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Archive for March, 2011

Data Shows the Benefits of Creating a Healthy Workplace

Last week I spoke of the appallingly low levels of satisfaction (45%) reported by American workers. Of course, you will hear me say that paying attention to the people side of business can make a huge difference not only in worker satisfaction levels, but also in performance. Let me share some persuasive data with you.

Each year the American Psychological Association gives out awards for organizations that are psychologically healthy workplaces. The candidates for the awards are evaluated on their workplace practices for employee involvement, health and safety, employee growth and development, work-life balance, and employee recognition. The categories map very nicely into our six psychological principles for the people side of business.

The companies that win the award show some interesting characteristics. For example, these workplaces had an employee turnover rate of just 11% compared with a 38% national average. There are just half as many employees reporting chronic work stress (18% vs. 36%). The number of employees intending to seek employment elsewhere is only 6% in the healthy workplaces compared with 32% in the average work environment. Finally, the employee satisfaction rate is an incredible 87%.

When your organization pays attention to the people side of business you don’t just get happier, healthier employees. You also get employees who stick around and aren’t looking for new jobs. You save money on hiring and training new employees. You save the costs of complaints and worker dissatisfaction. In short, your bottom line is greatly improved.

And this data doesn’t even begin to get to all the other consequences of a healthy workplace. We would maintain that the healthy workplaces are more creative environments, where product innovation and production are enhanced. These companies would likely have better quality control and customer satisfaction rates.

An organization just works a whole lot better when the people engine is well tuned. It is something that can be done…and it works! You can check out the psychologically healthy workplace awards program at phwa.org.

Tom DeMaio, PhD

www.DeMaioPsychology.com

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Worker Satisfaction and The People Side of Business

A 2010 Conference Board poll of 5000 households found that “only 45 percent of those surveyed say they are satisfied with their jobs, down from 61.1 percent in 1987,” a long term downward trend that “could spell trouble for the overall engagement of U.S. employees and ultimately employee productivity.”

I don’t know about you, but this data is fairly stunning to me. You can blame it on a bad economy or a push for increased productivity. The long and short of it though is that American businesses don’t really know how to work with their employees. And it doesn’t have to be this way.

It’s fundamental: people are the key to a business’s success. You simply can’t have a successful business when employees feel insecure, unappreciated, and unmotivated. Yet, that’s exactly what is occurring as businesses attempt to navigate these challenging economic times. Few leaders understand enough about the way people operate to be effective at engaging more than a fraction of their expertise or their passions at the exact moment when increases in productivity are most crucial.

In essence, these leaders are trying to use a very powerful but complicated tool without an owner’s manual—and the results can jeopardize their bottom line. What they need is a comprehensive framework for understanding and operating their most critical tool.

If you’ve been following this blog you have a glimpse of the six psychological principles necessary to lead and manage people. Getting the best out of your employees, and simultaneously engaging them in a satisfying manner, requires a complex of ideas joined together in a coherent whole.

The current publishing world fosters a “one idea” mentality in business books. Just like in Drive, many current titles in the field attempt to get out one idea that can be quickly and easily digested. Where would W. Edwards Deming be today with his incredible 14 points?

As I continue to review our principles I want to invite you to ask your questions about the people side of business through comments on the blog. I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

Tom DeMaio, PhD

www.DeMaioPsychology.com

Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose in the People Side of Business

March 17, 2011 2 comments

This past weekend I heard a talk by Daniel Pink, the author of Drive. What fun hearing a great writer present psychological research and pull it into a coherent idea. You see, Pink believes that businesses are caught in the grip of an outdated orthodoxy; that if you reward people you get increased output. He says that this is not always true.

Pink pointed out that the new research shows that “rewarding” tasks that have even a rudimentary cognitive component doesn’t improve performance and often decreases it. Hmm, this is not intuitive. In other words, more money offered for thinking well produces less performance. For example, when teachers were incentivized for improved teaching performance, there were no improvements in their work.

But, when people were given the time to think freely, without incentives or requirements, they were their most creative. For example, Australian software workers were give an afternoon to “do what they wanted” and see what ideas they had for their work. It turned out that the most useful and creative ideas in the company came out of that short creative period. No wonder Google offers its employees a significant percentage of their workweek for unstructured creative time.

Pink was clear about his position. Managers ought to get out of the management business and find ways to engage their employees. The keys to a successful company, at least one where there is thinking involved, are in employees gaining increased amounts of AUTONOMY, MASTERY, and PURPOSE.

Creating a high performance organization requires an understanding of a host of psychological principles. They work together. Pink has focused on a core idea that facilitates people working at their best.

Humans have this strange quirk where they do best when they can be creative; where they can do it with meaning and where they have a sense of control over their work product. Find a way to build it into your work environment and the rewards will come your way.

Tom DeMaio, PhD

www.demaiopsychology.com

Leaders Appreciate Individual Differences and Embrace Healthy Diversity

Too often so many of us fall prey to bringing in people who are like-minded. Research bears this out; we hire people who look and think like ourselves. But, savvy leaders appreciate individual differences in the members of their team. In fact, they seek out healthy diversity.

These leaders know that people are unique individuals who want to be acknowledged as such. Each person wants to be recognized as special and valuable in their own right. And, they should be. They have different personalities and problem-solving approaches needed by the organization. People are not interchangeable.

One benefit of appreciating the differences is that leaders can tap the personal and technical skills necessary for each role. Bill Gates did this marvelously at Microsoft. When he located someone with talent he hired them… then found the right job for them. He wanted the best. Ultimately it is the quality of the people, in the right roles, that make a successful company.

If you follow this logic, you realize that embracing healthy diversity is a key to organizational high performance. You need people with different approaches, who can relate to a diverse consumer base, to solve the problems you face. What you don’t want is a team of people sitting around you who all have the same ideas. It may feel very affirming for you as the leader, but it gets you nowhere. You need others with diversity of ideas, perspectives, and approaches.

Leaders embrace healthy diversity because they know it is the right thing to do, and it is a winning formula. Physical diversity, of race, ethnicity, gender, and sexual preference, also brings mental diversity. There is a greater opportunity for and acceptance of new ideas. Everyone benefits when there is diversity in the organizational team.

The “healthy” part comes when leadership fosters a culture where everyone participates in bringing their different personal identities and ideas, and where everyone comes together once decisions are made. This is another one of those tricky balancing acts. Everyone is unique, and yet everyone must end up pulling in the same direction.

Tom DeMaio, PhD

www.demaiopsychology.com

Great Leadership Balances Support and Structure

Through my posts about the people side of business and about leadership you’ve probably noticed that our model stipulates the need for a balance of support and structure. Being able to nurture and support staff while simultaneously holding them accountable in a positive structure is no small trick. But it is precisely this balance that has people respond to leadership in a healthy manner.

Most people, whether in their leadership or parenting, tend to lean to one side of the support/structure continuum. You’ve seen those who are task masters and those who are softies. You may notice that you are more “by the numbers” or more relational. This tendency to lean a bit is natural. Great leaders work to hold the middle ground.

Often I’ve been asked how you can do both. The question will be phrased something like, “Doesn’t being supportive indicate that you won’t hold people accountable?” My simple answer is that this is not true at all.

In fact, perhaps paradoxically, support and structure are mutually enhancing. People who feel nurtured have an easier time taking difficult feedback. People respect structure and perform harder when they feel taken care of. The two components really do work together.

Your followers (employees, team members, kids) will scan you to see if you care. People read leaders carefully for their motivation, their concern, and their commitment to people, not just their technical knowledge of the business. The attitude inside the leader matters and you can’t fake it. If you genuinely balance support and structure, people will perceive it.

People are also very capable of reading many styles of caring. You could be a crusty old guy, but if you listen and are interested, people get it. You can be outgoing or more socially reticent. What matters most is what you have in your heart. Be your kind of caring leader, and make sure there is structure for success, and people will work hard for you.

Tom DeMaio, PhD

www.demaiopsychology.com