When I meet with managers who are looking to drive performance in their employees, there inevitably seems to come a point in their motivation techniques when the returns begin to diminish. It is true that when we employ what Daniel Goleman and Daniel Pink refer to as “pace-setting” techniques to certain divisions in business (sales, marketing, research), we are most likely going to see immediate short term gains. What we also know is that those gains, unless intrinsically motivated, won’t be sustainable over time.
(Daniel Pink wrote a book about this and gave some talks.)
While many managers might be willing to accept that intrinsic motivation is important, it doesn’t help them achieve the short term gains that they are looking for. “We need to move numbers, now” is the kind of sentiment in most businesses. The question is how much and when do you change tactics?
I was struck by this article in Popular Mechanics about tightening screws and bolts where the basic question is asked, “how tight is too tight?”
My favorite line from the article is “it depends.” Then it goes on to be incredibly specific and exact, using acronyms like TPFT (turns past finger tight) and other stuff that just makes me not want to read books on plumbing. While this article attempts to give a specific answer to the question, they all depend on you understanding the material with which you are dealing. Which brings me to empathy. (Again.)
Empathy allows us to better understand the people and the situation that we are trying to impact. Pay attention to when people who normally do a good job begin to make stupid errors. They are probably overwhelmed. What we know about brain research is that brains that are overwhelmed by stress are stupid.
While it is frustrating when people get stupid (assuming they aren’t already), chances are that it is a sign your screws are too tight.
Sometimes we are in crisis situations and we have to push people through them, which is understandable. We can’t take a break from the work in the middle of a storm and take all the workers out for ice cream.
(Even though ice cream is awesome!)
What we can do is let them know that we identify with them. Let them know that we understand how much pressure they are under and how sometimes that pressure can get to us. We can acknowledge the hard work that they are doing and that you are asking them to do more to get us through this storm. In short, we can make a meaningful connection.
Tell them what you admire in them and what you respect in them and why their job is important. Remind them of the bigger picture.
Shakespeare was pretty good at articulating this, especially in his history Henry V: (if you can deal with the commercial in the beginning.)
The point is to inspire, not punish. If you want people to work harder than they think they are capable of, you need to tell them a bigger story of themselves.
Do that, and put yourself in their shoes and you won’t have to worry about over-tightening the screws, ever.