Learning shouldn’t be a chore

Over the weekend, I met up with my friend Barry (not his real name) the baker (not his real profession). He used to tell me about how he’s not getting any new training at work. I asked him how things were with him, and he was quick to jump onto the topic of training.

“Well, we now have a lot of training lined up for us,” he said in a tone that was far from enthusiastic. “Just not the ones that I was expecting,” he added sullenly.

I asked him to elaborate. He told me he was expecting more technical training. Something along the lines of baking design patterns, introduction to other baking frameworks, new technologies, or essentially training that would help them learn to bake better. What they got instead were mostly soft skills training that had nothing to do with baking altogether.

I asked him a few other questions like do they have a say about the classes they’re assigned, do they have a means to feedback on the value they get from the training, how do they gauge whether the training had been worth it, were the topics something you can just as easily find better if not more concise resources on from the net, what do your peers think about the training, etc.

From his responses, I got reminded about Dan Pink’s talk about motivation being best driven by autonomy, mastery and purpose.

  • Autonomy – getting to choose for yourself the classes that you’d take, or having a say on that matter
  • Mastery – getting trained on areas that you want to improve
  • Purpose – getting training that’s relevant to your you, your craft, your role, your career path; getting some alignment on why you’re getting a particular training especially if it’s something you’re not interested in to begin with

While it was a good move to provide more training, I guess it wouldn’t hurt to look into these three things so that attending those classes wouldn’t be such a chore and so that they won’t be as forgettable either (as in the case of Barry’s co-baker who remembers nothing else but having good coffee on training day).

Dan Pink on Motivation

Here’s a video I stumbled upon a couple of weeks ago. It’s a talk by Dan Pink with awesome art work and some interesting points. For one, it clarifies the notion that the carrot-and-stick approach only works for mechanical tasks. Include tasks that require even rudimentary cognitive skills and the rewards-and-punishment scheme just doesn’t work as well anymore. It also highlights what would be an effective use of money as a motivator: Pay people enough to take the issue of money off the table. This way they won’t be thinking about the money, they’ll be thinking about the work. The talk then moves on to discussing the three factors that science shows to lead to better performance and personal satisfaction:  Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose.

The same guy had a very very similar TED talk (and it has an interactive transcript). A snippet from the said transcript (emphasis mine): “And the good news about all of this is that the scientists  who’ve been studying motivation have given us this new approach. It’s an approach built much more around intrinsic motivation. Around the desire to do things because they matter, because we like it, because they’re interesting, because they are part of something important. And to my mind, that new operating system for our businesses revolves around three elements:  autonomy, mastery and purpose. Autonomy, the urge to direct our own lives. Mastery, the desire to get better and better at something that matters. Purpose, the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves. These are the building blocks of an entirely new operating system for our businesses.”

Excerpts from 2 articles

http://www.forbes.com/2009/05/18/motivation-demotivation-employees-leadership-managing-stop.html – An article from Forbes.com, Stop Motivating Your Employees! Instead, work to keep them from being demotivated.

An employee typically begins a new job excited to be part of the team and pleased to be making a living. Those who promote the need to motivate would certainly agree with that, but they also seem to believe that something must change over time, making it necessary to “remotivate.” This, however, should be unnecessary. Our species’ fundamental desire to do quality work does not change.

The common problem facing employees at all levels is not their own motivation. It is work environments that demotivate.

When work environments consistently fail to provide the direction, resources and respect employees require, their innate desire to achieve is suppressed or redirected. They experience frustration and a kind of learned helplessness. They become motivated to retain their jobs rather than to perform them in a way that delivers optimal value to the organization. This is a common and predictable problem. Once employees escape such a discouraging work environment, their motivation to deliver optimal value for their organization reemerges– sometimes as they go over to a competitor.

There are, in sum, two key steps to staying on top of motivation and demotivation.

First, hire and keep on your team only people who are motivated to do their jobs well. As Jim Collins, author of Good to Great, says, “Get the right people on the bus.”

Second, understand that if they become demotivated, it is because of the environment in which they work. Strong and courageous leaders recognize that such an environment is their own failure. Understanding that can prevent you from misdirecting resources into unnecessary efforts to motivate staff.

We need a new leadership paradigm for the 21st century, with leaders taking a more realistic and enlightened view of the people who work for them. We need to create and maintain work environments that protect employees from the demotivation that has become endemic in modern business.

http://www.impactachievement.com/chapter_two.html (Chapter 2: Motivation at Work from the book People Leave Managers… Not Organizations.

Morale isn’t something that can be bought. The work environment has to provide people with opportunities to sucess [sic], to do their best, to be trusted, to be valued, and to be respected. Then morale and productivity can take place.

Years ago, David Berlo suggested the phrase “I mean you no harm” as advice to management regarding the type of work environment that is conducive to high performance. The phrase came from trainers at Sea World who, when asked how long they swam with new whales in the pool before the training began. replied, “Until the whale knows we mean it no harm.” They know that, once whales believe that they are in an environment of no harm, they will relax and perform. This concept seems so fundamental and obvious. Perhaps it is because of this that we so often overlook the signs of harm that work life can communicate to employees.

Managers need to adopt an approach to managing people that says, “I mean you no harm.”. This is the foundation for motivation and desire at work. The manager’s creed should be to never do personally anything that will destroy trust, suggest favoritism, show discrimination or disrespect to people or their jobs, or communicate insincerity.

The motivation to perform comes from a work environment that allows people to be productive, to achieve, and to participate in a meaningful manner… performance motivation (satisfaction) comes only with the presence of the ability to achieve, challenging work, increased responsibility, opportunities for growth and development, and recognition for accomplishment.

Let’s be clear, there is nothing wrong with a beer bust and softball game; it just doesn’t motivate people to perform well. Why? It’s ineffective because its absence is not the reason that motivation to perform is lacking. When a motivating environment is created, people enjoy a party or get together, of course, but as a “thank-you” or a “breather.” However, when the party is used to get something from employees, it not only fails to work, but it usually backfires, making things worse.