In 1977, the Bee Gees had a big hit with the song ‘Staying Alive’ which was part of the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack. In more recent times, a lot of managers have had to adopt this as their theme tune. Most of us have whiplash from following the stock market and few enjoy the roller coaster ride on their personal pensions. The question is a common one across all sectors: in the face of falling share prices, what can an ‘ordinary’ manager do to keep people upbeat and turbo-charged? Option A = ‘wring your hands’ in a Pontius Pilate gesture, designed to communicate that you feel powerless against superior forces. Yes, just allow your staff to face the triple whammy of lower pay, higher taxes and price inflation. Pretty soon we will need to start building modern day poorhouses, with Roddy Doyle playing the part of Charles Dickens, chronicling the human tragedy. Under Option B (which, I assume you will choose) there’s several possible actions to wrestle people back into a positive mindset and higher productivity.
Progress Principle: A growing body of research by Teresa Amabile (The Progress Principle: Creativity, Productivity and the Psychology of Everyday Work), highlights the fact that people are most engaged in their work and feel happiest when they experience progress — even if the progress is being made by their team, rather than themselves. This ‘progress principle’ suggests that you should devote a portion of your day to helping staff who may be having difficulty, mentoring someone who has undeveloped potential, or guiding your team to diagnose problems in their work. As the team moves forward, they typically experience positive emotions and stronger intrinsic motivation for the work itself. Success breeds success. As the team has more wins, it will become increasingly valuable to the organisation — improving job security for everyone. Okay, I can hear you SHOUTING from here. There’s nothing too surprising in that. I agree – provided that you didn’t skip over the idea that you need to make it happen.
Personal Support: People who don’t like or trust each other rarely perform well as a group. Their motivation is channeled negatively. In the study quoted, teams did better as they developed stronger bonds of camaraderie, mutual respect, and reciprocal emotional support. If you treat your coworkers well, it causes a sort of emotional contagion that ripples through the group like a positive virus. It doesn’t have to be ‘big organized stuff’ (e.g. formal teambuilding). Sometimes it’s stuff which outwardly seems ‘Mickey Mouse’ and is easy to dismiss e.g. buying someone a birthday cake or going bowling once a quarter. That’s not a job for the sports and social committee. It’s your job. Managers facilitate subordinates’ ability to make meaningful progress every day — even if progress is incremental. Small wins pump up the volume and are more accessible than quantum-leap breakthroughs. They feed positivity — even as they advance a project toward its ultimate goal. At a birthday celebration I attended recently, the guy was 47. Now, that’s a lot of candles for a small cake. So, we got 2 kids candles (one for a 4-year old and one for a 7-year old) and put them together and we got everyone in the restaurant to sing Happy Birthday to him. The result: Mega embarrassment and great craic.
GK Chesterton reminded us that “A yawn is a silent shout.” The reality is that many people are bored silly at work, in 2nd gear, operating well below their potential. As an organization leader, you are the catalyst for change. By getting people reengaged, you keep them (and yourself) happy and employed.
Best Timing: When? How about now! Start now, even if things are going well. When the sun is shining, that’s the best time to fix the roof.
PS: Lighter Moments: Consider the following…
*When the smog lifts in Los Angeles, U.C.L.A.
* The professor discovered that her theory of earthquakes was on shaky ground.
* The batteries were given out free of charge.
* A dentist and a manicurist got married, but they fought tooth and nail.
* A will is a dead giveaway….
Next time out, we return to the non-politically correct stuff (which I know that you have secretly come to love, despite the protestations). Here’s a flavour of this…
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