Do You Want to Engage Employees?

June 27, 2012

I recently read about an experiment where researches ran a lottery with a slight twist. (Beyond Performance: How Great Organizations Build Ultimate Competitive Advantage by Colin Price and Scott Keller.) Half of the participants were assigned a randomly numbered lottery ticket. The other half were asked to choose their own number. Just before drawing the winning number, the researches offered to buy back all of the tickets.

The researchers expected that everyone would value the lottery tickets equally, since a lottery is a game of chance. In fact, those who choose their own number had a greater potential of duplicating someone else’s number, so in reality the value of those tickets should have been less.

Unexpected things occur when people are involved, and as frustrating as this always was to Mr. Spock, emotion can trump logic. In this case those individuals who wrote their own number consistently demanded at least five times more for their ticket.

What drove people to ask substantially more for tickets where they chose the number versus those who had a randomly-selected number?

Bridging the Innovation-to-Business Gap

June 20, 2012

Many companies these days articulate (in one way or another) the desire for more creativity and innovation from their employees. What they really want are growth and profits realized from seizing new opportunities that their competitors missed or mismanaged in some way. If you take a closer look the problem, the challenge typically isn’t a lack of ideas – dig deeply enough and you’ll find people with plenty of ideas – but there is a problem with taking these innovative ideas and building them into a viable, profitable business.

What you really need is to create the conditions that not only cultivates ideas, but harnesses the entrepreneurial spirit and applies it for the benefit of your organization. Instead of following the traditional entrepreneurial route of leaving a company to launch a new venture, companies need “inside entrepreneurs” who takes the initiative to undertake something new while continuing to work for their existing organization.

Companies need intrapreneurs. Elizabeth and Gifford Pinchot coined the term intrapreneur in 1978 in an article, Intra-Corporate Entreprenuership, and their observations and recommendations made in 1978 remain solid to this day.

A Manifesto That You Don’t Want to Live By…

June 13, 2012

It’s easy to make a management misstep. The wrong look on your face at a meeting or a failure to thank someone for their efforts (yes, they were doing their job, but people like to feel appreciated) and you’ve committed a foul.

People will forgive occasional missteps and chalk them up to your being preoccupied or overwhelmed by other pressing problems, as long as you don’t establish a pattern of behavior that marks you as less than appreciative and supportive of those you are managing. If that happens, you will in turn lose the support and appreciation of those you manage, and that can put you on a downward spiral that limits everyone from reaching their true potential.

Management by Fear Isn’t an Effective Lever

June 6, 2012

In a recent post, Is Fear a motivator? I pointed out that while fear is may be considered a convenient motivational lever by some managers, “management by fear” seriously constrains organizational performance because the negative feelings and stress associated with it can cause people to literally freeze up. It can also mask problems and issues that you need to be aware of.

Bob Sutton referenced a study in his book The No Asshole Rule that was conducted by Amy Edmondson which illustrates how this can happen. Edmondson wanted to study how leadership and co-worker relationships influenced drug-treatment errors in eight nursing units. She and the Harvard Medical School physicians funding her research were at first puzzled when questionnaires demonstrated that units with the best leadership and co-worker relationships reported the most errors. Ten times as many errors, in fact!