Archive for the ‘school systems’ Category

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


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

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

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

People Leaders are Positive and Constructive

February 25, 2011 Leave a comment

The best people leaders are positive and constructive through their interactions with others. People leaders believe in the capacity of their work teams to create successful outcomes for their organization. As a result, they encourage others and appreciate their efforts.

Positive leadership expresses a “can do” attitude. Leaders believe their employees will make something good happen. This is an optimistic perspective; one that is positive about possibilities for accomplishment. “Let’s make it happen, I know we can, we will succeed.” It is also a realistic awareness that only great work will pull off a challenging enterprise.

People leaders are constructive in that they believe people can learn, grow, and do what needs to be done. They are squarely behind their team. So when they see opportunities they participate as one of the team.

And when they do see something going wrong, they want it fixed. They want to learn from problems and do better. They are not personally critical, attacking or judgmental of others or themselves. It is all about objective problem-solving.

Leaders know how to let the organizational structure impersonally address problematic performance. So, through performance reviews, everyone is aware of how they are doing in meeting expectations. When the system of performance guidelines catches problems, then leaders can encourage and cheer on improvement.

Great leaders build structure so that high performance can occur. The structure both rewards successful performance and catches inadequate performance. Leaders are intuitively personal about backing the successes of their team members. They show excitement both for the person and the contribution to the organization. Of course, it also helps greatly if leaders can arrange material rewards in addition to the personal ones.

Tom DeMaio, PhD

Leaders Build Structure for the People Side of Business

February 18, 2011 Leave a comment

While the foundation of leadership for the people side of business is in the support provided, the key to leaders bringing others to achieve goals is in the structure they insist on building. Leaders make sure everyone keeps their eyes on the prize; that everyone works toward the desired outcomes of the organization.

There are several ways that leaders focus everyone on those outcomes. First, they insist that goals be carefully defined, for example by developing a strategic plan. Second, they build structural elements, like policies and procedures. These elements guide operations toward the determined goals. Third, they foster a culture that holds everyone accountable to achieving those goals.

Leaders work to have directional questions answered. They want people to think about where they are going and how they are going to get there, especially in creative and efficient ways. This strategic focus orients everyone to be thinking about the process of achieving outcomes. They don’t hand their staff a blueprint, but work closely with them to determine high performance outcomes. This kind of leadership conveys that achieving goals will take ongoing creative thinking.

Structural elements are clear rules and performance standards for all staff members and the business. This includes defining the rules of the game: the policies and procedures. With a guiding framework people understand how best to operate.

Additionally, building structure includes defining the outcomes for each person in the organization. Everyone has a purpose in terms of achieving some component of the organization’s success. Consequently everyone knows what they are supposed to be doing and how they are contributing.

Finally, leaders build a culture that holds everyone accountable to the mission of the organization. It filters down through the organization that each person needs to perform well for the organization to come out on top. This is not a punitive system, but a measure of work success. Everyone is important.

Leadership that provides great support, and a counterbalance of structure, is the type most likely to maximize worker satisfaction while simultaneously producing great results.

Tom DeMaio, PhD

Leaders Support Growth and Development through Role Modeling

One of the most important components of leadership is being a role model. You can’t be a great leader if you don’t practice what you preach. Leaders have to be willing to learn and grow themselves.

Being a leader role model goes beyond just being willing to take a few courses and read a few books. Supporting the growth and development of employees means learning alongside your them, encouraging some risk-taking, and tolerating mistakes without judgment.

People are certainly worried about failure and rejection that come with making mistakes. They are incredibly frightened about doing it in front of their boss. This isn’t just a fear of being fired; it is the fear of failing in front of a parent figure. That’s hard.

So when you as the leader ask for help, or allow yourself to be informed/corrected, you convey that there is acceptance for others and their learning. You foster a willingness to look for answers outside the box instead of something tried and true. Your organization will set the world on fire only if staff takes new and novel approaches to problem solving.

Fostering growth also means you have a recognition that people need time and energy to grow. Not only do employees need time to participate in training, but they time to stay in control of their personal lives by maintaining a decent work/life balance. When people are forced to sacrifice their personal lives for work, they will do only the minimum needed, not the maximum a high performance organization demands.

Leaders protect their employees from pressures to work at the expense of a balanced life. It is not just about work policies, but about a culture which supports and encourages healthy living. Leaders who live balanced lives, ones that include ongoing growth and development, will gain a strong following among their employees. Being a great role model leader pays off for everyone in the organization, including you.

Tom DeMaio, PhD

Leaders Encourage the Growth and Development of their Employees

Being part of a family is an important source of security for people. Another important source is feeling that you have mastery in your environment. People like to feel like they know what they are doing and that they can accomplish their tasks. Yes, it’s true, people really want to grow. As a leader, you want to be right there supporting the growth and development of your employees.

On one level this is technically smart for your organization. You want your people to be improving their knowledge and skills for their task accomplishment. Well trained people do their jobs technically better and faster. Mistakes are reduced and there is greater organizational efficiency.

But there are more important less tangible benefits to encouraging employee personal growth and development. Offering opportunities for professional development is another way to show you care for your staff. When workers perceive that you are interested in their growth they feel you have their interest at heart. They will give back to organization both technically and with their hearts. They will perform better and do it with greater self direction and autonomy.

One leader described how she conducted the annual evaluations of her team members. She asked them about their development goals for the coming year. She encouraged them to think about their training in terms of their career goals, five, 10, and even 20 years into the future. From her point of view she owed it to them as their leader to help them make sure that in 20 years they had 20 years of experience, not one year of the same experience repeated twenty times over. You can bet her employees appreciated her.

A key part to encouraging employee growth is making it safe for people to take some risks, and make some mistakes. People are amazingly afraid to fail. Fear of failure is the biggest deterrent to growth. Consequently, you as a leader support people and avoid being critical. Of course, it is the trick of leadership to simultaneously maintain your supportive presence without letting go of accountability.

Tom DeMaio, PhD

A Foundation for Leadership in the Workplace

Leading people requires that you understand the nature of people and their needs. This is why, as psychologist/business consultants, Lee Hersch and I have tried to carefully delineate the six most important psychological principles needed to understand people in the workplace. Leadership is not just a list of good things to do; it is a coherent approach to addressing what people need so they will be motivated and work productively with you.

Leaders who don’t understand the psychological responses that people bring to work, who fail to incorporate these fundamental psychological insights in their approach to management, will never be able to harness these responses to meet their organization’s goals. They are always going to underperform. Smart leaders will use these basic facts of life as a starting point, adjust their leadership strategy appropriately, and create a more productive, more motivated workforce.

Grounded in the latest thinking from evolutionary psychology, our first principle states that the brain works from the bottom up. Human responses reflect the underlying design of the brain, which has been fine-tuned over hundreds of thousands of years for survival. Primitive emotions like the need for security take precedence over higher order rational processes.

Put simply this means that if you expect people to act in purely rational ways, you’re kidding yourself. People are people, not Vulcans. Leaders not only know that people have their rational and irrational features, they relish in it.

What moves people is not a rational argument about the good of their organization, but the passion people feel for their organization (or team, or country, or other personal connection). Leaders engage the passion of their people for a cause. Passion provides meaning, energy, and commitment.

Fundamentally, leaders don’t fight human nature; they accept people. The acceptance makes leaders safe and comfortable for those around them. The acceptance allows a positive passion to develop and lays the foundation for all the other components of leadership.

Tom DeMaio, PhD

Principled Leadership

Working as a psychologist/business consultant I am continually fascinated by leaders and the actions of leadership. Leadership makes all the difference in an organization; great companies are led by great leaders.

When I review the literature and talk to leaders, I generally find leadership defined as a list of things to do and ways to be. These lists are usually derived from the intuition and experience of a wise person, or from leadership research. Surely there must be some underlying framework from which leadership principles can be derived.

As Lee Hersch and I wrote The People Side of Business, it became clear to us that leadership activities can be derived from an understanding of the basic needs of people. When you understand what people need in the work environment you can formulate what is needed to lead them. Great leadership is about behaving in a way that takes into account how people are psychologically constructed and what they need to survive and thrive.

From our point of view the six principles we have outlined form a framework for leadership. The framework makes people leadership a coherent set of activities and ways of being. Let me explain.

1. If you understand that the brain works from the bottom up, and that people are driven by irrational internal forces, you will come to see that the foundation for leadership is acceptance. Acceptance is the critical building block for trust and for people being willing to utilize your leadership.

2. When you believe that humans need nurturance to feel safe and function at their best, as a leader you will provide nurturance to your employees. You will convey that you care for each of them as a person and as an essential part of the organization.

3. Realizing that humans see their relationships through the lens of family experience, you will build a family-like culture in your work environment. It will encourage you to build teams and support mutuality throughout the organization.

4. Since people want to learn and grow, and since their development is great for the business, you will encourage the growth and development of everyone. You will foster autonomy in your employees and provide opportunities for advancement.

5. Because people need structure to shape and motivate their behavior, you will make sure each person knows their roles and job expectations. You will insist that everyone knows where the organization is headed. You will share the rewards (and consequences) of their performance.

6. Given that humans are individually different, you will welcome diversity of ideas and of people. Each person can find a unique way to contribute to the organization.

In my next posts I will discuss leadership based on the six principles.

Tom DeMaio, PhD