We are standing in the ruins of a previous era. The ruins aren’t decaying buildings or shelled-out homes, but of a psychological nature. The pursuit of fortune and success has been a Holy Grail for generations of Americans. Every generation of immigrants who traveled to this land came to prosper, and millions have. Their children grew up with the American pursuit ingrained within them. For many, the American pursuit was primarily one of financial freedom and wealth.
The Industrial Age brought efficiencies and a new level of financial possibility to those with an entrepreneurial spirit. A new middle class arose with a comfortable standard of living and greater time to pursue leisure activities. In the final part of the last century and the very beginning of this one, the spirit and pursuit that allowed this country to create one of the highest standards of living in the world turned to new, increasingly complex, financial instruments to build massive fortunes on shaky ground.
The ground gave way in 2008, taking with it trust in the financial system, blind optimism and the belief that large sums of money are at the root of a satisfying life.
Millennials, Boomers and Everyone In Between
Marble Arch often leads dialogues around what we call “The Generation Next Workplace”. During these dialogues, invariably, the conversation turns to Millennials. It’s often assumed that the discussion will center on how to best manage this curious new group climbing the ladders. Generation Next is a new generation of employee, but not just Millennials.
Every generation was changed by the financial crisis. Baby Boomers watched as their retirement funds plummeted in value, disappearing dreams of ever living life on their own terms. Gen X stayed awake at night, wondering whether or not the concept of retirement was a possibility any longer. Gen Y and Millennials watched as everyone around them lost the very “security” and “freedom” they had worked decades for. For each respective generation, the trust in money to create the satisfaction and purpose for living diminished.
About this same time, research began to flood in about what actually motivates employees to higher performance. Shockingly, it wasn’t massive sums of money. Sure in the short-term bonuses create a bump of desired behavior, but over time money has a tendency to twist an employee’s motivation until all their focus is on how to reap the largest bonus possible.
As Daniel Pink stated in his landmark book Drive, “…instead of restraining negative behavior, rewards and punishments can often set it loose – and give rise to the cheating, addiction and dangerously myopic thinking.” The focus on bonuses over the last 40 years led millions of people to trade life satisfaction for growing bank accounts and dreams of locking in a high standard of living.
The height of the financial crisis passed, and many were left wondering if the money gone from their accounts was worth the hours of work it had cost them to get it, only to see it disappear. Suddenly, an awakening began to ripple through the country that we are only beginning to understand now. This awakening, for all generations, is a hunger for more than money in return for precious hours. Employees are actively leaving current employers in search of organizations that will fill their need for challenging, meaningful work that connects them with others. The new American dream is one of a meaningful life filled with purpose, leading to wealth creation.
When we discuss this hunger for meaning with leaders and teams, the most common desire is “to help.” Whether it’s a client, another employee or the world at large, employees recognize that bank accounts can be lost, but a satisfying life can never be taken.
You won’t find an argument against wealth creation in this blog. We at Marble Arch are entrepreneurs and we believe an entrepreneurial spirit can be the most powerful expression of life satisfaction, wealth creation and problem solving. What you will find at Marble Arch is years of experience in creating workplaces that feed the hunger “to help.” These dynamic workplaces meet the needs of this new era and reap the rewards of higher engagement, productivity and profitability.
Dynamic Workplaces for a New Era
The previously impermeable barrier between work and life is disintegrating. Individuals see their work as a part of a satisfying whole rather than a means to a retirement end. Organizations that fail to evolve along with this relationship will see an increase in turnover or a decrease in engagement. High turnover and low engagement are HR vocabulary for “this ship is slowly going down.”
In this new era, dubbed the “social era” by thought leader Nilofer Merchant, even the term leader takes on an entirely new meaning. Suddenly, organizational leaders include executives, influencers, innovators and game-changers. Not every individual can be an executive, but anyone has the power to be a game-changer.
As a leader in your organization how can you begin to evolve your workplace for peak performance in the social era? Below you will find your dynamic workplace starter kit. It includes four powerful tactics to begin creating a workplace that supports connection, engagement and peak performance (more HR vocabulary for happiness and profitability).
The Dynamic Workplace Starter Kit
A Deep Understanding of Organizational Purpose
You will see this theme regularly in our work. We cannot say it enough, without clarity of purpose there can be no alignment of effort, planning or priorities. The loyalty, work ethic and motivation we all know our teams are capable of stems first from their deep connection to the organization’s purpose. A mediocre understanding of an organization’s purpose results in an equal amount of engagement.
Work with your team to define:
- What value you exist to offer
- Who you offer it to, and
- In what manner it will be offered.
Watch as the enthusiasm rises over this reaffirmation of effort.
A Robust Social Framework
Performance expert and author Dr. Dean Spitzer has been hugely influential in our recognition of a social framework’s power. The vast majority of our clients are working with us to improve performance and are shocked when we run various qualitative diagnostics which show that a lack of basic dialogue or feedback is deteriorating trust, productivity and motivation.
A powerful social framework creates an environment for the conversations that drive strategic execution to take place. As Dean Spitzer says, “The key thing to remember is that you can purchase a technical infrastructure, but you can’t purchase a social one!”
The term “social framework” can seem ambiguous, but I assure you that its impact is anything but. A robust social framework includes daily feedback flowing between individuals and departments, impacting performance up to 39%. It also includes meeting codes of conduct, so that meetings are actionable and effective, something to look forward to rather than dread.
Our favorite social framework tactic? Monthly one-on-one meetings between leadership and direct reports. These opportunities for in-depth development and alignment quickly become the most powerful hour of the month. Many leaders who have begun the practice have told us that their teams were far less productive during the months in which the meeting was postponed. A powerful monthly one-on-one is very open, with a few key agenda items and plenty of time to share new ideas for increasing efficiency and effectiveness.
Compensation That Rewards Long-Term Value Creation
One of the major themes of the financial crisis is that short-term compensation yields short-term results. I had a discussion with a leader recently who lamented the amount of explaining it took his staff to bring new client expectations back to reality after they had been sold the world by his sales director.
This leader was beginning to understand that building sales compensation entirely around new sales was leading to overly committed staff and disappointed new clients. This dangerous combination was deteriorating his organization’s reputation and its client retention rate.
Money has an incredible ability to warp motivation until all other priorities are subjugated to the metrics that will bring in the cash. So, if motivation is going to be tied to cash, make sure it is tied to the right metrics. These metrics are going to include overall organizational profits and measurements which support your long-term competitive advantage.
The best compensation investment may just be creating specific, actionable performance metrics. Organizations can get very caught up in using carrots to motivate behaviors. By setting high job standards at the time of hire and following-up with coaching and developing, the need for an expensive carrot goes away.
The Opportunity to Discuss Satisfaction and Purpose
We at Marble Arch always encourage individuals to ask themselves, “Am I being the leader I would want to be led by?” If you had the opportunity to discuss with your manager your level of job satisfaction and your feeling of purpose within the organization, when would be the best time for you? What would the conversation look like? What kind of support would you like to be offered?
As you are considering this conversation, imagine now offering this opportunity to those you lead. In what ways can you support their increase in job satisfaction? How can you position their skills so that they are living more of their purpose within their jobs? The beauty of this conversation is you are setting the stage for your employee to be more motivated, more productive and in the end, more profitable.
When individuals are unsatisfied or feel no meaningful connection to their work, their productivity is mediocre at best. We aren’t just talking about soft stuff; it’s performance.
The social era is here. Entrepreneurs and organizations have the opportunity to engage and to be rewarded with more commitment, higher productivity and increasing profits. As an individual, as a leader, you have the opportunity to support a dynamic workplace that helps others find meaning in their work. Imagine how motivating and exciting it would be for you to see this change in one other employee, on your team and in your workplace.
If you were to recommend to leaders one favorite tactic for making their workplace more engaging, what would it be?
Share it below and join the conversation!
E-mail us here to ask any question (no question is too small!) and to let us know how you have incorporated one of these ideas into your workplace.
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