The Secret to Organizational Effectiveness
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“If you want to retain those who are present, be loyal to those who are absent.”

-- Dr. Stephen Covey, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People

“Learning cannot be disassociated from action.”

-- Peter Senge, The Fifth Discipline

“The most important measures are both unknown and unknowable.”

-- W. Edwards Deming, Out of the Crisis


The Secret to Organizational Effectiveness by Kevin McManus

One day back in 1995, I heard something at work that made me think that the quality process was really beginning to work -- it was the sound of cheering! Surely a display of intrinsic motivation such as this at work was a sign that not only were people really beginning to enjoy their jobs, but they were also celebrating success in doing them. Unfortunately, I was soon brought back to reality when I realized that the cheering was not for a quality work accomplishment. Instead, people were cheering for a Seattle Mariners' accomplishment in the playoff game that many people were listening to.

Over my tenure at Oak Harbor Freight Lines, I witnessed many examples of excellence that supported the company's claim of being a quality organization. In comparison to many of the other organizations that I have worked with and read about, Oak Harbor's customer service orientation was one of the most sincere and meaningful. Unfortunately, an ingredient was still at times missing from our organizational effectiveness mix -- significant quantities of intrinsic motivation.

A Lesson From Deming About Motivation and High Performance

When W. Edwards Deming made the statement “Our prevailing system of management has destroyed our people”, he was referring to how management has designed and put in place systems over the years that actually drive intrinsic motivation out of people. Instead of doing things because they want to, people have become increasingly motivated to either stay out of trouble or to succeed at the expense of others. Such motivational attitudes are not consistent with the type of behaviors needed for true organizational effectiveness.

A 1994 McKinsey and Associates survey stated that only 5% of the organizations in the United States could be classified as high performers. If intrinsic motivation could be measured, I think we would find that the employees in these high performance organizations are actually motivated that way at work! In the remaining 95% however, I feel that high levels of this brand of motivation can only be found in the personal lives of the employees -- in such areas as sports, hobbies, personal businesses, and family. I believe that bringing an equivalent level of intrinsic motivation back into the workplace is the secret to organizational effectiveness.

Effectiveness in Real Life

Organizations are only as effective as the departmental and cross functional teams that work within them. Each team however, is only as effective as its members. Most companies in turn experience a “dilution of effectiveness”, as people have been encouraged by organizational systems to no longer feel intrinsically motivated at work. We have given up on ever witnessing wide- spread personal effectiveness in the workplace that is driven from within oneself.

Phrases like “It's just another Monday”, “Hooray for hump day”, and “Thank goodness it's Friday” only serve to support the fact that we find more enjoyment away from the workplace than at it. In fact, one could theorize that Mondays are the least productive workday of the week because we used up all of our intrinsic motivation over the weekend! When one considers that the majority of our waking hours are spent at work, it is saddening to think that we spend them in a less than desirable environment, doing a job we don't enjoy. It's no wonder that only 5% of the organizations are true high performers.

What can we do to get intrinsic motivation back into the workplace? The keys to tapping this secret to organizational effectiveness lies in the following six strategies:

Recognize the distinction between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation -- Since we were young we have been conditioned to respond to the “carrot and stick” practices of extrinsic motivation. When we are extrinsically motivated, we do something either to avoid something bad happening to us or to get a reward. Over time, one's personal focus shifts away from the task itself and towards the reward to be gained or the punishment to be avoided.

Respect the power and potential of intrinsic motivation -- As intrinsic motivation is difficult to measure, we are prone to discount it as being insignificant in terms of its potential impact on workplace performance. If we could measure the energy that is emitted when someone is intrinsically motivated however, we might be in a better position to realize how powerful it could be in helping to make an organization a high performer. We can begin by looking inside ourselves and asking “What makes me want to do a good job?”, “What makes me dislike my job?”, and “What would it take to make me really enjoy coming to work?”

Admit that we as management have contributed to the demise of workplace-based intrinsic motivation -- While each of us personally may not have designed systems that make work a less than fun place to be, we probably have helped keep them in place. Because pride is at stake, it is difficult to admit that we might have contributed to the creation and maintenance of systems that give people “headaches” each day. Additionally, since these systems have the tendency to grow almost at their own will, we often feel powerless to change them. Instead, we accept these systems as “part of the job” and let them have their demotivating influence on us as well.

Begin to change the systems that currently drive out intrinsic motivation -- The first step in making changes of this nature involves meeting regularly with our employees to find out what makes work undesirable to them. In many cases, the hectic nature of our own jobs has put us in a position that is out of touch with what our people go through each day. Asking this question in a group setting will not fix the problem, but it will reinforce the fact that demotivating systems do exist. It will also give each leader the chance to personally commit to making significant workplace improvements, if each team member is willing to contribute towards positive change as well.

Recognize the role that self responsibility plays in bringing intrinsic motivation back into the workplace -- While we may not have personally designed the systems that we work with, we have chosen to live with them. As long as we continue to see our workplaces as places we have to be at instead of places we want to be at, we are also be admitting that there is little we can do to change them. One key to bringing intrinsic motivation back into the workplace involves admitting that each of us has a role to play in making this happen, whether we manage the systems or work within them. A second key involves investing the time to make true systems improvements.

Monitor our changes to see if intrinsic motivation is returning to the workplace -- Once we have decided that intrinsic motivation is missing in our workplace and that bringing it back would be beneficial, we can begin taking actions to improve systems and involve others in doing so. As such actions take place, we need to remain aware of the atmosphere of our workplaces, the attitudes of ourselves and others, and the more tangible progress that should be taking place in the form of systems improvement. While it cannot as of yet be measured, intrinsic motivation can be observed and felt.

My dream is to see the same level of excitement displayed at work as we might experience at a World Series baseball game. While I have been called an idealist for expressing such a dream, I still feel that it is possible. I feel that most, if not all, employees share this ideal, and I look forward to working with those that are interested in the future to bring intrinsic motivation into each employee's life on a full time basis. Are you interested?

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