What do EI and Neuroscience tell us about Motivation?

There tend to be two main theorists at play when it comes to motivation at work – Maslow and Herzberg.

For a long while, I was a fan of both. And to an extent I still am.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is used in a lot of different contexts and helps us to understand that individuals are responsible for their own trajectory. I don’t disagree with that, and it can be a useful piece to have a discussion about life choices.

Herzberg’s Hygiene model helps us to understand that in an organisational setting, you have to take care of people’s basic needs before you should start doing more interesting things like improving employee benefits and the kind.

All well and good, until you start to realise that Maslow is quite hard to apply in an organisational setting (I can’t make you move up the hierarchy), and Herzberg is quite a transactional model (if I apply X, I should get Y).

I think they both help to lay down the basics of what we know about motivation.

There are two other theories I think are well worth considering now that we have more information.

Our understanding of emotions and how they drive behaviour is fundamentally changing. In the early days of EI, we were understood that it was important for successful business people to develop their emotional intelligence – the ability to have awareness of and understand your emotions and modify your behaviour as a result of them. Since then, various advancements have been made around formally identifying ways to develop EI capability via 360 models or coaching or peer to peer feedback.

Recent work now points to physiological changes the body goes through when we experience emotions. Not just how the body prepares itself, but how our body chemistry changes as a result of different emotions.

What this really starts to help us understand is that emotions are the very essential driving force behind everything we do. Each emotion we feel – and there is no bad or good emotion – helps us to achieve a goal, or protect ourselves from further harm. Being angry is a protective and aggressive mechanism because we have been stopped from achieving a goal. Feeling disgust helps the body to know to be aware of such things in the future. Surprise prepares the body for something unexpected and builds our resilience.

In an organisational setting, this means a true advancement in how to support our people and help them be their best. Our emotions will drive us to act in positive or negative ways, depending on how we receive information. If I like the way you are presenting to me, I’ll be in accord with you. If I don’t, I’ll have resistance. This is all about relationships, and understanding how people work.

It’s quite a complicated affair, and most managers and leaders haven’t got the time for it. Which goes counter against anything we know about organisational and individual performance. We want our managers and leaders to be the best they can to be successful, yet we’re not prepared to help them understand the basics of the human condition. We’ll offer one to one coaching and introductory programmes on topics and think that’s enough. Managers and leaders will think they’ve learned enough and try to do their best. Some will learn more, and most will just fumble along. What ends up happening is less about motivation and more about trial and error.

As we’re starting to understand more about how our emotions drive behaviour, we’re also understanding more about how the human brain works and what this means for organisational settings. Before I carry on, you totally need to read this – Why the Left-Brain Right-Brain Myth Will Probably Never Die. This is truly a fascinating development area and I’d argue still in its infancy. But what we know so far is quite compelling.

The human brain is a lazy thing. It likes habit and it likes to create neural pathways of least resistance. New behaviours means it has to learn what those behaviours are, and it means it has to spend time and energy doing that. Once it’s got a new behaviour sussed though, it becomes part of the way we do things. There’s no optimal time period that this happens because there are other factors like how embedded it is and what personal relevance a behaviour has for it to demand change.

In the workplace, then, this means we have to be more mindful about how we support new behaviours. If people are used to acting in a certain way, and we want them to change, that means having to encourage them to effectively create new neural pathways. That’s a lot more commitment than we may have been bargaining for. There are a lot of very good change theories out there which can help in this respect, it’s just worth considering that what we’re asking the brain to do is find a new level of lazy. And as we well know, some behaviours are embedded over years, and that’s the reason some people find it hard to change. Not because they don’t want to, but because the behaviours are so embedded the brain has to work extra hard to make the new change happen.

Related to this is the concept of neuroplasticity. This tells us that if the brain is in a state of regular stimulation and never allowed to become lazy, we are more likely to adapt quicker and apply various mental schema to problems we’re facing resulting in action sooner rather than later. What’s interesting here is that this is something we almost actively work against in the workplace. We hire people to do jobs which meet a set definition, and don’t want them doing anything more than that. We put people through training programmes which help develop new skills and behaviours and then do nothing to support the learned behaviours after the fact. Our organisational performance targets are essentially about business as usual which inherently says you don’t need to do more. We’re dumbing our brains down at work – that’s what this means.

It’s no surprise that people are finding new ways to connect and make meaning at work when this is what they’re faced with.

We’ve known for a long time about how various chemicals are released when the brain is feeling happy or positive. Serotonin, dopamine and endorphins are all helpful in moderation and under genuine circumstances to help us feel good about ourselves and towards others. We can support the brain to do this in purposeful ways at work. Thinking back to Herzberg, we know that recognition is important as a factor in motivating us. What we now also know is that we get little hits of feeling good when that happens. It’s easy to get cynical about this and suggest that it’s impossible to do this all day long, and that’s not the suggestion here. If we help people have more positive experiences at work than negative ones, then we’re helping them to create natural organisational alignment. That’s no easy task, but doing so means we support how we respond to the environment we’re in.

There’s more that I could write and say about EI and neuroscience, and am hoping that I’ve offered some initial insights into how we can do more to develop our understanding of motivation at work.


Leadership development is not up to par

A while ago I posted up some thoughts on what a standard leadership course looks like in 2013. I purposefully didn’t add any commentary to it, as I wanted to see what the reaction was to it.

I’m actually not so concerned with the content side of things. What I’m concerned about is the development mindset we think we must put our leaders through.

Here’s the thing. We want our leaders to succeed. So we say to them they need to go on a course and in most cases it will be an external provider. Typically a course is 3-5 days long, and will provide the necessary skills. They may go back for a one or two day follow up. It’s done. You’ve been invested in. You’re now better. If you’re lucky it’ll be accredited or certified in some way and you’ll get a badge. We all love a badge.

There are plenty of very good and very useful different ways of looking at leadership development, and leadership needs. There is no way of knowing which of them is better than the others, and, indeed, if they are complementary, if they are in conflict, or if they are just rubbish. There are also a good many provider of leadership development who all have very interesting angles on takes on the topic, and again, there’s no way of knowing who is better, and why you should select one over the other.

The other day David Goddin asked a really good question on Twitter about the explicit outcomes we link to leadership development. I argued that this never happens, and all we can manage are expectations.

If we develop an internal programme, we have more flexibility about the content, the delivery mechanisms, and even the facilitators. If you’re really lucky it’ll be accredited or certified, because we all love a badge.

So what about those outcomes then? How do we make them explicitly linked to leadership development?

The problem is, there are too many factors which could change or improve performance to hinge it on a development programme. My issue sits more with the fact that we as L&D think a course or programme or other intervention is the solution at all.

I’m currently mulling over whether 360 is actually valuable in terms of leadership development. It serves to increase self awareness about how you impact others, and there is plenty of research that provides clear indication of leadership competencies, but what do we do if someone is able to move their scroes on the 360, but they still are poor leaders?

What questions do we start to ask? Were the objectives SMART? Were the expectations made clear? Was the development and support provided not helpful? Is the person just not capable?

And what of coaching as an intervention? Surely if we are looking to improve performance, coaching is the best solution? Although, I get the impression these days that coaching is a replacement for a form of counselling as opposed to actual performance improvement. Do we therefore need to build a coaching culture and upskill managers to do this? What if they are trained in these skills but still aren’t capable or able to improve the performance of their teams? Was this a failed intervention?

And then there’s all this stuff about social leadership. Leaders need to be active on social network channels in order to better connect with and engage with people at work. If they don’t then we get all suspicious and cynical about their motives. Not every leader should be on these channels – especially if they’re not naturally a people person.

Which brings me back to wondering what is the right approach for leadership development? Currently, I’m guilty of this same thinking. I’m about to embark on a programme of activity to train 180 managers in management skills. They’re going to be sheep dipped the poor lot. This isn’t my intention, and I don’t think it’s innovative, but it will do the job, and in all likelihood will achieve desired expectations.

Let’s push this boat out.

Leadership development, I believe, cannot be measured with hard explicit outcomes. You can set clear expectations. But it is too much of a hop, skip and a jump to claim that revenue increased by x% because the Chief Information Officer went through leadership development.

What I also believe is that leadership development is currently not challenging enough or robust enough to deal with the challenges facing businesses and organisations across the work landscape.

I believe that for leaders to have successful development, we need to completely re-think the purpose of the development, and therefore the delivery mechanisms. Coaching, training, facilitation, self-driven learning, mentoring, psychometrics, e-learning, and a whole host of other methodologies are at the disposal of any dedicated learner. What I don’t know is what we’re missing.

This is a call to all L&Ders concerned with leadership development. Here’s what I’m telling you – what you’re doing isn’t good enough. Here’s the challenge – I don’t know what good enough looks like.

What have you ‘signed off’ lately?

Son: Dad, I’d like to re-decorate my room. I don’t need your help to do it, but I might need to ask your advice about what I need to do.

Dad: Ok, son. How are you going to go about re-decorating?

Son: Well, I’m going to make a plan, give myself a budget of how much to spend, and that should work.

Dad: Sounds good to me. Don’t forget we are going on a family holiday in 4 weeks, and it doesn’t sound like you’ve factored in your commitments at the karate club. I know you said you don’t need my help, but I’m here to support you when you’re ready.

Something of an idyllic conversation, and not one I’m likely to have with any of my children for at least the next 15 years. In his manifesto, Henry Stewart talks about trusting your people. One of the key things in that is ‘pre-approving’ work. One of the other things he talks about is ‘give freedom with clear guidelines’.

When I think about that, I think about moving out of people’s way. I trust people inherently. It’s probably my biggest flaw – it’s also probably my proudest flaw. I let people know what I’m asking of them, set out some expectations and then move out of the way. I don’t interfere, I don’t meddle, and I don’t criticise. I will check in, I will ask for updates and I will be mindful about the persons ability to do the job. I will coach, guide, advise and mentor as appropriate.

But there are a lot of people in the work place who doggedly believe this is a fools errand way to operate. If you don’t control what your team are doing, then how can you expect them to achieve? A belief exists that without asserting your authority, the level of control you have over your team will be diminished. When work is complete, and passed to them for approval, it cannot pass on to the next phase of the project until it is signed off.

I’m not talking about business critical work, that stuff has to follow some element of checking and formal review, else you’re putting the business at risk. I’m talking about things like the following:
– coming into work 15 mins late because you worked an hour later the day before
– sending an email to someone outside of your team/department
– not following a process/protocol because you’ve found a more efficient way to get it done
– changing the design/format of a piece of work to better reflect the content
– having an informal chat with an external supplier about potential work

These things are things which people are very capable of making decisions about on their own. When leaders/managers delude themselves into thinking they are enacting control to have a better team, is when they also don’t realise that the team are not working at their best, and not willing to increase their discretionary effort at work.

Signing off has its place, just don’t wield it like it’s a God-given right.

What happened to the people agenda?

While listening to the various talks and hearing from respective speakers at speakers at #HRD12, I’m left with an over-riding thought that will not prove popular. In the main, HR Directors and L&D Directors are not doing enough to move the people agenda beyond boxes being ticked, meeting compliance standards and getting better engagement scores. There are some very good leaders at that level who I respect a great deal. But when you have organisations like the CIPD asking these people to come and talk about their organisations, I’m looking to get some real nuggets of insight into how you’ve positively changed the business. Often, I’m left lacking and thinking what I’m doing is more than enough, and in some cases a lot better than the presented organisation.

This raises a few questions. By what standard are we saying the people agenda is of significant calibre that they should be presented at a conference? Some of the speakers requested to attend shouldn’t be the ones speaking. Send someone else from the organisation who has the charisma, know how and ability to present to a large group of people. Your title does not mean you have the fit or ability to speak. Although I bet someone in your team does.

For all the talk of engaging employees with new fangled technologies, how many senior leaders are actively using the tools available to them to do this engaging? Again, I only know a few who do, and the respect they have is bar none. Where’s all the resistance to usage coming from? What perceptions are they battling with? What barriers are they presenting themselves that they don’t want to take part in the conversation? Allowing your staff to use tools, and having an open approach to engagement is not the end game. You need to be in the thick of it.

One of the presentations I attended was about engaging Gen Y, and I was expecting to hear about how L&D methodologies have changed in their organisations to meet the changing ways of learning and attention being grabbed. I learned a lot about great recruitment strategies, but nothing about the delivery of learning. I learned more about how companies like Skill Pill can enable mobile based learning, and it’s another way to consider delivery. This tells me L&D is not doing enough to be innovative in the way we deliver learning, but also we’re not being challenged sufficiently to really push that boat. I take this personally. I love what I do, and think I deliver learning in ways that are varied and interesting, and I don’t think I’m doing good enough.

We’re in a constantly changing world and that brings with it a lot of opportunity and risk to try new things. So who should be the Chief Creative Officer when one doesn’t exist in your organisation? Who should be the Chief Listening Officer? Who’s being the Chief Story Teller? I would suggest these roles sit with these senior leaders from HR and L&D. We have the space and authority to fulfil those roles, it just seems we’re shy of being responsible for them.

I think there should be an HR Director / L&D Director summit where they discuss the people agenda and finally come up with what they think they’re trying to achieve.

Who’s the bigger fool?

Leaders. Plenty of stuff written about them. I’m not a leader. Not in the way we’re all made out we should be. Steve Jobs did this. Richard Branson did this. Henry Ford said this. GE cut the bottom 10% of their organisation every year. And your CEO? Well he just got lucky.

But this post isn’t about leadership. It’s about the followers. Me. I’m a follower. I learned a long while ago I’m not a leader with a vision or with drive to achieve. Not in the sense of leading a business. I’ve still got a lot to learn about the world before I think I go down that road.

But I can tow the party line. And tow it well. I know how to deliver a message. I get company politics. I understand people and what drives them. I can sell in an idea and encourage discussion. I’m a loyal follower. I’ll defend my company to the hilt.

This is true of the world outside of work. I’m a loyal brand follower: Disney, Nike, Android, London, Marvel Comics over DC Comics. I’m also loyal to my family and friends. I quite enjoy being part of the crowd and in amongst the thick of things. I like to be in with current news and not being left out of the loop. I can take someone’s idea, credit it to them and help spread the message.

So I follow. And I follow faithfully and with genuine belief in the idea, plan, vision or whatever you want to call it. I’ll give direction where I think it’s needed and provide advice where I think it will help. I have ambitions to be a business asset. Sounds pretty boring huh? But that’s my role. I’m a support function and I’m pretty clear about the value I add to the business and where I add it. I don’t bring in sales, or develop strategy, or create marketing plans, but I know how to make all those things happen.

People like me, we’re good for the business. We help the culture stay strong and true to its word. My old boss is a great example of this. He wasn’t just the head of learning and development, he was a core part of the cultural development programme we had. That’s influence right there. But he was under no illusion that he had any more power than this. Partly because this was quite enough, partly because that wasn’t his interest anymore. Partly because he enjoyed being in the thick of the way the business operated.

I’m happy being a follower. I know my lot and what’s expected of me. I also know what can be achieved and how to make it happen. Leadership, that’s for you. Following, that’s what I do best.

>I’d like coaching please

>I want to provide a look at how you should be planning your management training for your organisation. There’s a lot of iffing and aahing about what constitutes good management in today’s world. There is structure you can and should have in place and all it takes is a bit of planning.

The first thing I have to talk about is whether or not you go external or internal. That’s to say should you bring in an external trainer or have someone internal deliver the training? The answer to this lies in where your budget lies and how you choose to spend it. There are some very good external trainers who will do a stellar job of training in this field. Just please, whatever you do, get some ‘free’ or ‘taster’ training first as you don’t want to pay £oooo’s for someone only to realise the training has been dead pan. To further this, if you have used a particular external trainer you’re happy to recommend to others please let us know in the comment section below.

Also, I’m not getting into defining leadership over management. In truth, the two terms are so interchangeable that it only really makes a difference to those concerned with titles.

Ok so there are 5 categories of management training you need to give thought to.

1) Management Essentials. This is about giving the managers who are in their role anew or within a 18-24 month old a core look at the things they need to know. Policies, procedures, core management skills such as objective setting, feedback skills, performance management, basic coaching skills, some models on motivation, delegation and flexible management styles. These are the core things that any new manager just has to know. Without this they’ll forever be lost in the sea of management and never know if they’re on the right path.

2) Effective Management. This should be for managers who are experienced in their role, have had teams to look after and need to know what more is expected of them. At this level they should be exposed to a psychometric tool of some sort to raise their own self awareness and give them insight into how other personalities are likely to either support or clash with one another, including their own. There should be some further development of actual management models such as Situational Leadership or a Coaching model such as GROW, better description of techniques surrounding motivation either delving into studies from Gallup or Roffey Park, and some form of business insight or business acumen development from leaders in the business.

3) Emotional Intelligence. This should be for managers who are growing in their role to a senior role and need to be able to understand how to work with a wider group of people and increase their influence across the business. Emotional Intelligence is a much disputed area of management devleopment in recent years. To be honest since competency frameworks were introduced, EI is the last big model introduced in the last 20 years. The dispute arises from the fact it’s mainly credited to Daniel Goleman. If you can get over that, there are many good EI models developed by practitioners who are credible and very reputable. Namely Dr Reuven Baron or work doen by Consulting Tools. This should also include a proper 360 survey tool to truly unravel an indicidual and allow for genuine personal development.

4) Global Management Effectiveness. In an increasingly global world, this level of manager needs to be aware of cultural differences, how to get the best out of teams in other countries, how to deliver on projects that involve global clients, effective multi-national communication. This is a truly difficult topic to handle and needs someone with experience in this field to deliver this.

5) Leadership Excellence. This is for those at senior levels within a business who are looking to find out what it is they’re missing. Training at this level is often about how to inspire teams, deliver a strategic vision, deliver powerful messages, operating at a level where you’re thinking about the future and long term development of the business.

So where does Coaching fit into all of this? Honestly? At every single point. But that’s a whole other blog post. In essence coaching should only be utilised if you are certain of the goals and purpose. If you think you need it because you’ve been hearing lots of great things about the great work Bob has been doing with other people similar in a role to you then you’ve got the wrong idea about where your personal development needs to be.

And you can take the categories I’ve named above and give them any other title you want to change them for. This is intended to provide a framework for overall management development. There are other considerations I’ve not given them time of day to such as succession planning or talent management. To be honest though you can take those concepts and adapt the above to fit those.