Les Potton Chartered FCIPD ACI
Why is it that some people enjoy their work to the degree that it is no longer work, whereas others live only for the weekend ?
Having experienced both of these extreme states during my working life, I thought I would explore the reasons. Are there some people who would find the positive in any task, enjoy it for what it is, and give their all to completing it. Or... do we all need a task to hit our own motivational buttons?
I accept that there are people who are much more intrinsically motivated than others and have what we sometimes call a “work ethic”. They are likely to adopt the attitude “if a task is worth doing, it’s worth doing well”. Is this a genetic trait or due to upbringing? I don’t know. However, my experience is that the majority of people, although very capable of displaying a “work ethic”, are more selective in when they apply it. Consequently, employers will see the motivation and productivity of individuals ebb and flow and some employees thrive in a particular role, when others are completely turned off.
So how can we help people enjoy their work and be productive for the benefit of the organisation? In business speak, how do we get employees “engaged”?
On the assumption that no single strategy is going to “engage” the whole workforce, I will use a simple version of the SDI - Emotional Intelligence Model to examine the drivers of job satisfaction, enjoyment and ultimately productivity. For those unfamiliar with SDI, in a nutshell it identifies via a questionnaire, your deeply held values. These values are believed to be established by the age of 7 “show me the boy and I will show you the man”, and if what you do in your life is aligned to those values, it will bring you self esteem.
People’s values are depicted as colours, with the 3 primary colours being red, blue and green. Those with blue values tend to be motivated by maintaining good human relationships and helping people. Those with green values tend to be motivated by independence, detail, getting things right, fairness and justice. Finally those with red values tend to thrive on task completion, achievement of results and competition.
Using this model, immediately you can see why some people are engaged, productive and enjoy their work, and others are not. A person with blue values in a job with little or no contact with people is likely to be uncomfortable, lonely and potentially stressed. The same would go for a person with green values in a role that requires consensus on every decision and being made to work very quickly without, what they would believe to be adequate quality control. For reds, their idea of hell would be work where the pace is slowed by ironically entitled “Red Tape”.
Therefore, to wake up chomping at the bit to go to work, you need your job or business to be aligned to your values and constantly raising your self esteem. That’s a simple and unsurprising concept, but not many people have the luxury of an array of options from which to choose a career aligned to their values. In fact the person may not even be aware of what their core values are.
Thankfully, a job or business is likely to have a number of dimensions to it, which means that a change in the way you look at the role, can align it much more to your values. It is certainly not the case that a role will only suit one colour.
I will use bar and restaurant work as an example. A blue person may love this type of work because they enjoy helping and interacting with people all day. However a green person might dislike the speed that you have to work at in a busy bar and the fact that you get no thinking time alone. However the green may enjoy the detail and precision of the stock control and cashing up elements. Reds might enjoy the speed and be even further engaged if there are revenue targets for each shift to beat.
What is more interesting though, is that customer facing work is likely to appeal to blues and reds for very different reasons.
Blues will be motivated by helping others, whereas reds will be motivated by achieving revenue targets (very visible in hospitality and retail) and competing. Within the hospitality industry, both needs could be satisfied.
The danger is that you can de-motivate the blues very quickly if they are forced by circumstance to deliver service that is below that which they would like to deliver. That is, their values are being compromised. Reds are unlikely to be motivated in this job if there is no element of targets, measure of achievement or competition. Simply serving people and making them happy will not be enough unless there is a way of recognising it as an achievement.
It is not critical to get the job/values fit exactly right from the outset. We humans are very adaptable and people can “borrow” behaviours to bridge the gap between their values and being good at their job. We will happily borrow behaviours from the other colours, as long as we can use that behaviour in line with our values and raise our self esteem. A green will compete with the best reds in town to ensure fairness and justice... as long as they have analysed the facts. A red will be incredibly helpful if being incredibly helpful can be measured and is what needs to be achieved. A blue will operate quickly, decisively and compete if necessary, if someone’s well-being is at stake. Motivation is not necessarily generated by the task, but often by why you are doing it.
In the bar scenario, the blue person will be happy to borrow the red behaviour of working quickly so that no-one is left waiting too long. They will be motivated to increase productivity and serve more quickly to cut the waiting time for the customer but NOT solely to hit revenue targets. Consequently, for a blue to be motivated intrinsically to hit revenue targets, you would need to frame the objective as an improvement in customer service, or you are likely to have to add an extrinsic “carrot” or “stick” to achieve the required result.
The red colleague may adopt the blue behaviour of ensuring customers are not waiting too long but with their mind firmly on the targets, and not necessarily thinking too much about the very positive by-product of happy customers. To get a red person to focus directly on happy customers, you would probably need to set them a customer satisfaction target, e.g. via questionnaires.
As well as borrowing behaviours, perhaps more worrying is the fact that people can use “mask” behaviours. This is where they feel forced by circumstance to behave in a way that lowers their self esteem, purely to survive in their job. This could be peer pressure and/ or company culture. This will almost certainly lead to high levels of stress. An example of this in the bar / restaurant could be a blue waiter/waitress being forced to reduce their self-perceived service quality to achieve quicker throughput of customers to increase revenue. It could also be a green salesperson (in any industry) being pressured to close sales quickly without explaining the product in full to the customer.
So what does all this say to us as managers about raising self esteem and helping people enjoy being productive?