The challenge of diversity and innovation – a different way to approach motivation

Photo by Sanj@y

Last week (yes I know, who writes about things that happened last week anymore, right?) John Kotter wrote an interesting post on titled: What a Physicist Taught Me About Leading Change. In it, Kotter describe the importance of diversity for developing new ideas:

Whenever you get people with diverse backgrounds looking at the same thing you can come up with ideas that might not have developed otherwise. That is hardly news. But I’ve learned in studying large-scale change that if the people are very different, in relevant ways, and want to work together (not appointed to be on one more task force), the possibilities are great.

I emphasized the words “and want to work together” in the quote because it touches the heart of the challenge of managers today that have to deliver innovation if they want their companies to survive.  As Kotter says, some types of innovation will only develop out of diversity. These are usually the game changing, radical innovations. And if we want to keep delivering them, we need to keep at putting together diverse teams.

But here lies the challenge. Diversity is hard. More than that, innovation is hard. Innovation out of diversity requires learning that is difficult, because it involves heading right on into areas you are not familiar with along with someone who doesn’t really speak your language or gets you. And in order to that, you have to be truly motivated. A kind of motivation that can only emerge and cannot be mandated.

Our management structures, unfortunately, are not built to support this kind of motivation. This is a kind of motivation that will not come out of mechanisms of control or rules, but only out of autonomy, mastery and especially, purpose. That is the real challenge of diversity. It demands a change in our leadership mindset.

So, how do you make sure your diverse group wants to work together?



Some management advice – treat your employees like serfs!

Photo by Erik Charlton


I was reading a post called Eight Things Your Employees Want from You by Melissa Raffoni on the blog. Here is the list:

1. Tell me my role, tell me what to do, and give me the rules.
2. Discipline my coworker who is out of line.
3. Get me excited.
4. Don’t forget to praise me.
5. Don’t scare me.
6. Impress me.
7. Give me some autonomy.
8. Set me up to win.

I could not disagree more.

Just look at the language. I, the little employee, need you, the big boss, to take control. I cannot excite myself. I need you, my liege, to get me excited. I want you, my monarch, to impress me and set me up to win. You are on top. I am in the bottom waiting for your holiness to give me some autonomy.

Really? Are you serious? Has it turned 1900 and I haven’t noticed? Or maybe more like the 1200?

Why instead won’t we treat employees like human beings? Like partners? Like people with different wants, needs, talents and strengths. Human beings that work with us for a common goal and that sometimes need our help, but that can help and teach us just the same. Human beings who thrive on actual autonomy (not one that is given – what are we – salves?), that want mastery and look for and develop a sense of purpose. Human beings who are smart and capable of showing practical wisdom and are shackled by all the rules and mechanisms of control the “managerial monarchy” levis on them.

I don’t have a problem with some of the behaviors Raffoni espouses (even though, number one really troubles me). You know what, I guess they probably work. I have a problem with the underlying assumptions. Just because something works, does not make it right. Employees are not cogs. They are not jackasses. And they are not serfs.

Wouldn’t you want to be treated like a human being? Are you treating your employees like serfs?


Management by reducing restraining forces

Photo by Jason Clapp


I was reading an article by Daniel Kahneman titled Reference Points, Anchors, Norms and Mixed Feelings for a negotiation class I am taking, when I encountered this intriguing paragraph:

I find it encouraging that this prescriptive conclusion coincides with that of a very different analysis. In a marvelous essay, Kurt Lewin (1951) deduced from an analysis of behavior as dynamic equilibrium that it is more efficient to induce others to change their behavior by “reducing restraining forces” than by “increasing driving forces.”

Our thinking is so entrenched in the carrots and sticks and incentives thinking that we developed a bias towards “increasing driving forces”. We focus so much of our time trying to think of ways influence others by pushing them that we neglect to understand that pulling is also possible. We focus our attention on futile attempts to control and reduce heterogeneity. Listen to the language most managers use – How can we motivate people? How can we incentivize them? How can we make them act in the ways that we want?

Isn’t it time we develop a different kind of thinking and a different kind of language. One that tries to “reduces the restraining forces”. To help them gain autonomy and mastery and to reach a sense of purpose. To take hurdles out of their way. Unshackle employees and take off some of the stupid rules that surround them. Change the language to a language that is based on humanity and talks about shared purpose, partnerships and creativity.

What forces are restraining your people and what are you going to do about it?


Shorts: #Linchpin on Teamwork


Seth Godin, Linchpin:

There are plenty of bosses who fear the idea of indispensable employees and would instead encourage you to focus on teamwork. “Teamwork” is the word bosses and coaches and teachers use when they actually mean, “Do what I say”. It’s not teamwork to stand by and do whatever the captain or supervisor tells you to. It might be cooperative or compliant or useful, but it’s not teamwork.

And I will take this idea a step further. In the world that is developing all around us, the old kind of teamwork, where they say “teamwork” but actually mean “Do what I say”, just cannot work. It cannot work, because managers just don’t know enough anymore. Their employees are smarter than them. And by smarter I don’t necessarily mean IQ smarter, but that they have different strengths and different areas of knowledge. The world is too complicated and too specialized for every manager to know and be able to do each job better than the employees who do it every day. Thus, teamwork becomes an exercise in the indirect approach. By letting go of the control, you create a more cohesive team. By letting every employee become the master of his own domain within the large purpose of the team, you create real synergy.

And the manager?

He stops dealing with control that demands surveillance, motoring, giving answers and micro-measuring. Instead he starts dealing with enabling excellence – which involves creating communications and understanding, taking hurdles out of the way, showing them how they create a difference, helping people find their strengths and asking the right questions.

Finally, another quote from Linchpin:

If you want a job where the people who work for you do exactly what they’re told, don’t be surprised if your boss expects precisely the same thing from you…

Great bosses and world-class organizations hire motivated people, set high expectations, and give their people room to become remarkable.



Photo by James Cridland


I have been thinking a lot about purpose lately. It is not only the discussion around the new book Drive (which is already on my shelf, next in line to be read) and the three concepts in it: Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose. It is because I have started to realize that a big part of a manager’s job is to instill purpose.

There are no insignificant roles, just people who make the roles insignificant and it is a manager’s role to make employee realize that.


Imagine this. Starting tomorrow, there will be no people cleaning our streets. Ever. Garbage, foliage, random stuff that land in the street, will stay there forever. No one will take the garbage out of the streets. Would you like to live in such a reality? What kind of world would that be? Not a very nice one.

What’s my point? If you are that person cleaning the street – a job that many people will consider insignificant, what do you say to yourself? Do you wake up every morning and say – “hey, I am only a guy who cleans the street. This is a crappy job”. OR. Do you say to yourself – “hey, I am the guy who cleans the streets. Without me, society will crumble. I am doing something for the greater good. I make a difference”.

Today, I came across this quote by Martin Luther King, Jr. :

If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, ‘Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.’

You know what? This mentality is hard to keep. That is where managers should come in. This is where they need to instill purpose. To remind that worker, that his work matters. That he is not just a cog. That he is part of something bigger. That he makes a difference. That in every job you can make Art.

And I know what you are going to say – “So, you want us to lie to our employees? To tell them they are important when they are not?” Well, no. because if you believe that they are not important, then you would not be able to instill the purpose. I am talking about genuine respect for people and what they do. Genuine understanding that every work could be done masterfully and could have a real impact on our lives (and I invite you to watch Barry Schwartz’s talk at TED where he describes how great janitors describe their roles).

If you succeed in instilling that sense of purpose in your employees you are half-way on your way to noticing and recognizing them.  You are on the right way to explaining, everyday, how they made a difference. And that is a good path to be on.

Do your employees see themselves as cogs or do instill them a sense of purpose?


Saying goodbye to the mechanisms of control

Photo by Daquella Manera

Today, I was watching this presentation, that Adam Singer made out of famous bloggers quotes, and found a quote from a post by David Armano titled Passion vs. Productive:

There are actually few organizations that can support passionate employees—even if they say they want them. That’s because the original industrial revolution was designed to support productivity … Managers want passionate employees, but don’t always know how to manage them. Passionate employees question things, probe and push. Who’s got the time to deal with that?  Productive employees get things done. No questions asked.

This is a great explanation of how many of the common practices of management got developed. In yesterdays world of management, which was focused around production, the main focus was productivity of homogeneous products.  In order to increase the production of homogonoues products or make your employees do one thing and do it well, you create strict rules. You don’t let each employee find his own way or experiment with new innovative ways to create things . You don’t allow your employees to follow thier passion. You Taylorise thier world. Thus, many of the common practices of management are mechanism of control to deal with the heterogeneity of employees and to subdue it. That is why yesterdays mangers used so many rules. They are shackles, prisons, to deal with the heterogeneity . In order to shape employees into a recurring homogeneous molds.

Today’s world is about embracing and reveling in the heterogeneity of employees. It is about letting go of the mechanisms of control. It is about not making any rules any more. It is about letting employees follow thier passions. Giving them Authourty. Letting them develop their own Mastery. Giving them a sense of Purpose.

In order to do that we need to rejoice in the ability to lose control. To rip off the chains of misconception about management that were developed in the world of production and our let go of our fear of the unknown. To change our conventional wisdoms about what management really entails. To celebrate the diversity of human talent.


Isn’t it time we stop with trying to create rules?

One of the more interesting locations I visited during the course I took in Singapore and India during the last few weeks was the Taj Mahal Palace & Tower Hotel in Mumbai. It is one of India’s most famous hotels, known around the world for its amazing levels of service. During our visit we heard a lecture from the head of the training division that described the history of the hotel and it’s culture. She was describing the culture of service and employee engagement and the fact that most of the employees in the hotel have worked there for more than 20 years.

Then, one of my classmates asked how does the hotel keep the employees so engaged for so long. I didn’t write the answer down, but this was, more or less, her answer:

We create employee freedom by not surrounding our employees with rules. At the same time making sure they understand the culture and what we are trying to achieve.

That sentence resonated with me. I am not surprised given my writing on outcome management and the fact that this is what I wrote a few months back as one of my lessons from Barry Schwartz’s talk at TED:

Let them to the job – people work differently. They produce the same outcomes differently. Don’t interfere. Don’t make up rules. Maybe, as Barry says, don’t even create incentives (I am not sure I totally agree with that one). Don’t try to make them do the job the way you would have done it. Give them the intellectual and mental space to work it on their own. Provide support and training but don’t create rules about the specific job. If phase one was done correctly, they will find the way to produce the outcomes you required.

Then, I read what Seth Godin wrote in Tom Peters‘ Blog about excellence (The post appeared in my RSS reader but is no longer available on the Tom Peters blog, the link is to another source on the web):

When the Ritz-Carlton hotel empowers every employee from chambermaid to manager to “make things right,” they’re not engaging in the sort of quality control most managers are comfortable with. In fact, if they were able to write down exactly what to do in every situation, the excellence factor would disappear. What the hotel accomplishes with its policy is this: they challenge their employees to become artists.

Another way to put all of this (not mine, Dan Pink’s): Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose. I am really waiting to read his new book (and not only me: 1, 2) to read more about these concepts, as I think they really encompass how managers should treat their employees. Just to start you thinking. Don’t you think that saying we should give our employees Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose is the same as saying not to create rules for them?