What I’m reading now: Employee Motivation

Although engagement gains did predict subsequent increases in organizational financial and market performance, the reverse was also true. In fact, gains in financial and market performance tended to boost certain aspects of employee engagement more than the other way around.

  • Author: Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic
  • Title: To Motivate Employees, Help Them Do Their Jobs Better
  • Source: HBR

What I’m Reading Now: What’s Love Got to Do With It?

People who worked in a culture where they felt free to express affection, tenderness, caring, and compassion for one another were more satisfied with their jobs, committed to the organization, and accountable for their performance.

  • Authors: Sigal Barsade and Olivia (Mandy) O’Neill
  • Title: Employees Who Feel Love Perform Better
  • Source: Harvard Business Review

Ready, Set, Innovate

If you follow me on Twitter, you might have noticed that many of my tweets last week focused on innovation and creativity. I am passionate about inspiring creativity and innovation among the practitioners in our organization, and I believe that fostering this type of environment keeps our community engaged and excited.

In fact, the winner of MIT’s 2013 Richard Beckham Memorial Prize, given to pioneers in the organizational development field, was an essay titled “Creating Employee Networks That Deliver Open Innovation”. The essay contends that executives and leaders should utilize their organizations’ innovation brokers, idea scouts, and idea connectors to improve the organization and convert “external knowledge into innovative outcomes.”

Given all of the recent conversation about innovation, creativity and employee engagement, it was perfect timing that we held our third Innovation Day over the weekend. Innovation Day is an opportunity for our consultants to come together as an organization to develop our skills and create innovative solutions for our clients and organization. Here are some of my take aways from holding these events.

  • Innovation can’t be planned, but it can be enabled – You can plan time dedicated to innovation, but that doesn’t mean it will happen. Innovation is not a switch we turn and off. It is not inaccessible during our normal day to day and then suddenly available to us the moment we say so. That’s why these events aren’t about all of us sitting in a room together brainstorming. Instead, they are about enabling innovation. Enabling by providing people the skills to think about their work or themselves differently. Enabling by providing time devoted to doing and learning things you never seem to have time for. Enabling by bringing new people together to talk about their experiences and learn from each other. Sure, we could sit in a room all day to “innovate,” but without a foundation, without experience, what could we hope to come away with?
  • Great things happen when you come face to face – There are many wonderful collaborative tools out there, some like Connections, we use to broadcast our training courses to our employees across the country. However, if you have the opportunity to come together in person, take it. In a world where we are so often talking to each other from behind computer screens or working from different locations from our coworkers, the chance to come together, meet new people, reconnect with old ones, share stories, and build relationships is priceless.  Saturday was a great day for me to hear first-hand our client experiences and hear from our consultants what is working and what is not and to be energized by the enthusiasm around personal and professional development.
  • Innovative ideas are spurred through challenge and discomfort – It is through challenging ourselves, experiencing difficulties and failures that we grow. The same is true of innovation. If the world was perfect, there would be no need to innovate. Often we look at challenges as frustrating or demotivating, but really, they are an opportunity to create something better. It is ok to make mistakes. It is ok to not be satisfied. This is what inspires us. Those questions you find yourself asking over and over, “Why can’t it be this way?” or “Why didn’t it work?” – those are the questions that drive us to find answers and do more.

I would encourage you all not just to make time to innovate, but to make time to learn, collaborate with your colleagues, and challenge yourself and your colleagues and clients. It is through action that innovation happens.

Getting Your Career Off to the Right Start

Every year, around this time, we get a new class of bright, eager IBMers who have just graduated from undergraduate studies and are ready to start their new careers. They are excited about their futures and want to know what they need to do to succeed in this new environment.

In so many ways, these IBMers are no different from any of us who are starting a new career, moving to a new position, or faced with a new challenge. We all want to know how to hit the ground running and demonstrate that we are capable of being successful. And sometimes, the new position seems daunting because, above all else, we do not want to fail. There have been many articles on the subject recently (I like this one from Business Insider), and I wanted to add what has worked well for me in the past.

Find a mentor: Most mentorships develop organically, without the formal “Will you be my mentor?” ask. Instead, look for people who can be influential and inform the career decisions you need to make. Surround yourself with people who are insightful; people who think differently than you or who have been successful in their environment can have advice that you would not have considered. These people can be peers, subordinates, or leaders in other areas. The most important thing is for your mentors to be willing to be candid and helpful. Eventually, your mentors may even become your strongest advocates as you progress through your career. But don’t forget, mentorship is a two way street and you must bring as much to the relationship as your mentor does.

Get involved and get to know your leadership: Attend town hall meetings, networking events, and other activities that will allow you to interact with leaders. Within the first month or two, try to have sit-down, informational interviews with all of the mid-level leaders in your area. These interviews need only be fifteen minutes, but they are excellent opportunities to find more information about the opportunities that exist and the career paths that are available. Ask the leaders about their passions and if they are involved in any special projects or initiatives in the organization. Most leaders will also want to know more about you, in return.  Knowing your leadership is beneficial to both parties; your leadership can volunteer you for projects that meet your interests, and you can continue to get involved in the organization.

Be open: Be willing to go outside of your comfort zone. Try new projects, build new skills, and be open to opportunities that you have never tried. Ask questions and share your informed opinion. You have a seat at the table for a reason, use it! Being open also means accepting feedback and constructive criticism.  Being open can be one of the scariest things in a new career, especially when we do not want to fail. Instead, look at these opportunities as ways to grow and develop.

I think it benefits all of us, whether we have been in our careers for two months or 20 years, to reflect periodically on the things I mentioned above.  I would love to read the best career advice you have received, so please share your thoughts in the Comments.

Creating Meaning

Daniel Pink said it…

Maslow said it…

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Even Margaret Thatcher said it…

“What is success? I think it is a mixture of having a flair for the thing that you are doing; knowing that it is not enough, that you have got to have hard work and a certain sense of purpose.”

Believing in a purpose motivates us to perform and succeed, and while some jobs may come with an easily defined purpose (think doctors), most do not. As leaders, we must help our employees find meaning in their work. But of course, the question isn’t should you, but how do you create meaning?

Here are a few basics:

  1. Money is not meaning: Money is important, it’s necessary, it relates to worth, but it is not meaning. This includes both the money you pay someone and the money you make as an organization.
  2. Missions should convey meaning: Going back to rule number one, don’t fall into the trap of making your mission about money. You know you’re headed down that path if you use phrases like stockholder value, shares, or maximize. Teresa Amabile and Steve Kramer do a great job in their Harvard Business Review blog of showing the difference between missions about money and missions with meaning.
  3. “People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it.” This includes your employees. As Simon Sinek  said, people need to understand the “why.” Every time you communicate to your employees, you need to explain the why. “We are rolling out this great new product!” – Why, what’s wrong with our existing products? “We are restructuring the organization.”  – Why is this needed? “We are giving you a promotion!” – Why, what did I do? Ok so maybe they won’t ask that last one, but answering it is still important. Understanding the why helps to drive behavior. It gives meaning to your what’s, who’s, and how’s. If you aren’t sure what your employees think, ask! To stay on top of the employee perspective, I hold regular group discussions with employees at different levels to discuss their ideas and issues, and I don’t just have an open door, I live the open door policy.
  4. Create a culture of meaning: A company’s culture (or any type of culture for that matter) is made up of the shared values and practices of the organization. You can influence your culture through the environment, the people, and the work:
    • Create an environment that reflects your values. If, for example, you value innovation, do your employees have the ability to do this, perhaps through collaborative technologies or Innovation Jams?  I recently posted a question about client interaction to my employees in an Ideation Blog to have them submit their ideas and vote on the best suggestions. This was an easy way to create an environment that encourages collaborative, meaningful discussion among our disaggregated employees. It’s important to remember that your environment is more than a physical space and tools like this can make a big difference.
    • Provide work that is meaningful, challenging, and allows for growth. In order to grow, people need new opportunities and the ability to manage their own work. They need to be responsible for their output and rewarded for their successes. One way we have done this is by systematically moving our employees to new projects after a certain time period, thereby bringing fresh perspectives to other projects while developing the individual’s skills.
    • Lead by example. If you want your employees to be dedicated to your customers, you must, in turn, be dedicated to your employees. Show your employees you are committed to their growth and helping them to achieve their goals.

Creating meaning for your employees is really about creating a successful organization. Meaning drives engagement and engagement drives results. Providing purpose starts at the top, but cannot end there. Executives must drive a meaningful mission and strategy, while managers must show the purpose to every day work. Sure, every task isn’t going to fill your employees with the sense of true accomplishment (wow, that Power Point template could save the world!), but they should always know how what they are doing plays into the bigger picture.

Insights from the Employee Engagement Tweetchat

I recently hosted a tweetchat on employee engagement (to which I invited our employees to join) and had a great conversation about the factors effecting motivation, inspiration, satisfaction, and thus engagement. Below are a few of the key themes that emerged.

Employee satisfaction is a product of fulfillment and actualization

As Daniel Pink said, it’s surprising what motivates us. Studies identified three factors influencing performance: autonomy, mastery, and purpose. It turns out; this same theme came up in our tweetchat. Satisfaction comes from feeling your work has purpose, a purpose that is meaningful to you, not necessarily to anyone else. Understanding the strengths, weaknesses, and interests of your employees then becomes critical. You can’t contribute to their fulfillment and actualization without understanding what drives them.

Recognition means more than you think

The great thing about recognition is that it doesn’t have to be complicated or costly to be effective. It doesn’t have to be monetary. It doesn’t have to be an award. It doesn’t even have to be a thank you. Not that these things aren’t valuable as well. “Recognition can be as simple as asking employees their opinion in working groups,” wrote Senior Managing Consultant, Michael Anton. So while recognition is an important component of developing an individual’s personal esteem, it really encompasses much more than you think.

If engagement is an issue, look at your leadership first

A question leaders should ask themselves is, “Am I creating or enabling barriers to engagement?” Perhaps you are wondering what that really means. As leaders we can create barriers or, at least, enable them by:

  • Not communicating long term and short term goals and how employees fit into those
  • Being closed off, not having an ear to employees needs (or what I call, “Living the open door policy”)
  • Perpetuating a culture that’s not oriented around employees
  • Developing an organizational vision that doesn’t align with employee values

What you do or don’t do as a leader has an impact on employee satisfaction. You should be the first source of motivation and inspiration for your people. If you want engaged employees, who are happy to come to work and excited to take on new projects, then you have to put them first. Your daily mantra needs to include, “how does this impact my employees,” “what will be expected of them,” and “what’s in it for them.”

If you’re not using collaborative tools, now’s the time to start

Collaborative tools are not the answer to employee engagement, but they are great way to add to the employee experience. There is a cultural shift that needs to be responded to, a move from one-sided communication to multi-directional collaboration. “Go where employees engage naturally and communicate with them directly,” wrote Workforce Transformation Consultant, Brittany Thompson. But not only do collaborative tools allow you to have these meaningful conversations with your employees all over the world, they also provide you the opportunity to identify experts and reposition them, which brings us back to helping your employees fulfill their purpose.


There is not a single formula for employee engagement. Adding a pool table and a nap room to your office won’t magically transform your workforce. Ultimately though, it’s not about the things, it’s about the people and how you treat them. As author and speaker, Shep Hyken, said during the tweetchat, “My Employee Golden Rule: Treat people you work with the way you want your customers treated, maybe even better.” And as far as employee satisfaction goes, I’d say that’s a great place to start.

What I’m reading now: Employee Communications

More and more, employee communications and engagement is being recognized as a critical function. It is not only vital to any successful communications or marketing campaign; it is also fundamental to organizational performance.