Where have all the good people gone?
I regularly have conversations with business owners and organizational leaders who lament the apparent lack of talent and promise in the people available for hiring.
They reach all sorts of fascinating and distorted conclusions about people’s willingness to work. They particularly like to question the willingness and ability of Millennials to commit to an organization or a career.
As I listen (or more accurately half listen) I wonder, “Which Millennials are you talking about?”
The ones I’ve met---and I’m blessed to meet a lot through my teaching, my own children and their spouses, and other avenues---are passionate, committed and incredibly talented. As the laments continue, I want to look the person in the eye and say, “It isn’t that they don’t want to work. It’s that they don’t want to work for you!”
Do we have to say it again? The workplace has changed!
Today, the challenge is to engage the discretionary effort of people across the organization. There are all sorts of ways to “command” the duties, tasks and outcomes defined in a job description. But when what we want requires collaboration, innovation and real creativity, then we need to create a whole new environment.
Research by Daniel Pink and many others seems to come down to three factors that have a significant impact on human motivation. Pink makes the point that money is only a motivator when it comes to simple, relatively bounded tasks but when a task requires more than rudimentary cognitive skills, it can actually be a disincentive. This really challenges most of our reward and incentive concepts. Pink suggests that what people want are:
The old industrial models of work that metaphorically plugged people in to the “machine,” as if they were interchangeable “parts,” are long gone. Most people, especially the people you really want, much prefer to be given a challenge, ideally framed as an opportunity, and be given the space and freedom to work out their own solutions---usually in collaboration with their peers.
My practice experience shows me that the hardest work of management may in fact be to get out of the way and let the people who are closest to a problem actually find solutions that work.
When we do that the results can be extraordinary: multiple micro-innovations that, when taken together, can be transformative. Today’s issues and changes are far too complex for any one person to have all the answers---particular a person, or manager, who doesn’t work with the problem directly. Process improvement approaches such as Lean Methodology rely on teams having the autonomy to engage in rapid cycle change, looking for the combination of strategies that will produce the desired end result.
There is something in us that just wants to get better at things---especially things that we are passionate about. The first hint of spring brings out thousands of people to outdoor driving ranges to improve their golf swing. Despite the frigid weather, they want to get better. None, I would assume, have aspirations of making a living playing golf (those folks are down in Florida in training!). They just want to be better than they were before.
You see the same pattern in amateur musicians, cooks and writers. They want to hone their craft for the simple reason that it feels good. The same applies in the workplace, but that process can take time.
People need to know that they have the support for learning that is required for people to get better, especially in something as complex as working effectively with other people.
Collaboration and teamwork are lovely ideas, but they don’t happen by magic. People need the training and the time to develop their relational skills, just as they do to develop technical skills. As a practical example, I believe in the 80 per cent rule when it comes to delegation. If someone can likely do a task 80 per cent as well as you would, delegate it! Then give them the time and support to get better at whatever the task might be. Coaching them and of course debrief with them so that the mastery is focused and can be generalized to other things or opportunities.
Daniel Pink calls us “purpose maximizers.” I like that phrase. I find that more than ever, people are drawn to a compelling purpose. This definitely seems true of the many Millennials with whom I come in contact. They want to be part of something bigger and more important than just going to work every day, doing repetitive tasks that have no apparent meaning. This does not mean that they only want to work on high-borne projects and exciting innovations: even the most menial of tasks can take on a different appeal when it is imbued with a larger purpose.
When you are assigning work, how much time do you spend trying to connect it to the overall purpose or mission of the department or organization? Try it, communicate it, and celebrate it and just see if it doesn’t make a difference.
Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose. AMP. I’ll let you have your own fun with the acronym. The evidence is clear, given those three and a sufficient wage to ensure that money is not a burning issue, and you can transform your workplace.
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