There was an excellent nugget of management advice in Bob Sutton’s Stanford Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders podcast, What Great Leaders Do. Dr. Sutton, Professor of Management Science and Engineering in the Stanford Engineering School, referenced work by Rob Cross, from the University of Virginia. Apparently, the findings were derrived from a network analysis study done for a large management consulting firm. (If you want to listen to the section, it starts around 43:25 in the podcast.)
In this study, Cross included a question in the study that had interesting results:
After you talk with your boss, do you have more or less energy?
When analyzing the results from the study and subsequent studies using the same question, they found a strong correlation between whether the employee was promoted, management’s performance evaluation of the employee (whether the employee was promoted/fired) and whether the manager is surrounded with a network of energized innovators.
Therefore, Dr. Sutton suggests that the most salient question for managers to ask themselves is:
How do people feel after they interact with you?
I think this is a great way of boiling down what can be difficult to evaluate for yourself (how am I doing as a manger) into something straightforward to focus on. In your interactions with your employees, energize them. Empower them.
I think we all know from personal experience how difficult it is when you have a manager that drains your energy. Where interacting with them sucks your enthusiasm for the job away. It’s not a good experience for either party.
Make sure you’re energizing & empowering your employees each and every time you interact with them.
If you work with people, at some point you’re going to need to motivate them to do something you want. We’re not talking anything malicious, just getting stuff done. For most things, that’s always been the carrot and stick approach – if you do what I ask well, I’ll give you a carrot. If not, I’ll whack you with my stick. In essence – if you reward something, you’ll get more of what you want. If you punish something, you’ll get less.
And the bigger the carrot and stick, clearly, it would seem to make sense that the better the motivation derived from them. Because this system is ingrained in us, we see this everywhere.
To escape the status quo, everyone who works with or manages individuals should watch the below video, capturing the highlights of Dan Pink’s book Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us. (Not only is it extremely interesting, it’s also a really great lesson in using whiteboards to make engaging videos ) Pink also gave a TED talk last summer.
Hopefully, you took a moment to watch it. For those of you that are reading on, here’s a quick summary:
When tasks call for cognitive skill over mechanical skill, larger rewards result in poorer performance. Pay people enough to take money off the table. And, emphasize the three key factors that lead to better performance and personal satisfaction:
1) Autonomy – self-directed 2) Mastery – getting better at their craft 3) Purpose – making a contribution
I found the video extremely interesting. While the carrot and stick approach is so intuitive to us, when you really stop to think about the tasks that we’re motivated to work on, Pink’s points hit home.
When you’re toiling away, in the bowels of some huge project, working on some small part that isn’t going to significantly make or break the big picture, are you really driven to do your best work? Compared with, if you are the “CEO of your job”, making a clear contribution.
This is one key reason why most corporations are at such a huge disadvantage to most startups when it comes to innovation. Having huge amounts of money and resources are fantastic, until you’re trying to get top talent to apply it to new problems. The main corporate driver is to maximize profit, and you work on small chunks of something larger that the end customer really doesn’t care about. Startups facilitate their people in maximizing purpose, making contributions. And if they don’t, they should be – startups aren’t just vehicles to accomplish the founders’ purpose. Startups are an opportunity for everyone on the team to work towards achieving something, a collective victory.
Also, since startups are one of the few places that have the capability to go against the status quo, to implement processes that would make corporate managers shiver in their cubicles, they’re also well setup to allow individuals the other two key factors – autonomy, to decide how best to achieve the task at hand, and mastery, to provide an opportunity to get better at their craft.
The Mark Pincus “Be the CEO of your job” example is a good illustration of this. So is the example that Pink uses in the video about Atlassian and their “FedEx Days”. Who knew how productive one day could be if you just gave your employees free reign to decide how best to make a contribution?
Jeff Atwood has a great post on how he’s applying these principles at Stack Overflow. Are you maximizing purpose and leaving your carrots and sticks outside? Or is your motivation based purely on dollars and thus is an ineffective sham? What’s working for you?
After the Super Bowl, CBS aired the premier of its new reality show, Undercover Boss. While I’m not usually a fan of most reality TV, I actually found the show to be interesting and worth a watch. While its merits as good reality TV may be debated, the show’s concept is one that all managers should stop and pay attention to.
I think it’s fairly common for those being managed to think that their corporate overlords don’t understand what they do, how hard they work, and in general, feel under-appreciated. It certainly doesn’t necessitate that a company have 45,000 employees (as Waste Management does, the company in the first episode) to find a couple of steps in a chain between policies being set at a company-level and workers implementing those policies. And the more steps you have, the more of a disconnect you get. Just ask any elementary school kid playing whisper down the lane.
Why don’t more corporate executives and managers try to step into their employees shoes every so often, to see how their policies are actually being implemented? Why is this a novelty fit for reality TV? Shouldn’t this be good management practice, that we see all the time from executives? Especially in a world where executives are trying to determine which jobs aren’t important any longer and should be on the chopping block?
In the corporate world, the practice seems to be for policies to be set, then communicated down the series of managers and their underlings via all-hands blast emails and quarterly conference calls. Sure, your direct manager might have a decent understanding of how hard you’re working and what resources are needed to increase performance. But, the farther up the chain you go, the more quickly individuals just get rolled up as metrics in a spreadsheet. Looking at a spreadsheet with your employees as numbers quickly makes you lose perspective on what those numbers actually mean in human-terms.
If more executives took some time to come out of the corner office and actually work with their employees in their jobs, they’d learn a lot more about how to set effective policies. It wouldn’t even have to be undercover management style – just watch the show to see what an impact it makes for your employees seeing that an executive cares enough to come out and see what they’re doing and how hard they’re working to contribute to the company’s success.
Startups don’t have to worry about this (as much) at the beginning. Everyone is usually in the same room. There’s only one level separating the executives from the worker-bees (not that anyone uses those terms). It’s very easy to see when a policy doesn’t work out, and everyone usually shares roles.
But startups (hopefully) grow, and grow quickly! This has the “executives” learning on the job how to manage people in the larger company. And then you need to start worrying about how to retain folks, that your company is a company people want to work at, and make sure that everyone shares the vision. How do you do that? We haven’t gotten there, yet, but I suspect that making sure you understand what your employees are doing (again, not necessarily “undercover management” style) will be a good start and an important way to make sure that you’re not setting policies that have employees thinking “that guy in the corner office has no idea what I do all day…”
Hm. Maybe there is something we can learn from reality TV after all?
Hi! I'm Rob, a technology entrepreneur living in Dublin, Ireland, originally from Philadelphia. I co-founded BetDash.com which was acquired by Paddy Power.
I lead an awesome internal startup engineering team at Paddy Power, where we're continuing to build cool stuff for our extremely enthusiastic customers! We're using Ruby on Rails, Backbone.js, Sencha Touch, Redis, Resque, MySQL, and git. Previously, I worked with data warehouses and business intelligence at IBM Global Business Services. More here.