the Lean Blog.
In a similar vein, solid advice comes on this topic from another article to call firefighting and band-aids what they are but do them in a structured way. A structured approach to kaizen helps organizations to problem-solve your way out of the vicious circle of “problems > firefighting > no time for root cause correction or capability building > problems > firefighting…” into one that is more stable and in-control.
Read more from Jamie Flinchbaugh.
Kevin Meyer found some bright spots on his trip to India and documented them in several fun articles in Evolving Excellence. My favorite was leadership lessons from Ganesha, a set of mindsets and behaviors that are both motivating personally and constructive in motivating others.
Read more by Kevin Meyer at Evolving Excellence.