Wednesday, March 16, 2011

I own you

Watching TV the other night, I gazed in disbelief as the Superintendent of a police station yelled at his people:

“I own you – I don’t care what you think. Just do as I (expletive deleted!) tell you.”

I was staggered. Even though it was just a show on the tele, do bosses still do that? Is that the way they think you get the best out of people?

I checked when the program was made – 2010. It’s usually a good program and the story line mostly believable – but did the scriptwriter base this manager’s behaviour in reality?

What do you think? Have you or do you experience this behaviour from your bosses? If you do, click here and tell me about it - I'd really love to know.

Exploring the House of Wonders

It made me think of a place I visited last month in Stonetown, Zanzibar – the House of Wonders.

It’s called that because it was the first building in Zanzibar to have electricity, and also the first building in East Africa to have an elevator...


... which wasn’t working like mostly everything in Tanzania.


In the House of Wonders there are many exhibits on Swahili culture, including a finely carved Drum.

Here's a photo (sorry about the quality) of the explanation of the carvings on the Drum.


As you can see, it says that the Drum is an ancient Swahili insignia of power.

One of the inscriptions reads:

"Your action is a reflection of your leadership.
So call all the people together, including those who behave differently,
for the wise gathers all and satisfies them."

Clearly the Super on the tele hadn’t read that inscription.

What does motivate people?

Nor had the Super read what Dr Dean Mobbs, a Senior Investigator Scientist at the MRC-Cognitive and Brain Sciences Unit at Cambridge University UK says about the latest neuroscientific research on the mechanics of Motivation.

And the Super would not be alone. Most performance reviews systems have been designed without reference to what the neuroscientists are telling us.

I cause many an HR practitioner to raise their eyebrows when I suggest that most Performance Management systems emphasise the wrong thing.

Focus on performance that ‘has room for improvement’ or whatever muddying words the form might say, often engenders anxiety, even fear, for the recipient of such news, especially if salaries or promotions explicitly or implicitly depend on the Review.

And while it’s true that getting this feedback might induce short-term improvement, it’s unlikely to result in sustained motivation and commitment. The employee is more likely to be engaged in looking for a job elsewhere.

Our social brain is the driver

The research points to what is becoming more and more evident through Mobbs’ and other’s findings (and our own everyday lived experience) that the social environment is one of the most powerful contributors to how we perform.

I don’t mean how many morning teas we go to or drinks after work.

Rather if our workplace and the behaviours of others in it, appeals to the affiliation and feedback aspects of our social brain, we are more likely to try harder to consistently deliver up a good performance.

That’s because, for example as Mobbs says, when we:

* see those in our ‘in-group’ win
* help others and give advice
* work in a team
* hear people say nice things about us

the reward system in our brain is activated.

And we like to feel good, so we do more of whatever brings on that feeling.

Do you have leaders or troglodytes?

It is very easy to get seduced by the ‘system’ of Performance Management.

But like all change management strategies, if you want to bring about change, you need to focus on the benefit (the WIFM),the upsides for people to change their, often habitual, ways of doing things.

Our brains are hardwired to focus on things that scare us first – that’s The Almond Effect® in action – to make sure we take steps to survive.

But at work, life/death is not usually the issue – a positive environment and happiness is. Without them, employees and especially your best ones, simply go elsewhere for a job.

While many organisations are changing the structure and intent underpinning their performance management systems, you still need good leaders, not troglodytes like the TV Super, to implement them.

It’s a key leadership skill that is pivotal to motivating your people to perform to the best of their ability. And crucial to them being willing to change the way they do things.

So reflect for a moment: what does your performance management system emphasise and how well do your managers bring out the best in their teams?

And are you making sure that your organisation is utilizing the best means available to maximize the organisation’s results?