Train and Motivate for Meaningful Business Outcomes
A week ago, I had a conversation with one of our advisors about what it takes to build a company that achieves its planned objectives and key results quarter over quarter. As we were talking, we delineated between two types of companies:
- Companies with a culture of doing lots of rigor-less work (busy work — easy to do) that does not produce meaningful business results, and
- Companies with a culture of doing focused rigorous work (meaningful work — hard to do) that produces meaningful business results.
We came to the conclusion that while it’s not always black and white, history tells us that there is almost always a strong correlation between doing focused rigorous work that is hard to do and achieving meaningful business results. After marinating on this, I translated my thoughts on the subject into the below graph (Figure 1).
Speaking candidly, it is difficult for companies, Stuzo included, to have everyone execute in the upper right quadrant. Every once-in-awhile I walk out of the office feeling like our employees are not as focused as they should be on the tasks that will accelerate our business the most. However, is that their fault? Is it that people like taking the easy way out? Is it that people enjoy doing things that are not meaningful? Generally, my answer to each of the three aforementioned questions is no. So, why are not all organizations wildly successful? What does it take to have everyone do focused rigorous work that produces meaningful business results? These are the questions that I’ll attempt to answer in the remainder of this post.
Upon further thought, research, and an audit of past and current business experience, I believe it is achievable to have everyone in a company operate in the upper right hand quadrant of Figure 1 and this is the behavior of choice for most people, given optimal organizational conditions.
So, what are the requirements for the right conditions? Let’s start by looking at the human experience through the lens of psychologist, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s famous investigations of “optimal experience.” Csikszentmihalyi’s theory of flow suggests that in order for flow to occur, a task should have a clear goal and a quick, unambiguous feedback mechanism. Moreover, Csikszentmihaly found that optimal experience, or as he calls it “flow”, happens at the intersection where above average challenge and above average skills meet. With that, optimal experience and performance is a function of the relationship between challenge and skills. Said another way, optimal experience and performance happens when a person has challenging work along with all of the required skills to perform said work. This is where performance is optimal and the work experience is most genuinely satisfying. Figure 2 below, is a graphical depiction of Csikszentmihaly’s flow theory.
Conversely, suboptimal experience and performance happens when challenge exceeds ability or when ability exceeds challenge. The below adaptation from Csikszentmihaly’s work depicts the relationship and outcomes between challenge and skill.
Knowing that optimal experience and performance occur when both challenge and skill are high gives us the beginning of a path for everyone in an organization to operate in the upper right hand quadrant of Figure 1 and Figure 3.
This path is paved by exceptional management. In High Output Management, the late Andy Grove, former CEO of Intel and silicon valley legend writes: “When a person is not doing his job, there can only be two reasons for it. The person either can’t do it or won’t do it; he is either not capable or not motivated.” As such, a manager’s core job is to motivate and train. There is nothing other than motivation and training that will improve the output of an employee.
Bringing Everything Together
If you buy into everything said so far, then optimal experience and performance is a function of the relationship between challenge and skills, which is a function of the relationship between motivation and training, leading to empowered employees that drive rigor and meaningful business impact. Said another way, for a company to create a culture where everyone does focused rigorous work (meaningful work — hard to do) that produces meaningful business results, said company needs to:
- Hire people that align with the values and culture of the company,
- Put them in roles that align with their personalities and abilities,
- Continually ensure that the level of their ability and challenges align, and
- Optimize output by making training and motivation a management habit.
Organizations that execute exceptionally against the above mentioned points will almost always outperform their competitive set. Figure 4, below brings everything into one view.
While we are not perfect and can improve as a company, I am thankful that we have the management discipline required to continually work on empowering our team to do the focused rigorous work that they innately want to do to produce meaningful business results.
Over the coming months, I will endeavor to share more of the challenges and learnings on our path of accelerating business through digital product innovation.
- Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1975). Beyond boredom and anxiety. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
- Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1988). The flow experience and its significance for human psychology. In M. Csikszentmihalyi & I. Csikszentmihalyi (Eds.), Optimal experience: Psychological studies of flow in consciousness (pp. 15–35). Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.
This article originally appeared on Stuzo Insights.