Hidden treasures of radical improvement – Intrinsic Motivation

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In Douglas Adams’ brilliantly funny novel, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, the computer “Deep Thought” was asked about the meaning of life. It considered the question for 7.5 million years before declaring the answer to be “42”; hilarious if rather unhelpful. While that question is perhaps unanswerable, it raises simpler questions about why we work and what we hope to achieve by it, in other words what are our intrinsic motivations? 

Live to work, or work to live?

Beyond the basics of earning enough to support ourselves and our families, what other expectations do people have of their jobs? There is no single answer; some pursue money for its own sake, while others have vocations where the work is a greater reward than money. But one thing is certain, when people are engaged at work they are more productive, get along better with co-workers and do a better job for their employer. The reason most people do not engage at work is the subject of another discussion, but the benefits of engagement for both employee and employer are discussed in a December,  2017 Gallup Report entitled: “How to Create a Culture of Psychological Safety.”

Sources of Intrinsic Motivation

As anyone with children knows, kids seem to be better at the things they like, than those they don’t. We get more complex as we mature and reality sets in, but intrinsically, when we get something tangible from our work, we enjoy it more and do it better. Michelangelo didn’t lay on his back for four years painting the Sistine Chapel ceiling just for the money, he did it because he was creating a masterpiece that confirmed his status as an artist and gave joy to countless people. 

While we can’t all be famous artists or Mother Theresas there are ways to approach work that makes it less mundane for the worker and more productive for the organization. But first let’s look at the broad sources of motivation. 

  • Financial security 
  • Perceived success
  • Job satisfaction
  • The Challenge
  • Responsibility
  • Autonomy
  • Personal growth, mastery
  • Team membership, belonging 

It is arguable that only financial security is a need based motivation, but there are unquestionably alpha type personalities that put “winning” and “ego-fueling” in a category a notch above the ordinary intrinsic motivator, but for all of us the desire to be successful and to get credit for a contribution is natural and part of being human. 

So putting money aside, let’s consider the previous paragraph and try to rationalize it. At the risk of making a sweeping generalization, the situation in many organizations is that the leaders are the alpha types and by virtue of the way traditional organizations are run, their drives and motivations are the difference between success and failure for the entire organization; inevitably pursuing those drives, suppresses those below them in the hierarchy. In the labor-intensive, early days of industrialization, this may have been a practical solution, but in today’s knowledge-based, complex, high tech world, a huge amount of experience and skill is simply wasted because it never comes to the surface or is never taken into consideration. 

It is often said disparagingly that the millennial generation is spoilt and uncommitted, but not only are they our future, they are also the most educated generation we have ever had, so is it surprising that they want more from life than just a paycheck? 

So without diminishing the importance of inspirational leaders, how can we create organizations that work for all their stakeholders? Instead of wasting or ignoring the skills and experience of all employees how can their intrinsic motivations be used to create value for everyone?

At Agile Lean House, we believe that Agile Lean Leadership (ALL)  and its concept of Circle or Team based work is part of the answer. Other parts are the clear purpose, structure, roles and agreements that ALL also promotes and guides towards. 

What is Agile Lean Leadership?

Agile Lean Leadership or ALL starts with the customer and is a framework for managing organizations by replacing the traditional top-down hierarchy with an interconnected network of cross-functional Circles or Teams which are designed to understand and meet customer needs, whether that is an internal or external customer. 

Each Circle, typically of up to ten members, has dual leadership and is largely self-organizing. Key to success is the need for engaged and motivated members, who operate on a radically transparent basis with well defined goals and accountability. 

“ALL” traces its roots to the concepts of LEAN, Agile and Scrum, but it goes well beyond those boundaries to create a highly scalable approach that delivers radical improvement through transparency and collaboration. 

How do Circle/Teams feed Intrinsic Motivations?

A small organization may have one or two circles, but a large one may have many, all fitting into the big picture and all with clearly defined roles and deliverables. 

Once the purpose or mission of a circle has been defined, its members are carefully selected – typically by invitation – based on their skill sets, which in combination are able to complete the circle’s mission with minimal, or ideally no outside help. Circles are cross-functional by design to provide multiple perspectives on each decision and are self managing to expedite progress.    

It is critically important that members should not be coerced into a circle, but should be “volunteers” in the sense that they want to make a contribution, are enthusiastic about helping to achieve collective goals and have the opportunity to develop their skills. Quite often circle members will have secondary skills that can be used in support of their colleagues. 

In this setting, all circle members are intrinsically motivated because they have a valuable role to play and their skills and opinions are integral to their group’s success. Each member has effectively volunteered to take responsibility and derives satisfaction from seeing the impact of their contribution. They are encouraged to use and develop all their skills, not just those for which they are primarily known.

What’s in our toolkit? 

Adopting Agile Lean Leadership is a transformative process, often requiring cultural and attitudinal change, which is not always easy, even when the benefits are plainly evident. To smooth the path, Agile Lean House has an à la carte program of services and tools to help. Starting with executive orientation to prepare the ground, we can help with:

  • Organizational design
  • Circle/team selection
  • Circle leadership training
  • On-going coaching and mentoring

Finally, to tie it all together as one cohesive unit, our online tool Agemba is the only platform needed to bring the whole organization together to provide radical improvement through transparency and collaboration, allowing every circle member to clearly see the fruits of their labor contributing to the organization’s overall success. Sometimes if you want people to change behavior, you have got to give them the tools to do it.

For more information see: agileleanhouse.com




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