Saturday, February 02, 2013

Loving What You Do

In the early 1900s, an American Engineer named Frederick Winslow Taylor, invented the concept of ‘scientific or rational’ management. Workers were like parts in a complicated machine. If they did the right work in the right way at the right time, the machine would function smoothly. And to ensure that happened, you simply rewarded the behaviour you sought and punished the behaviour you discouraged. People would respond rationally to these external forces – these were known as extrinsic motivators.

Based on this and other rational theorists, a whole system of operating and rewarding through performance based pay, developed.

Throughout the 20th century, management theorists such as Maslow and Douglas McGregor challenged some of this thinking and as a result companies relaxed a bit – dress codes relaxed, schedules became more flexible and many of the better organisations looked for ways to grant employees greater autonomy to help them grow.

The beginning of the 21st century has provided even more challenge and made us look again at the whole issue of motivation and extrinsic rewards. The development of open source software and the triumph of Wikipedia, the all volunteer, all amateur encyclopedia, challenged the laws of behavioural physics. Developers were contributing and giving their time, not for extrinsic rewards… but were driven by and for something else.

MIT management professor Karim Lakhani and BCG consultant Bob Wolf, surveyed 684 open-sources developers about why they contributed to open source projects. Lakhani and Wolf uncovered a range of motives but they found “that enjoyment-based intrinsic motivation, namely how creative a person feels when working on the project, is the strongest and most pervasive driver”.  What drives these individuals is largely ‘intrinsic motives’ – “the fun … of mastering the challenge of a given software problem” and the “desire to give a gift to the programmer community”.

Daniel Pink, in his excellent book “Drive … the surprising truth about what motivates us” goes even further. According to Pink, not only are people motivated intrinsically but that this intrinsic motivation is just if not more important than extrinsic motivation to an individual’s performance.

Pink identifies areas in which imposing bonuses, rewards and incentives can get in the way and detract from (a) people’s enjoyment of the task and (b) their mastery of the task. This is because extrinsic rewards encourage short term behaviour and encourage individuals to perform to the level at which they are rewarded and then no more.

This is a vast oversimplication of Pink’s research but has huge implications for leaders, organisations, reward consultants and even parents – how can we motivate and reward our children so that learning is fun and not a chore.

In cases where extrinsic incentives can work such as in tasks which do not inspire passion nor require deep thinking, Pink offers some advice:
  • Offer a rationale as to why the task is necessary
  • Acknowledge that the task is boring
  • Allow people to complete the task their own way.
For right brained, creative tasks, Pink suggests that any extrinsic reward should be unexpected and offered only after the task is complete.

Happiness, Success or Both!

“When I am successful then I will be happy” – right? All the research points to the opposite being true: when you are happy you will be more successful.

Psychologist Barbara Fredrickson and her colleagues have spent over 15 years looking at how positive emotions enhance our capabilities to be more open to ideas, more creative and able to relate to people. She calls it the “broaden and build theory” (you can read a lot more about it in her book “Positivity” published by Oneworld, Oxford).

Take, for example, recognising between individuals in racial groups different from you own. Chances are testing would show you are a lot worse at this compared to recognising individuals of the same race as yourself. Except if – you were feeling positive at the time. When specifically stimulated to feel positive emotions, people’s ability to discriminate between individuals of a different race improved to be the same level as for their own race*.  They simply broadened their ability to see more about the person in front of them.

Think about what this implies for your ability to create a positive relationship with new people. How, and when, could a greater capability to see the person in front of you help in life?  These situations might come to mind:
  • Being interviewed
  • Interviewing someone else
  • Meeting a new customer
  • First meetings of all sorts
  • Difficult staff conversations
  • Handling difficult customers
  • Negotiations
This is just one instance from a lot of research that shows increasing your level of positive feelings before doing an important task will increase your chances of doing it well.

So how do we turn the positive feelings on? Well it’s not simply “thinking positive”. You need to actually create positive emotions in yourself. Many ways have been demonstrated and they can be small, simple and fast.

Some of the simplest include: writing down 3 good things that have happened to you today or 5 things you are grateful for, doing an unexpected act of kindness for someone, looking at a happy photo of people or places you love, savouring a happy memory, having a quick (positive!) conversation with a friend, reading or watching something you find amusing. Over time you will start to notice which of these actions work best for you i.e. give you a burst of positive feeling which in turn opens up your capability to think and interact more openly.

So go on and try one before your next important task. They only take a few minutes, they will make you happier and so more effective in life.

*Cohn M.A. and Fredrickson B.L. (2009) Positive Emotions.  In Lopez S.J. and Snyder C.R.(eds) TheOxford Handbook of Positive Psychology, 2nd edition,  Oxford, p. 13-24.

Music While You Work

There’s plenty of evidence to suggest that music has value in the workplace. For workers involved in more repetitive tasks this has long been known. Music has been shown to reduce stress, relieve boredom and importantly, increase productivity. The rhythmic effect of music in particular has been shown to increase concentration and output. Not just in manufacturing environments either – but in other industries. In the 1980s a British Bank reported a 23% increase in the amount of cheques processed by their clearing centre when staff were listening to music. It appears that music and rhythm helps people get into a “groove” with what they’re doing. The effect is not just psychological – music has an impact physiologically. Amongst other effects music has been shown to increase alertness and help maintain a regular heartbeat.

Since the decline of manufacturing and the increase in automation and office based work – there has been less emphasis on the use of music in the workplace. It was thought that office and executive work would not benefit from music in the same degree. Yet there is evidence to the contrary. Research in Canada with software designers suggests that music also enhances creativity and concentration for demanding mental tasks.

Now we’re in the digital and internet age music listening is more personal – with the ubiquitous use of iPods and MP3 players. The University of Sheffield conducted a study of 300 office workers listening to music of their own choice for a third of their week. The researchers were looking at characteristics including inspiration, concentration, positive distraction, stress relief and managing personal space. Employees used sensible music listening practices including not disturbing fellow workers or appearing unprofessional in front of clients.

Interestingly music was shown to help people both engage in their work and escape from their work – and in that way have a positive impact on their work-life balance.

Music is undoubtedly a powerful tool, so why not try your own research? If you have some repetitive or physical tasks to do, try listening to music with rhythm and beat. If you need concentration for a task, select some music with a more calming effect. If your mood or creativity needs a boost try listening to something that inspires you.