Don’t Eat Dessert First

July 19, 2014

Cheesecake with fresh strawberries on white plate closeupAs a leader, how many times a week do you say, “We’ve got to motivate our people?” When you do, you make a mistake that often leads to lower rather than higher motivation.

Seeking to motivate employees is the most common thought pattern leaders use every day, so what’s wrong with it?

Trying to motivate workers shows a lack of understanding about what motivation is and how it is achieved.

Leaders who think this way want to eat the dessert before the entrée. While the temptation for the tasty stuff may seem irresistible, it is not a wise strategy because after dessert, the main course is less appealing.

Leaders do not make the necessary mind shift to do the things that actually do improve motivation. So, what is the dessert and what is the entrée?

The entrée is the culture of the organization that either enables or extinguishes motivation. The dessert is how satisfied people feel at any particular moment.

Why do many leaders try to reverse the conventional order; try to motivate people by making them feel good?

1. Poor understanding of motivation

The notion that by adding perks to the workplace we somehow make people more motivated is flawed. Over 50 years ago, Frederick Herzberg taught us that increasing the so-called “hygiene factors” is a good way to sweeten things (reduce dissatisfaction in the workplace), but a poor way to increase motivation.

Why? – because goodies like picnics, pizza parties, hat days, bonuses, new furniture, etc. often help people become happier at work, but they do little to impact the reasons they are motivated to do their best work.

2. Taking the easy way out –

Many leaders believe that by heaping nice things on top of people it will feel like a better culture.

The only way to improve the culture is to build trust.

By focusing on a better environment, managers enable people to motivate themselves.

3. Using the wrong approach –

It is difficult to motivate another person. You can scare a person into compliance, but that’s not motivation, it is fear.

You can bribe a person into feeling happy, but that’s not motivation it is temporary euphoria that is quickly replaced by a “what have you done for me lately” mentality.

4. Focusing on perks –

Individuals will gladly accept any kind of tasty dessert the boss is willing to dish up, but the reason they go the extra mile is a personal choice based on the level of motivational factors, not the size of the cheese cake.

Putting the entrée before the dessert means working on the culture to build trust first.

Improving the motivating factors, such as authority, reinforcement, growth, and responsibility creates the right environment. Motivation within people will happen. Then, when dessert is added, it is much sweeter.

Why do I make this distinction? I believe motivation comes from within each of us.

As a manager or leader, I do not believe you or anyone else can motivate other people. What you can do is create a process or culture whereby employees will decide to become motivated to perform at peak levels.

An example is when you set a vision and goals then allow people to use their initiative to get the job done as they see fit.

How can we tell when a leader has the wrong understanding about motivation? A clear signal is when the word “motivate” is used as a verb – for example, “Let’s see if we can motivate the team by offering a bonus.”

If we seek to change other people’s attitude about work with perks, we are going to be disappointed frequently.

Using the word “motivation” as a noun usually shows a better understanding – “Let’s increase the motivation in our workforce by giving the team the ability to choose their own methods to achieve goals.”

An organization where all people are pursuing a common vision in a healthy environment has a sustainable competitive advantage due to high employee motivation.

The way to create this is to build a culture of TRUST and affection within the organization.

You accomplish this through consistency and by letting people know it is safe to voice their opinion without fear of reprisal.

You work to inspire people with a vision of a better existence for them and by really hearing their input. Doing this helps employees become motivated because:

• They feel a part of a winning team and do not want to let the team down. Being a winner is fun.
• They feel both intrinsic and extrinsic rewards when they are doing their best work and that is what drives their behaviors.
• They appreciate their co-workers and seek ways to help them physically and emotionally.
• They understand the goals of the organization and are personally committed to help as much as they can in the pursuit of the goals.
• They truly enjoy the social interactions with peers. They feel that going to work is a little like going bowling, except they are distributing computers instead of rolling a ball at wooden pins.
• They deeply respect their leaders and want them to be successful.
• They feel like they are part owners of the company and want it to succeed. By doing so, they bring success to themselves and their friends at work.
• They feel recognized for their many contributions and feel wonderful about that. If there is a picnic or a cash bonus, that is just the icing on the cake: not the full meal.

For an organization, “culture” means how people interact, what they believe, and how they create.

If you could peel off the roof of an organization, you would see the manifestations of the culture in the physical world. The actual culture is more esoteric because it resides in the hearts and minds of the society. It is the impetus for observable behaviors.

Achieving a state where all people are fully engaged is a large undertaking. It requires tremendous focus and leadership to achieve.

It cannot be something you do on Tuesday afternoons or when you have special meetings. Describe it as a new way of life rather than a program. You should see evidence of this in every nook and cranny of the organization.

Do not skip directly to dessert by attempting to motivate people with special events or gifts.

Instead, dine with your people on motivating factors and build the meal around a culture of trust.

The end result is that many people will choose to be highly motivated, and the organization will prosper. Then, if you give some tangible perks for reinforcements, they will be like a wonderful dessert that is more meaningful and longer lasting.


When Lean Thinking Fails

July 10, 2011

For the past 20 years, I have been a big proponent of Lean Thinking. I believe when the principles are properly understood and applied, the upside for productivity improvements is nearly infinite. When you think of the various types of waste in most processes today and the possibility of cutting them in half, then half again, and half a third time, it is easy to get excited.

I have personally witnessed numerous lean thinking initiatives that have improved productivity by large amounts (like 40-60%) in short periods of time with minimal capital expenditures. The track record is well documented by numerous authors. What we hear about less often are the failed attempts and the damage that can result when the tools are misapplied or poorly used.

If you try to drive a wood screw using a hammer, the result is going to be disappointing. If you try to use a trenching machine without proper training and safety equipment, you are likely to cut off your foot. So it is with the Lean tools; one needs to have the right tool for each application and be adept at using the tool properly to enjoy the benefits. Let us explore some reasons why Lean Tools sometimes backfire and cause damage rather than providing the service they are capable of producing.

First, I will list just a few of the most popular tools and their use as a way of grounding this discussion:

Kaizen – This is a structured event (normally one week in duration) where the old process is disassembled and put back together in a new and more efficient configuration.

Process Flow Maps – These are flow charts using precise rules that allow designers to actually see what is happening with new eyes. Often, what is really happening in a process is not clear to the uneducated eye.

Kan Ban – This is a technique to reduce inventory by postponing the ordering of new parts until the last minute before it is necessary. You probably have a jar of peanut butter in your refrigerator and a spare one on the shelf. You do not need a case of 24 jars because as soon as you open the one on the shelf, you can get a replacement. Kan Ban allows this same philosophy in more complex operations.

Pull Orders – The idea here is to produce product only when there is a customer who is waiting to receive it. It is the opposite of “push” production where items are made to stock and put in inventory.

Spaghetti Diagrams – These scribble diagrams allow designers to see the walking patterns of individuals throughout a shift. By studying the patterns, it is usually possible to significantly reduce the mileage covered by an individual working the process.

The Visual Workplace – this is the concept of a place for everything and everything in its place. It also serves to de-clutter any work area.

When properly applied under the guidance of a master in Lean Principles, any team can dramatically improve productivity and quality without jeopardizing customer service. This also serves to reduce inventory and storage costs. Unfortunately, when not properly managed, these same techniques can make matters worse and cause headaches. Let’s examine why this can be the case.

Lack of real management commitment

Quite often management sees the carrot dangling in front of them to reduce costs and says “go ahead and have a Kaizen.” The team is not properly configured or given the time and resources to do the job right. There is no lean expert overlooking the process. The team starts out with good intentions, but eventually totally mucks up the entire process. It can be very expensive to bring the process back to where it was. In the meantime, customers may have totally run out of product.

Thinking of Lean as an activity rather than a way of life

Lean principles will apply all of the time, and continuous improvement is part of the process. If management views a lean activity as a “one off” event, the results will be suboptimal at best and disastrous at worst. A good lean application is more like learning a new religion for life and not a band aid to put on a broken process until things heal.

Trying to do too much too fast

Although most lean work involves revolutionary improvements, the application is more evolutionary. It takes an even application to keep the momentum going forward. It often means educating teams of people, which can appear to be rather expensive. When managers get greedy and try to swing for the fences each time at bat, there are going to be some strikeouts.

Failing to reinforce the culture

A good lean application means a different culture that is self sustaining. If leadership does not foster or nurture the methods by giving proper air time and reinforcement, then people will recognize this was just another flavor of the month and become sour on the ideas.

Cashing benefits by chopping off heads

Working on lean programs results in productivity gains. If these improvements do not foster growth of more sales, there are fewer people needed in the organization. If management is not careful with how the benefits of productivity are turned into cash, then the people making those improvements will sabotage the effort. I have seen several applications where a Kaizen lead to a reduced need for workers. You can imagine the chilly reception workers will give the next time a Kaizen is suggested.

These were just five of the ways Lean Thinking can backfire and not produce the sustained benefits imagined. Leaders need to apply the techniques carefully and with real commitment to enjoy the long term improvements.