The Done Right Podcast
Episode 6

Make Work Matter: Why pride is the secret to motivating others

Welcome to the Done Right podcast. I'm Jordan Staples and over the past decade and a half, I've been studying how people live successful and satisfying lives, both in and outside of work. And here's what I've learned. People in the workforce who are successful and satisfied are the ones that show up, pitch in, and make an impact in their companies. They are the ones who know how to get stuff done but do it right. So our mission for this podcast is to deliver insight and inspiration to fuel the way you show up at work today. 

I'm here in Lehi, Utah at Workfront headquarters, and I'm grateful you are here to join me for today's episode on making work matter: why pride is the secret to motivating others. 

I just told you the punch line of today's episode, but we're going to dig into why this is the case, and what you can do about it as a leader. So let's go back to 2002 and talk about Google for a minute. Sergey Brin and Larry Page, founders at Google, were facing a critical decision: do they keep their managers or flatten the organization? Now why in the world would they even be asking themselves this question? Well, based on what I was able to find out about this situation, the engineers were not having it with the managers at Google. They essentially were labeling them as bureaucratic meddlers. They were just getting in the way of them getting stuff done and doing their best work. So really, to get rid of the complaining, Larry Page and Sergey Brin decided to flatten the organization. So they did it. 

And guess what happened? It was an absolute disaster. Basically what was happening is that all the PTO requests were going into Larry Page's inbox and a lot of things that were challenges of not having managers surfaced, and they re-instituted managers just a few weeks later. But essentially what Google did from this experience was--or eventually, I should say--they kicked off a project called “Project Oxygen” and they wanted to understand what made for good managers, and what made for not so good managers--the ones that were being complained about. And here's what they found. So this is just at Google, they did this research, and according to what I found, this was actually a few years after this, so I think it was in 2009. But I will share the articles that I researched so you guys can dig into them as well.

8 Consistent Behavioral Abilities

Essentially, these eight consistent behavioral abilities emerged from their research of what makes for good managers at Google. 

  1. They are good coaches.

  2. They don’t micromanage.

  3. They care about their team members.

  4. They are productive and results-oriented.

  5. They are good communicators.

  6. They help with career development.

  7. They have a clear vision and strategy

  8. They have technical expertise or skills in their field of work.

Here's the question though, why? Why is it that these eight things are the abilities that really enable a manager or leader to effectively get the best out of his or her people on the team, and actually see your results? Actually see results that are impacting the organization in a positive way. Why is that the case?

Well they talk about this a little bit, and they talk about a few things that I want to dig into with you because essentially when they're explaining why these things work, they're essentially explaining what motivates your people to do their best work. And these are eight tactics that are going to help tap into that motivation, and that my friends, is the takeaway. If we were to go and tactically try and do all these things, we would all be better leaders for it. But what I want you to walk away with today, is one simple understanding that your folks already are charged and full of motivation, of energy, of desire, of passion--whatever that term is that you think about when it comes to motivation, and in people being able to give their best work--they've already got it. Your job is to tap into it. And the way that you tap into it is to do one single thing, and that is to make work matter. That is exactly what those eight abilities are doing. 

Let me unpack this with you for the next few minutes. So some of you have heard of this man by the name of Douglas McGregor. He was an M.I.T. management professor back in the 50s-60s, and really advocated for this human relations approach to management. He was very interested in what motivates people to work. So his ideas gained momentum in the 60s, and this is actually something that you'll still hear in business schools today, but he has this philosophy or theory that there are Theory X managers and Theory Y managers. Because essentially what he believed and understood about people was that our beliefs as leaders about the people that we work with, and the people that we lead, those beliefs drive our behavior. So what you believe, is going to drive what you do. And this makes sense. 

And actually, you will find that a lot of organizations adopt that model. But here's what he said, you kind of have this dichotomy of Theory X and Theory Y managers. And let me give you a list of beliefs that Theory X managers have about people, and what motivates them to work, and then what Theory Y managers believe about people, and what motivates them to work. 

Theory X

See if you can relate to any of these: 

  1. The average man is by nature, indolent. He works as little as possible i.e. he's lazy.

  2. He or she lacks ambition, dislikes responsibility, and prefers to be led. 

  3. He or she is inherently self-centered, indifferent to organizational needs. 

  4. He or she is by nature resistant to change. 

  5. He or she is gullible, not very bright, the ready dupe of the charlatan and the demagogue. 

Another way to capture this is an excerpt from his book where he says: 

“Without this active intervention by management, people would be passive--even resistant--to organizational needs. They must, therefore, be persuaded, rewarded, punished, controlled--their activities must be directed.”

So, when I was first reading this--and maybe you guys can relate to this, or maybe not--I'm like “no way” like, “I definitely don't have those beliefs…” Right? I don't think people are inherently lazy. I think at times people are resistant to change. I mean, there are some things I was relating to, and things I was maybe pushing back on. But here's the thing, those Theory X beliefs we just listed out about people, lead to certain behaviors. They lead to the way that you lead and approach that team. 

So the output that Douglas McGregor talked about was that it's going to lead to tighter control, stricter policies, using punishments and rewards. That's your approach to management. Carrots and sticks. So the interesting thing about this is that he talks about this idea that force--which is kind of what I just read, like stricter, tighter policies, carrots and sticks, rewards and punishment--that force breeds counter forces. So this cycle he talks about is that Theory X beliefs lead to these controlling practices, which lead to employee resistance, which lead to poor results, which is what you and I as leaders are paid to do, is get results. And certainly, those poor results--if we have these beliefs--are going to then reinforce that and certainly heighten our controlling practices to try and get that better performance from our folks. 

Now, I don't know how many of you are agreeing with him on this, or maybe pushing back a little bit, but here's the interesting thing about this. I think the principles that are coming to mind are rewards and punishments. Right? We do a lot today in business on that reward and punishment approach; we operate that way pretty heavily. And I think that you probably have seen it work and not work in your organization and in your career a few times, and can relate to it personally yourself. Here's the thing, Dan Pink, who wrote a book called Drive years ago about this topic really dives into if carrots and sticks actually drive the performance of people in the workplace. And as you go and read through his summary of the research, the answer to that is essentially “no.” 

And he has a TED talk as well. But, essentially what Dan talks about and summarizes in the research nicely, is that what business does today, and what science says is very different. What science knows and what business does are different. And that's kind of a different topic here. But we're really going to dig into what actually does motivate people. And the thing that I just want to be clear on as we dig into this, is that what he found is that when people are fairly compensated--they're getting paid fairly for the work that they are doing--that's when these rewards, these incentives, actually backfire. They actually hurt performance. And guys if this is a debate you want to get into, go jump into the content that Dan Pink has delivered--lots of really fascinating stuff there. I don't want to harp on that today. 

What I really want to get to here is this: that the approach of rewards and punishments is an extrinsic motivation paradigm that we're using. And it doesn't mean that you should use, it or you shouldn't, but just stick with me here. You've got to move from an extrinsic way of thinking about motivating your people, to more of an intrinsic way of motivating your people. 

Theory Y

So let me get into the Theory Y beliefs for what managers believe about people. And what impact that can have. Ok, so Theory Y. This is interesting. 

  1. The expenditure of physical and mental effort in work is as natural as play or rest.

  2. External control and the threat of punishment are not the only means for bringing about effort toward organizational objectives.

  3. Theory Y managers believe that people will exercise self-direction and self-control in the service of objectives to which he or she is committed.

  4. Commitment to objectives is a function of the rewards associated with their achievement. 

So we talked about rewards and carrots and sticks, and how they don't quite work. But the thing is that every single person does things because there's a reward there, or they're going to do something to avoid some sort of punishment. You can think of it that way; some sort of negative thing they're trying to avoid. But here Theory Y managers believe the commitment to objectives is a function of the rewards associated with their achievement. The most significant of such rewards is the satisfaction of ego and self-actualization. This is getting into really deep psychology terms. 

But the point is this: there can be a lot of personally fulfilling rewards that come with that effort and commitment to an organization's objectives. And really the lesson here is that pride matters more than money when we talk about that commitment to an organization and its goals. Money is not driving your commitment to a company and what they're trying to accomplish. You'll work for them, you'll put in time, you'll put in effort, you'll put in energy, but commitment is a different ballgame. Commitment is when you really are applying yourself and doing your best work against those organization’s goals. So just a last belief here of Theory Y managers is

  1. The capacity to exercise a relatively high degree of imagination. Ingenuity and creativity in the solution of an organizational problem that is widely, not narrowly, distributed in the population. 

Basically meaning the wisdom is in the room. You have the people in the room that can solve the organization's challenges; that can contribute to the organizational objectives. You just need to tap into it. And it's not just a select few, you really have a lot of people. And it's kind of this idea that Ray Dalio talks about an idea of meritocracy, but we’ll not go down that direction. But here's the punchline: Theory Y leaders who have these very bullish beliefs in people about their intentions, and their ability, and their motivation, at work every day are doing this: they are arranging things so individuals can achieve their own goals and happily accomplish the organization's goals at the same time. 

Do you do that as a leader? How well do you do that as a leader today? 

And maybe you've never even had that sort of a mindset or approach to make work matter at that level for your people. But the bottom line for you and I, is that your mindset, the outlook that you have on the people around you--as Douglas Macgregor taught us decades ago--is impacting what you do on a daily basis. The way that you develop strategy and innovation, the way that you plan, the way that you execute, the way that you communicate, every single thing that you do as a leader today, is based on those beliefs. 

So even if you think about what we just reviewed and you're like, “Yeah, I know, obviously Jordan, you're implying that I need to be a Theory Y. So.... yeah, I believe that stuff.” Here's the reality, even if you agree with these beliefs about people and how they work, or why they work, what motivates them to work; even if you agree with it, and you have that intention of believing in people, this is the hard part. You've got to check yourself on what your actual actions communicate because you can, in theory, believe these things, but in practice you're not helping to really make work matter in the way you do that you plan, execute, communicate, the way that you really approach leadership is not reflecting that intent at least. 

Today’s next best action:

So what I'm going to recommend for you is this go out today, or tomorrow, and make work matter. You have got to connect your people and the work that they do to the organization and its goals. You've got to connect them, their strengths, to what the organization needs to solve. And essentially you'll know that you were successful in doing this if you can get three yeses from your team members when they answer the questions: 

  1. Do I know my role?

  2. Do I believe my role matters? 

  3. Do I experience pride in my work?

So today go baseline yourself. Go baseline yourself and find out how good you are with your team members on those three questions, and then stick with us on this podcast because you're going to learn some great approaches to make work matter by the way that you plan, execute, and measure work, by the way that you approach your team members and work with them, and the culture that you're infusing. There's a lot of great things that can make work matter, but you've got to use it as KPI here; pride in the way that you lead. 

Thank you so much for listening to today's episode. You can find more information about the topic and continue the conversation at donerightpodcast.org. The Done Right podcast is hosted by me, Jordan Staples, the show is produced by Workfront. Our team includes Jeremy Tippetts and Marc Hansen. 

Thanks for listening. And if you like what you hear, rate and review the show, it helps other people find us. See you next time.