According to a recent Gallup Poll, about a third of all U.S. workers are dissatisfied with either the recognition they receive, their chances for promotion, or the amount of money they earn. Worse, seventy-one percent of American workers are “not engaged” or “actively disengaged” in their work.
Since most of us cannot change the economy, I’d like to focus on what we can do at work instead.
I’m going to share a few strategies garnered from my discussions with Michael Wu, Lithium’s Principal Scientist, and author of The Science of Social. And I am going to make you a promise. If you follow these strategies and and act on Wu’s insights, I believe you’ll minimize dissatisfaction amongst the rank and file while increasing worker productivity.
Sounds too good to be true?
I know it sounds fluffy, but there’s some real science and empirical evidence behind the strategies. My hope is that it will motivate you to start changing how your company stimulates its most important resource. Your employees.
Motivation Science and Worker Productivity
What motivates people?
Wu believes it has a lot to do with intrinsic motivation, “Dan Pink wrote about autonomy, mastery and purpose. But there’s another and it’s called relatedness. Scott Rigby is a researcher for motivation. He found that autonomy, competence, relatedness and reasons are essentially the four intrinsic motivations for people. That relatedness is actually what a lot of people just call social. It’s the social facilitation and the social competition.”
Strategy #1: Intrinsic Motivation, Place People in their Proper Positions
Do you have salespeople that seem to gravitate to Marketing? How about the CTO that is often found late at night programming new code to solve simple problems. Problems best left to the junior staff. Perhaps there’s a mismatch in what they are currently doing, versus what really interests them.
Wu suggests we figure out what motivates people intrinsically by letting them self-select, “People’s intrinsic motivations are fairly stable. They don’t change from day to day. They do change over long periods of time, but overall they’re pretty stable. You essentially have to let them perform a lot of things and let them choose what they like to do. That’s autonomy. Giving them autonomy to choose what they like to do.”
I know it’s not easy to simply throw away the old human resources playbook. But increasingly, not placing people in the role that intrinsically motivates them is not going to work. It doesn’t matter that the individual had a career path in Sales. If she is passionate about Marketing, then you must find a way for her to be involved with Marketing.
Sorry, this is the price you need to pay for a happier, engaged and ultimately more productive employee.
Strategy #2: Work Needs to be More Like a Video Game
Most video games give the player enough autonomy to select his own path. It’s not a linear path to success, but a series of choices the employee makes to reach a goal. Sure the goals and objectives need to be defined by the company, but give people real choice and feedback along the way.
Wu expands on the importance of feedback, “You need to show an employee’s progress and give them rapid feedback. Typically this requires tracking and analytics. You need to track everything they do that’s relevant to their job. For an engineering organization, you may want to track how many lines of codes they submitted then compare it to their colleagues. You need to provide specific, rapid feedback every time they check in. There’s also some long return performance metrics. Over a long period of time, a quarter or a year, you also want to be able to track their performance.”
Most people like video games because they are receiving rapid feedback (usually a score) about their performance. Better, the score increases when the player is closer to the goal, and may even decrease if they stray too far from it.
Wu emphasizes the point, “I can’t imagine playing a video game and not receiving a score until the game was over. That would be kind of a weird feeling.”
Why can’t work be more like a video game? We’d all enjoy it more.
Strategy #3: Gamify Employee Training
Muhammad Ali used to say that, “I hated every minute of training, but I said, ‘Don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.’”
The problem is that most of us hate corporate training and tend to tune out. The drab, preach and memorize training methodology, is losing our attention to social media, television, blogs and other more engaging media.
Employees then become demotivated and less likely to follow procedure and thus don’t become champions.
The antidote? Wu likes to cite an anecdote about Microsoft’s Ribbon Hero 2 as an example of combining training with gamification: “Microsoft made the training tool for the Office Suite into a game. It’s actually a serious, educational game,” Wu explains, “Ribbon Hero tracks all the features you use and then recommends a feature and challenges you. Suppose you are trying to write and publish content to the web using Microsoft Word. It will challenge you and ask, ‘Do you know that you can better format and convert graphics for web formats?’”
Once the task is complete, the game rewards the user with points or badges.
To make training more engaging and more motivating, provide training experiences that reward people for accomplishing the right tasks correctly.
The brutal truth is that you’re wasting money on training consultants and internal support employees that are following the old playbook. Spend that money instead on designing intelligent training systems that work.
Strategy #4 The Technology Choices Your Company Makes Impacts Success at Work
We have many technology choices at work. Some we like and some we dislike intensely. Do you monitor the use of them in your company to determine efficacy and adoption rates?
Have you ever noticed how fast Yammer is adopted in most organizations? It’s easy to set up and use, anyone can participate, and the discussions are broadcast to subscribers in order to maximize distribution. In turn, anyone can comment or post their own message to the organization. No friction, no permission.
Conversely, most project management systems are difficult to set up and use, require extensive training, and as a result, only a handful of people use them.
Wu describes the need for gamification in business tools to create critical mass and engagement, “A lot of times the way we work is heavily dictated by the technology choice that a company makes. It changes the way that people work. I think an important aspect of that is for technology vendors to infuse gamification principles in their technology to drive a social facilitation, a social competition which is related to aspects of motivation.”
You see, your technology choices can make your employees collaborative or solitary. The wrong tool choice can lead to apathy, while the right choice can launch your company to new heights. And that’s something worth investing in.
Strategy #5 Reward Failure, Expect Better Results
Employees rarely take unnecessary risks because of the fear of failure. ‘Failure’ and ‘loss of employment’ have become ‘cause and effect’ in most organizations. Yet in order to innovate as an organization you need to fail.
Fail by brainstorming new ideas. Fail by conducting myriad experiments. Fail by testing concepts with customers, thought leaders and visionaries. Eventually, the organization learns from those failures and develops something remarkable.
Wu underscores the situation by highlighting how employees feel today, “Right now in big corporations, part of the reason that people don’t take the opportunity to self-actualize (Maslov’s highest level of need) is because they’re afraid to fail. They’ve been so entrenched in this kind of environment that punishes failure that they’d rather not take that chance.”
Bluntly, afraid to fail stifles innovation and creativity.
If you’re a Manager of people, change the rules. Encourage people to try new ideas, let them know it’s okay to fail (without retribution). Psychologically, your employees will open up new reservoirs of creativity and will share it with the group. In turn, the group will either make the ideas better or suggest new ideas instead.
Either way, you win.
In the Future, Companies Will Work Like the Movie Industry
The future, according to Wu, is about finding work that we enjoy: “It’s hard to find the jobs that place people into a mental state that psychologists call flow. Flow of work that people enjoy. Most people are pushed into a corner to do routine things that they hate to do.”
Wu believes the future workplace will work like the movie business, where self selected experts participate as needed: “Every single movie that’s been produced works in the following way. You gather the right people, people who have the specific skill you need – the lighting specialist, the makeup artist, the actors, the film crew – you put them together, they work on this project and once they’re finished they disperse.”
For me, it’s hard to tell where the future workplace is headed. I do know that the five strategies Wu highlighted above should be implemented today in order to reverse the dissatisfaction trend.
Study them, better – implement them. Take the opportunity to be a leader while improving your organization’s effectiveness.
Do you have stories to tell about employee motivation? Have you tried gamification techniques?
Please share your own ideas in the comments below.
(all images are creative commons from Flickr and are linked above)