Every so often a book arrives that ... what ... encapsulates, articulates, weaves together loose threads, little whispers or lines of intuition that float through our brains. Okay, well, this happens for me. And it happened again the other day when this book, Why Motivating People Doesn’t Work ... and What Does by Susan Fowler arrived in the mail.
Being an art major, I’m more visually-oriented than your average bald-headed man. Had I judged the book by its cover I would have kept it in the stack of books I’ve labeled ‘to read’ but never do. But just as I was about to lay it on top of this knee-high stack of books I saw ‘Foreward by Ken Blanchard.’ Now, I’m neither a fan nor a detractor of Mr. Blanchard. But his name carries credibility and I laid the book on my kitchen table where I’d see it, maybe grab it in between bites and read a page or two.
I’m glad I did.
The subtitle of Why Motivating People Doesn’t Work ... and What Does is this: The New Science of Leading, Energizing and Engaging. While my last science class was Physics in my sophomore year, I still appreciate science, enjoying a good scientific read, especially when it is directed and articulated towards a solution we need. We need solutions for motivating people. Or rather we need solutions on how to stop motivating people. And, this book offers not only the science, but anecdotes and examples and steps and tips on:
- what doesn’t work,
- why it doesn’t work and ...
- what does.
Those are three points you need when you bring this change to your organization.
For the last year or so I’ve grown impatient with much of what passes for wisdom and learned research in the employee engagement discussion. The tone and verbiage is one thing. It’s still reflects an us vs them paradigm: us, engaged and them, not. Good kids: rule followers and those who build the corporate echo chamber vs the bad kids: those who question or those with different ideas or those brave enough to say the emperor’s nekid.
Have you ever wondered why all employees aren’t invited to the meetings about their engagement or lack, thereof? How is that engaging?
That leads to the next issue. Without employees (all ... employees) involved, engaged, in this discussion (operative words here are engaged and discussion as opposed to meetings and surveys) then any conclusions are biased and any recommended corrective actions are just that. Corrective actions.
We’re going to correct their attitude, their behavior.
We’re right, you’re wrong.
That ain’t gonna work. Oh sure, it works like a chocolate sundae satisfies hunger. Empty calories, an unsustainable diet which leads to problems down the road when you make it a regular, daily if not hourly, part of your diet. Susan Fowler, the author of this great book, uses that analogy. It works, too, the analogy not the diet nor the use of empty calories of bribes and treats.
Granted, we’re all busy and we need solutions ... yesterday. But quick fixes of bribes and attaboys with scripted lines aren’t sustainable. They’re insulting but the employees, the ones disengaged, know better than to point that out. (C'mon, if you wanted their opinion you would have sat down with them, face to face, and asked. Listened, too.)
The delivery of these solutions compounds the effect of the already disengaged, top-down, command-and-control hierarchy that creates a disengaged workforce. No one likes them. Manager don’t because it’s a solution that’s imposed on them. Employees don’t ... for the same reason. Those imposing these ‘solutions’ see their biases reinforced. ‘See,’ they say. ‘We had to solve ‘their’ problem.’
My response to all these inconsistencies was an adhoc stream of blog posts in the tone of Hey, hey, that ain’t right and here’s why. It’s almost my equivalent of cheap calories. For the last two or three months, it was less and less satisfying. I was getting at something but I couldn’t wrap my head around its message.
Now, Susan Fowler comes along, with a few decades of research and consulting and excellent writing, and weaves a coherent message of why these approaches don’t work, how they’re hurting your organization and even better, what will work and how you can implement it. It's so readable and well-organized, too!
This is a good day for employee engagement, for employees and their families, for their businesses and their managers. Yeah, Freddie King sang that Thursday’s are oh so sad, but ... not this one, not if you’re reading this book.