For thousands of years, we have communicated with each other through stories. We’ve told stories about our history, our successes and our failures.
Leaders need to take on the role of storyteller. I think they should become the Chief Storytelling Officer.
As the Chief Storytelling Officer, the leader looks for real and valid stories connecting the work their people do with the higher purpose of the organisation. Why does this matter? Because one of the basic psychological needs that motivate humans to do great work is a sense of purpose. A feeling that what they are doing matters.
Adam Grant, the author of Give and Take and creator of the WorkLife podcast, describes a call centre in the United States. The call centre operators had the thankless task of making cold calls to seek donations to support disadvantaged students. Performance in the call centre was flat, and morale was low. As you can imagine, making multiple calls every day asking for money can be a difficult job psychologically, especially when the rejection rate is high.
Then the manager of the call centre had an idea. He found two of the disadvantaged students who had benefited from the fund and asked them to come into the call centre and meet with the phone operators. They revealed how they had received a good education and achieve success, all because of the money the operators had elicited from donors.
Performance and morale in the call centre improved when the operators could see what they were doing was making a difference.
Closer to home, I recently worked with a leader looking to motivate his team of data analysts. He embraced the role of Chief Storytelling Officer. He showed the team how the numbers they crunched formed the basis of a report that positively changed the way the company interacted with its customers. Showing those data analysts the results energised them for the next task.
Many people work for us, with us or around us that may not be able to make the connections between what they do and a more significant positive outcome. Often, this is because they are too close to their work and are unable to see the longer-term effects.
As leaders, we can provide people meaning to the work they do through real and valid stories and motivate them to perform at their best.
A myth I often dispel with clients is that we have control over people. We don’t. The only person we have limited control over is ourselves. We can control what we say and what we do. To a limited extent, we can control how we think.
We cannot, however, control others.
“But, I can control what my people do at work”, I hear you say.
No. That’s influence.
We can influence through punishment and reward. However, in his book Drive, Dan Pink discusses how the carrot and stick as a method of motivation is no longer viable. It works ok when people are doing routine, mundane and repetitive tasks, however, as soon as the job requires any type of cognitive effort, it becomes less effective.
People are capable of assessing whether they are motivated by the promise of reward or the fear of sanction. They then choose if they work or not. If the reward means nothing to them, or they don’t mind the consequences, they may decide not to complete the assigned work.
It’s their choice.
We can also influence through referent power the power that people believe we have through the position of our authority or the respect they have for us. Or, we can influence through our relationships. People will do things because they know us because we have built a relationship with them.
Again, it’s their choice.
If we want to get the most from people, we need to understand what motivates them. We all want to be treated like human beings so, spending some time understanding our people’s human motivations can help you build that relationship with them, and thus, your influence.
At the time of publishing this it is the last day of 2017 and tomorrow will be the first day of 2018*. It’s about to be the start of a whole ‘nother year. And that means New Year Resolutions …. Right?
Well, it can if you want it to.
If New Year’s resolutions are your thing then, please go right ahead. If, however, you’re a little like me and most of the rest of us out there and resolutions don’t or haven’t worked then perhaps you’ve been looking for a different way of approaching your reflections on what you want to achieve this year … I mean next year …. I mean over the next 365 days or so … I mean in the future … You get what I mean.
I’ve been conducting my own reflections of 2017 and what I want to achieve in 2018 so it was no surprise to see a few things pop up in my email inbox and my Facebook news feed suggesting how I could do it better. Is that confirmation bias, magic or Big Brother watching over me? I’ll leave you to decide.
So, if you would like a different way to approach goal setting in the New Year then here are three methods that have resonated for me.
Reflecting the Bullet Journal Way
In 2017 I started using The Bullet Journal method for planning, daily goal setting and recording important information. It’s a simple and effective process that you can use with any blank journal and it can even be adapted for use on line. I was using Notes Plus but there are plenty of other options out there. Please feel free to share what you have used in the comments section below.
Ryder Carroll, founder of Bullet Journal describes his method for migrating from your completed journal to a new journal. Of course, the New Year is a great time to do this. In the first part of this particular blog he describes the reflection process that he uses before migration. It involves going through your old journal from the previous year (or this year if you are doing it before the end of this year … let’s not go down that path again) and reflecting on all your entries. If you’ve been disciplined in your journaling you should have a good history and narrative for the year. Then in four sections of a blank page capture the following:
- What worked for you.
- What didn’t work.
- What you want to do more of.
- What you want to be doing less of.
Ryder makes the point that it is just as important to reflect on what you didn’t achieve as what you did. We will learn just as much from our failures (possibly more, I would say) as we do from our successes.
Going through this process helps you prioritise what is important for you going forward in the new year and to set some priorities.
Tim Ferriss’ Past Year Review (PYR)
For those of you who have been following me for a while you will know that I subscribe to Tim’s blog/podcast The Four Hour Work Week. In his interviews Tim ask questions of people successful in their field about the tactical level tips and techniques that helped them achieve success. It is very rare that I go through an entire podcast and I don’t hear something that I feel could be useful for either myself or one of my clients. The podcast is one I recommend on my own website.
Tim also sends out a short email every week called Five Bullet Friday in which he shares the latest things or thoughts that interest him and he feels might be of interest to his followers. In his email of 30 Dec 17 he reveals his system for past year review. For accuracy, I have copied directly from Tim’s email below:
- Grab a notepad and create two columns: POSITIVE and NEGATIVE.
- Go through your calendar from the last year, looking at every week.
- For each week, jot down on the pad any people and activities that triggered peak positive or negative emotions for that month.
- Once you’ve gone through the past year, look at your notepad list and ask “What 20% of each column produced the most reliable or powerful peaks?”
- Based on the answers, take your “positive” leaders and schedule more of them in 2018. Get them on the calendar now! Book things with friends and prepay for shit now! That’s step one. Step two is to take your “negative” leaders, put “NOT-TO-DO LIST” at the top, and put them somewhere you can see them each morning for the first few weeks of 2018. These are the people and things you *know* make you miserable, so don’t put them on your calendar out of obligation, guilt, FOMO, or other nonsense.
There will be those of you reading this who will be saying “Well, that’s great if you work for yourself or are an entrepreneur. I don’t have control of my diary or who I work with. I have no choice.” I offer a few of points on this.
Firstly, you always have a choice. You don’t have to go to that meeting and you don’t have to work in that job. You do have to live with the consequences of your choice, however, and should make your choices being aware of those consequences.
Secondly, if you make the decision to attend these meetings and work with these people, what can you do to either make the experience more enjoyable or learn something from it? I’d suggest adopting a curious attitude rather than a ‘woe is me’ one. There is always something you can learn from any experience, positive or negative.
Finally, there will always be elements of your diary that you can control; social engagements, family outings, gym sessions, what you do when you get home at night. Which of those did you enjoy and which would you like less of? Take control of the elements of your life within your power.
Mark Manson’s Five Rules for Giving Less F**ks in the New Year.
Mark Manson has a different approach, although there are some similarities. He talks about focusing on the outcome you want rather than the activity you are engaged in. Here is a summary of Mark’s rules:
- Find something important to care about. Mark asks us to consider what are the goals or issues that we are prepared to endure pain or discomfort to achieve or resolve.
- Solve problems. Happiness comes when we solve problems. It’s something we have to work for and not something we are magically given. This is why people who have money aren’t necessarily happy.
- Prioritise what you care about. Stop caring about the trivial, like the guy who parks to close to you or the dog that craps on your lawn. We have limited energy. Choose where you want to spend it.
- Align your efforts with your values. Be comfortable with the choices you make and stop trying to live by other people’s values.
- Understand you have limited time. We have a limited amount of time on the planet. Think about what you want to be remembered for when you’re gone. Align your actions with that vision.
Mark, in his style, tells the story in a much more colourful way. If you would like to read his version you can here.
Common themes and Next Steps.
There is a common theme in all three of these approaches. Analyse where you spend your time and do more of what you want and less of what you don’t want. There is no surprise this theme resonates for me as it is something I talk about with my clients all the time; focus on what you want. All it takes now:
- Make some time to sit down with your diary, journal, or to reflect on what’s important, what do you want, and what do you want to do less of.
- Commit those thoughts to paper and share with a friend. You are more likely to follow through if you do.
- Monitor your progress and repeat at routine intervals (it doesn’t need to be yearly).
Of course, this is just three of many methods you can use to set goals and achieve in the New Year. Any basic Google search will present you with a range of options. I’m more interested in what has worked for you. Please share with the Campbell Leadership Clan in the comments below.
If you’d like any help setting goals or working on your professional or personal development goals, please feel free to contact me at Campbell Leadership Solutions.
Until then, thank you for reading and leading.
Happy New Year.
* Applicable anytime. 😉
I would like you to think back to a time where you felt you were in the best job in the world. One where you felt motivated to come to work every day. If you’re lucky enough, you may even be in that job right now.
What was it that made it the best job in the world?
Was it the pay?
Was it the location?
Was it the hours that you worked?
The odds are that it was not any of these things but a combination of three distinct features of your job or work environment that contributed to that feeling of satisfaction.
Understanding what these factors are, as an employee might help you to identify what it is about your current role that you are enjoying or missing. As a leader, it might help you to create the environment for your employees to achieve job satisfaction.
Want to know what they are? Read on.
This is the first blog since March this year (2017 if you’re reading this in a few years time). During this period I have been completing my Master’s Degree in Coaching Psychology at the University of Sydney. I made a conscious decision during this time to hold back on my writing and focus on my studies, not for better marks – although that’s always nice – but because everything I learned had a practical application for coaching my clients.
My aim over the coming weeks is to recommence my writing and impart some of the knowledge I have gained over the preceding months.
Self Determination Theory
I want to start, in this article, with a small element that was common to both the subjects completed this semester (Positive Psychology and The Psychology of Peak Performance) called Self-Determination Theory (SDT). SDT discusses human motivation and, among other things, suggests that people will feel more motivated towards their endeavours if they can meet three basic psychological needs.
Those three needs are Autonomy, Competence and Relatedness.
Let’s look at each of these in detail.
Autonomy is the degree to which people have agency or choice in what they do. They feel empowered to make decisions, and they act in accordance with their values and self-image.
Competence is the ability to use strengths to produce valued outcomes. People who feel competent believe what they are doing is making a difference. They can see how they are growing and developing from their experiences.
Relatedness relates to how much people believe they are part of something bigger than themselves. They feel connected to others in their social groups.
In the words of some respected researchers on the subject (see further reading below):
“People are expected to do well and feel their best when the socio-cultural conditions of their lives (i.e. family relationships, friendships, workplace culture, political systems, cultural norms) support the inherent needs for freely engaging in interesting activities (i.e. autonomy), producing valued outcomes through the use of their strengths and abilities (i.e. competence), and feeling closely and securely connected to significant others (i.e. relatedness).”
What does it all mean?
People may start off doing what they are told because they have been told to do it. They expect either a reward for doing it or a punishment if they don’t (extrinsic motivation). As they are empowered to make choices about how they achieve the task (autonomy) and see they can do it, and what they are doing is making a difference (competence), and work alongside people they value and form connections with (relatedness), they will start to internalise the value of what they are doing and become more motivated (intrinsic motivation).
It may be useful at this point to discuss the importance of these basic needs by examining what happens when we don’t have them. Think about when you have been micro-managed at work, have felt that you were unable to achieve your goals or that you couldn’t find anyone with whom you connected. If you were in this environment you wouldn’t feel very motivated to come to work, would you? Workplaces like this experience high absenteeism and presenteeism, high separation rates, low productivity and low discretionary effort, and high complaint rates against other members of staff. At best in these environments, you will have team members who display no innovation or initiative. At worst you may have a workforce that experiences psychological distress and mental health issues.
As leaders, we need to take a critical look at our workplaces and our cultures and understand if they are supportive of our teams meeting their basic psychological needs or if they are disruptive of them.
Facilitating the basic needs
The following is not meant to be an exhaustive list of how to increase employees’ perceptions of autonomy, competence and relatedness. It does, however, provide a starting point and if you are interested in learning more, then there are some resources at the bottom of the page you can call on.
Autonomy is not about doing what ever you want. That would be anarchy. Autonomy is about providing choice and respecting the choices that people make. It is about allowing people to feel in control. This can be accomplished through agreeing on goals and then allowing individuals and teams to make decisions about how they achieve those goals within agreed constraints. Use of coaching or coach style questioning to help individuals and teams to make decisions about what they are going to do conveys task ownership.
As stated earlier, people will feel competent when they feel they are making a difference, are using their strengths, and can see how they are growing and developing from the experience. Leaders can facilitate competence by ensuring that their teams have the right training and that they get to use that training to achieve the goals that they have set for themselves. Additionally, as leaders, we should help our people set goals that stretch, but not break, them. As they achieve those stretch targets, our team members will come to realise they have skills they didn’t know they had and, in turn, want to apply those skills.
Fostering teamwork, breaking down silos and promoting collaboration will all contribute to being part of something bigger than the individual effort. Leaders, also, however, have a role in understanding what individuals within their teams value at a personal level. While organisations have espoused values, these are not what gets their employees out of bed in the morning to come to work. As a leader, you can help your team members feel a part of something bigger than themselves. Get to know them, understand what is important to them and assist them to link their values to the organisational outcomes.
So, now what?
Take some time to reflect. If you are a leader in your organisation, do you feel like you experience autonomy, competence and relatedness? If you do, great. Does your team? If not, then, as a leader, you have a role to play in creating an environment where they can. The research suggests that both the organisation and its people will both benefit.
If you don’t think you’re experiencing these basic psychological needs, then there is a chance your team isn’t as well. Ask yourself, what’s within your control to facilitate those needs within your team. Perhaps, you could set yourself a stretch target of having a constructive conversation with your boss about this concept. There is some further reading below if you want to learn more.
What tips do you have for fostering a motivation rich environment in the workplace? What have you seen that works? Please, share your ideas with us so that all of us in the Campbell Leadership Clan can learn from your experiences.
Is there someone who you feel could benefit from the information contained in this blog? If so, please feel free to share it with them and, even better, sit down and discuss with them the way they could help facilitate autonomy, competence and relatedness with their teams.
If you would like more information or would like to discuss any of the concepts mentioned above, please feel free to contact Anthony at Campbell Leadership Solutions so that we can see how we might be able to help you.
And, as always, thank you for reading and leading.
Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2000). Self-Determination Theory and the Facilitation of Intrinsic Motivation, Social Development, and Well-Being. American Psychologist, 55(1), 68-78.
Spence, G. B., & Deci, E. L. (2013). Self Determination Theory Within Coaching Contexts: Supporting Motives and Goals that Promote Optimal Functioning and Well-being. In S. David, D. Clutterbuck, & D. Megginson (Eds.), Beyond Goals: Effective Strategies for Coaching and Mentoring (pp. 85-108). London: Gower Publishing.