If improving people’s performance was all about money then life would be so much easier, a simple mathematical calculation to the point where the return did not justify the cost, but it isn’t. Money is important because we all aspire to have things and do things that require it and money is important because it tells people how much (or little) you value them but it’s not in itself a great motivator. Doing something meaningful is what drives us all, it’s not even about being happy, think about mountain climbing, it’s scary it’s dangerous and uncomfortable and it hurts! Mountain climbing is about overcoming a challenge, it’s about winning and being respected by your peers and exactly the same drivers motivate all humans in all their endeavours and that includes work.
doing something meaningful is what drives us all, it’s not even about being happy .. If you create an environment where the work is seen as pointless and without meaning then performance suffers and the paradox is that highly efficient lean operations that break down a task into easy efficient repetitive steps can create just such Sisyphic – pointless seeming work. If it takes 10 operations to make something and each is done by a separate person then the satisfaction that one person gets from making a product can be lost. It’s a paradox that pits the Adam Smith efficient way and the Karl Mark meaningful way of looking at work, arguably in a knowledge based economy the meaningful approach is more suited. The experience of launching cake mix into the markets in the 1930’s shows this clearly, early cake mixes invented in the depression just required you to add water mix and bake but they sold poorly, when making them was made more difficult, adding eggs and milk and decorating then they sold way better as the intrinsic reward of creating something was (in part) resorted. If you make something you care about it. Work cells in factories can restore some of that meaning and add the satisfaction of teamwork as well as meaning to the job, you can see people happier than simply stood on a line.
This principle applies to all work whether it’s in the office, in sales or on the shopfloor, people who care about what they do perform way better and an understanding of why people care and creating an environment where they do is vital. Do people neglect to vote because they don’t care, because they see it as unimportant or because they see it as a pointless exercise? The Scottish referendum showed, as if we didn’t already know, that if people feel they have a real influence then their motivation to engage is high. Engaged motivated teams can achieve extraordinary things.
Repetition is demotivating and when it’s seen as pointless it’s even worse. Destroying meaning and eliminating motivation is really easy, building it is way more difficult but it’s essential if you want Top Performance. Getting the best out of people is not just about managing compliance, inside every manager there has to be some leader creating and demonstrating meaning.
© Chris Ball September 2014