Daniel Pink answers questions on employee engagement in a SmartTalk HR webinar sponsored by RiseSmart.

Last week, New York Times bestselling author Daniel Pink joined us for a webinar on how to engage, influence, and even delight employees. (Watch the webinar here.) 

The presentation was packed with actionable insights that you can apply in your own organization today, and we received a ton of great questions. You can watch the presentation to hear Daniel’s answer to the first several questions—and then read on to see his answers to those questions we had to take offline:

QUESTION 1:

“I come from an operations background where my default is to push for standardization—it’s efficient! But I’m not learning to let people do things in the way that works for them (don’t control the inputs as much). The tradeoff is that it’s lots of work to let people do things their own way. Do you have a framework for deciding effectively when it makes sense to standardize processes vs allowing deep personalization?” 

DANIEL SAYS: 

This is a great question, but unfortunately there’s no single formula for making the determination. Indeed, these are the sorts of decisions that separate the great managers from the merely good ones. The best way to make this decision is through small experiments—those “little bets” I mentioned [in the webcast]. So perhaps invite a small portion of the workforce to try to do things a little more autonomously. Then see how well it works. Learn from that. Make refinements. Try again. Through these quick iterations, you’ll discover some of the design principles.

One more thing: If standardization is working well, don’t mess with it. If people are doing work that isn’t autonomous, that’s ok. But you’ll get more out of them if you do two things:

  1. Acknowledge that it might get boring sometimes.
  2. Explain why the standard procedures are in place.

QUESTION 2:

“How can you create/manufacture “confederates” in a crowd without the resources to provide your own people as social cues?”

DANIEL SAYS: 

That’s tough. One possibility is to look to other organizations—especially similarly situated ones—that are doing what you hope to do. “Look at them. They’re doing it this way, and it’s working! Maybe we should do the same.”

QUESTION 3:  

“How might we ‘double-down’ on the motivating factors of ‘personal benefit’ and ‘purpose of the work?’”

DANIEL SAYS: 

On personal benefit, the work of Teresa Amabile has shown that the single greatest day-to-day motivator on the job is “making progress on meaningful work.” So try to show them the progress they’re making through external measures and swift, personalized feedback.

On purpose, share customer testimonials. Let them see the product or service in action in the field. Invite people whose lives have been changed to meet with them.  Anything you can do to put a human face on the outcome has a good chance of being effective. 

QUESTION 4:

“How do we (HR) change the mindset of large organizations/corporations whose main (only?) purpose is to grow profit and return value to shareholders…purporting this brings secure well paid jobs to ee’s, and senior managers make their bonuses?”

DANIEL SAYS: 

One idea: Show that other companies—Google, Facebook, Prudential, USAA and so on—are doing this. So find an intern. Have him or her identify the 50 companies with the best stock market performance over the last 10 years. Then have the intern round up the mission statements of the companies. My guess is that most of them will have missions that go beyond enhancing shareholder value and CEOs who speak the language of higher purpose.

QUESTION 5:  

“Does motivation change by generation? Right now our organization has a huge demographics gap—40% of our workforce is expected to retire within 5 years, and we have 35% of employees who have worked with us 0-5 years. How can we best engage all generations?

DANIEL SAYS: 

I’m not a big believer in generational explanations. I think they’re generally oversold. But on motivation there are a two key differences between the younger generations and the older ones. First, the younger generations are feedback animals. They’ve lived in a world of constant, personalized feedback and they expect their experience inside companies to be similar. So increase the robustness and meaningfulness of your feedback mechanisms. Second, the younger generations turn out to be surprisingly purpose-driven. That should be a heightened point of emphasis for this crowd. 

For more great insights from Daniel Pink, and to hear the rest of the conversation, check out the  entire webinar here:

 

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