Are you managing like an artist?

Photo by Coolm36

I was watching the Israeli version of American Idol yesterday (roughly translated to “A Star Is Born”). I noticed a recurring theme. The main feedback the novice artists received is that they need to be more in touch with their feelings. To be truly themselves. The sing from within. To understand the lyrics they are singing and connect with it. When the feedback made one of the contestants cry, her coach told her – “Now, this is real, this is what I want to see on stage” (It sounds harsher than it actually was in reality).

I was watching all that and thinking – how many employees and managers are given (or giving) this advice? How many of us truly connect with who we are and what we are when we go about our craft? Does it really matter if you are a singer or a service provider? If you are a dancer or a carpenter? Shouldn’t we all aspire to produce Art?

I used to write a monthly column to the student newspaper during my undergrad years. I did a well enough job and the editor almost always published my columns with some alterations. One day I saw a number of student behaviors that really upset me. I sat down and wrote an entire column in an hour. I sent it to the editor. She wrote back to me after a few minutes. “Wow! I can almost feel the anger in your words! I am publishing it as is in the front page, in addition to your usual column in the back of the paper. Send me more stuff like that”. The day it was published I was terrified. How will people react? I actually wrote something against my the dominating culture. Some of my best friends were behaving in ways that were covered in my column. I got only positive reviews. I can’t really say that I changed the world, but it felt so good to truly say what I felt like!

A few days ago I finished reading The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement by David Brooks. As I understand it, Brooks tried to write a book that glorifies feelings and the unconscious. Not just gut feelings (like some think Gladwell’s Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking is about, which I am not sure it is) but of truly connecting with the wonderful creatures we are and making the most out the social relationships that are all around us, relationships that are based mainly on emotions. Brooks writes at the end of the book, after thanking his wife Sarah, that he may write about emotions and feelings, but that’s not because he is actually good at expressing them. It is because he is naturally bad at them.

I think there is a lesson there for all of us. Our culture tends to view emotions and feelings in a derogatory way. In the best cases, it something for artists. Not for professionals in other fields. I think this is because putting our true-selves into whatever we do is hard. Popular culture has a tendency to support the path of least resistance. The other path, which is much tougher to thread through comes with tremendous rewards. We can spot the singer who sings from the heart immediately because it resonates in our own social being. I think this is true for every profession and for every business. I am not surprised that Howard Schultz called his book: Pour Your Heart Into It: How Starbucks Built a Company One Cup at a Time

And for all you managers out there, my question to you: are you managing people like you manage artists – by pushing them to connect with their true feelings? Or are you producing more mindless, soulless cogs?


The never ending struggle for motivation

Photo by Personal Development Blog

I just finished reading the epic fantasy novel The Heroes by Joe Abercrombie. It is an amazing book by one of the best epic fantasy authors I know today. I am amazed by how many great quotes from this book I accumulated in my Kindle clippings file. I wanted to share one with you as I believe it resonates with the internal struggle each of us has every day:

Another stretch of silence, then Shivers turned to look at him. ‘You’re a decent man, aren’t you, Craw? Folk say so. Say you’re a straight edge. How d’you stick at it?’

Craw didn’t feel like he’d stuck at it too well at all. ‘Just try to do the right thing, I reckon. That’s all.’

‘Why? I tried it. Couldn’t make it root. Couldn’t see the profit in it.’

‘There’s your problem. Anything good I done, and the dead know there ain’t much, I done for its own sake. Got to do it because you want to.’

‘It ain’t no kind o’ sacrifice if you want to do it, though, is it? How does doing what you want make you a fucking hero? That’s just what I do.’

Craw could only shrug. ‘I haven’t got the answers. Wish I did.’

Shivers turned the ring on his little finger thoughtfully round and round, red stone glistening. ‘Guess it’s just about getting through each day.’

‘Those are the times.

‘You think other times’ll be any different?’

‘We can hope.’

I think I never read such a well written portraying of the never ending debate between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation.

The profit or the right thing? Take the job that offers more money or the one that inspires you? Do something safe or something daring?

For some the answer is obvious. The internet is filled with authors who will tell you that you should always chose “the right thing”. I tend to agree.

And still… I find myself doubting… I find it hard to follow this advice. I know people around me find it hard to. I know that the fact that it is a hard means it is probably worth it.

And still…

The ingenuity of the quote above is that it recognizes this struggle. It recognizes that for some people the obvious answer is not that obvious. It’s about making a decision every day at a time. And it leaves us questioning what should we base our hopes upon?

How is your struggle going?


Internal motivation, conversations, incentives and Equifinality

Photo by seanmcgrath

A few unconnected sources connected in my mind in the last few days and made me think about an issue I attempt tackling from time to time – incentives. First off, we have a post by Paul Hebert commenting on the description of a research done by Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Mellon University Professor Denise Rousseau. On its face, Hebert says, the research suggests that providing rewards increases performance, even if they are unwarranted. However, Hebert doesn’t think so:

Providing “i-deals” – as they are referred to in the research – means the manager actually had to sit down and talk to the employee about what they valued and what they wanted.  In other words, they had a conversation, were interested in the output from the employee and considered their needs and desires in the process of defining work tasks.  The prime mover of performance isn’t the reward – it’s the conversation, the interest, the validation that what the employee does actually has impact on the company. Here’s the real test. Take the same amount of time spent figuring out the “i-deal” and spend it talking about the job, the impact, the way the employee does it, the roadblocks and the successes. In other words – talk about anything one-on-one with poorer performers and don’t offer any “i-deals.” I’m 100% certain you will get increased performance.

Take that idea connects wonderfully with what Ross Smith writes on the Management Exchange:

Does a paycheck, salary bonus, raise, or promotion put more work in to work? Well, it sure seems like lavish raises, exotic vacations, those coveted employee-of-the-month parking spots, and massive bonuses would make work more fun, doesn’t it? The research suggests otherwise: rewards, or worse, the threat of punishment actually make work less enjoyable and perhaps even reduce productivity. These extrinsic elements can make work feel like work.

People who are offered rewards tend to “…choose easier tasks, are less efficient in using the information available to solve novel problems, and tend to be answer oriented and more illogical in their problem solving strategies. They seem to work harder and produce activity, but the activity is of a lower quality, contains more errors, and is more stereotyped and less creative than the work of comparable non-rewarded subjects working on the same problem.”

Finally, look at some of the wonderful insight Barry Schwartz and Kenneth Sharpe provide in Practical Wisdom: The Right Way to Do the Right Thing:

There are two problems with incentives. First, they are often too blunt an instrument to get us what we need. In situations that call for scalpels, incentives are sledgehammers. Second, when incentives are introduced into a situation, they can undermine other, better motives to do the right thing. Different kinds of motives can compete, and financial or other material incentives often win the competition. The result, as we’ll see, is that such financial incentives can lead to demoralization—in two senses. First, they take the moral dimension out of our practices; second, they risk demoralizing the practitioners themselves.

In many situations, for many activities, no incentives are smart enough. Teachers like Deborah Ball and Mrs. Dewey spend their day figuring out how much time to spend with each student and how to tailor what they teach to each student’s particular strengths and weaknesses. They are continually balancing conflicting aims—to treat all students equally, to give the struggling students more time, to energize and inspire the gifted students. Along comes the incentive to bring up the school’s test scores, and all the nuance and subtlety of Mrs. Dewey’s moment-by-moment decisions go out the window. And what “smarter” incentive is going to replace judgment in making sensitive choices in a complex and changing context like a classroom?

And all of this made me think about incentives. In a way, the idea of incentivizing employee behavior means, to a certain degree, that the creator of the incentives knows what is the right behavior. Management, if you will, has the rule book that says how one needs to behave in every situation and thus is able to “reward” for compliance. And for those of you that this reminds something it should. This arrogant “management knows all” approach is the foundation of Frederick Winslow Taylor’s Scientific Management.

In western culture the search for one truth is as old as philosophy. This thinking has penetrated into our business culture. However, there isn’t one truth that can explain the complexity of this world and the diversity of the people. It is time to recognize that ideas like Equifinality, differences and redundancies are valid business tools that can be used to reach business goals, just as much as the “one truth” idea. And while one answer/one way/standardization/rule book/Scientific Management mentality has its upside in some environments, I think we are starting to find out that it has major flaws and that it might not work in our own world today.

Incentives are will and continue to be an important part in people’s behavior and decision-making. They will also continue to be an important tool for business and management. But their reign as “supreme all knowing leaders” of workplace motivation needs to change. Our goal as managers is not to find the right incentives. Our goal is to create an environment where we do not need incentives at all. As Hebert says, one way to start on that path is by having actual conversations with employees.



Photo by Sara. Nel

Seth Godin describes 8 reasons to work:

  1. For the money
  2. To be challenged
  3. For the pleasure/calling of doing the work
  4. For the impact it makes on the world
  5. For the reputation you build in the community
  6. To solve interesting problems
  7. To be part of a group and to experience the mission
  8. To be appreciated

He then asks: “Why do we always focus on the first?”

I think it is the wrong question. We should focus on the first. The question is why do we only focus on the first?

Even the one of the most popular opponent for incentives in the way the business world usually uses them, Dan Pink, claims, in his book, Drive, that while autonomy, mastery and purpose is what really drives people, a prerequisite for that is that people are paid well. Preferably above the average pay.

I think we should think about this question as a threshold. In order to attract goof workers and demand excellence you need your pay to be reasonable. But above a certain point (which I don’t think is very high) more money does not equal better performance. To do that, you need at least one, if not more, of the rest of the items on the list.

By the way. This proposition is not mine. It belongs to the management scholar Herzberg. Here is how I described it in the past:

According to the Two-factor theory (also known as Herzberg’s motivation-hygiene theory) job satisfaction and job dissatisfaction act independently of each other. Two Factor Theory states that there are certain factors in the workplace that cause job satisfaction (Motivators, e.g. challenging work, recognition, responsibility which give positive satisfaction, arising from intrinsic conditions of the job itself, such as recognition, achievement, or personal growth), while a separate set of factors cause dissatisfaction (Hygiene factors, e.g. status, job security, salary and fringe benefits, which do not give positive satisfaction, although dissatisfaction results from their absence. These are extrinsic to the work itself, and include aspects such as company policies, supervisory practices, or wages/salary).

Hygiene factors are things you need to make sure are present to reasonable degree. Otherwise, in many cases, the motivators will have almost no effect.

So, we should focus on money (and other hygiene factors). But we need to make sure they are good enough and focus on making the motivators extraordinary. Then, we raise the chances for the emergence of excellence.



Awareness (2)

Yesterday I wrote about awareness and how it is important for managers to be aware of their surroundings in order to to reach a human connection. Then I encountered the next two quotes:

Whoever knows essentially his own nature, can know also that of other men and can penetrate into the nature of beings. He can collaborate in the transformation and the progress of Heaven and earth (Confucian teaching).

How can the soul, which misunderstands itself, have a sure idea of other creatures? (Seneca).

Exactly what I said. Just shorter and more to the point.




Photo by Metro Centric

In the last few weeks I have been taking classes in positive psychology and practical philosophy. Both disciplines have a lot in common but the main thing is the idea of awareness and noticing out surroundings. The basic idea is kind of ironic. Only by truly being aware of the now and truly feeling it, you can achieve long-term goals of a sustainable happier life.

If you watch the amazing clip above, you will learn many things about human behavior. One of the most interesting pieces of information in it is that while American people complain that they don’t have enough time for themselves, for their families and their friends because there are swamped at worked, when asked what they will do with an extra day a week, they answer – will work more. Talking about being aware and not noticing what we are doing to ourselves.

When you think about, this tension, between long-term goals and short-term, almost hedonic, needs is a tension that is found in all facets of business and management life. How often do you stop to reflect and ask yourself – what am I doing right? What am I doing wrong? How can I make sure I recharge myself so I can keep up this crazy race in the long run? I am sure the answer is – not much. Life is to hectic, work to demanding, costumers want things yesterday.

Now think about your employees, peers, teammates? When is the last time you stopped and noticed them? Spent some time really getting to know them? Thought about their lives and what drives them? Thought about how to make their lives easier so they can survive the long run? Besides the fact that socializing and informal communication was found to be an important antecedent of creativity, innovation and team effectiveness, there are much simpler reason to be aware of your employees.

Grant McCracken asked, on, a few days ago: Do You Know What Your Employees Are Watching? While McCracken suggested that we can learn about trends in the economy from employees TV habits, I think the question is important on a much more individual and personal levels. Are you aware that your employee loves to watch that dance show, because he always dreamt of being a dancer or even taking a dancing course? What will happen if instead of giving him a standardized bonus next time, you would be able to buy him a dance class for the same amount of money? What if you suddenly notice that all your employees are into Glee… will that enable you to create a contest between teams in your department that will boost morale?

Opportunities to make a difference are out there all the time. the question is, are you aware enough to notice them and utilize them for long-term benefits.


Correction: In the post I talk about a clip, which I forgot to include. Here it is:


Photo by PinkMoose

Seth Godin writes today:

If you worked on the line, we cared about your productivity, not your smile or approach to the work. You could walk in downcast, walk out defeated and get a raise if your productivity was good.

No longer.

Your attitude is now what’s on offer, it’s what you sell.

I think this is something every manager should understand. What many managers try to get out of people today is not productivity based. It is attitude based. Innovation, passion, human connection, practical wisdom. These are all things that cannot be done without attitude.

Once, we could not care less what our employees felt or how psyched they were to come to work. Those days are gone.