In her book Multipliers, Liz Wiseman shares research, which suggests that the American worker is only 40-70% productive on average. She details a number of traits that are prevalent among certain leaders that allow them to get up to 50% more productivity from their staff—while increasing a sense of satisfaction and fulfillment. She refers to those leaders as Multipliers, because they have the effect of making everyone smarter and more productive. This is contrasted with a very different type of leader, actually more of a manager, whom she refers to as a Diminisher, because their approach has the effect of reducing the effectiveness of the people that report to them.
Pick up the book to dig deeper into the disciplines that distinguish Multipliers from Diminishers. I will no doubt present some of those disciplines in a future article, but at this time I want to rather give insight behind what causes people to willingly give more of themselves in one situation and less of themselves in another. Not surprisingly the secret is associated with motivation, but not necessarily in the manner you think.
First, let me demonstrate the concept with a story. I often tell clients about an unemployed individual, I will call Dave, who approached the General Manager of a dealership in search of work. The General Manager, being busy, reacted without too much thought, and told Dave that he did not have anything for him to do. Not to be deterred Dave shared how he has a family, has been out of work for a while, and would be willing to do any job, large or small, just to put food on the table. In a moment of compassion the General Manager had an idea that would not only get Dave out of his office, but give him a chance to earn a few dollars.
The General Manager explained how he had a pile of old tires behind the service department that could be moved from where they had gathered for the past few months. The pile was large and the General Manager explained that it should amount to a days work. All he had to do was move the pile of tires to a specified location at the back of the lot. Dave gladly accepted and went right to work.
Within two hours Dave was back in the General Manager’s office looking for more work. The General Manager was surprised how quickly Dave completed the job and thanked him for his effort. Not having any other work for him, yet knowing his need, the General Manager suggested that he would pay Dave the same amount to move the tires back to the original location behind the service department. Dave hesitated for a moment, clarified that he had heard correctly, and went back to work, but with a little less vigor. This time it was three hours before he was back in the General Manager’s office looking for more work. This cycle repeated a third time with the project taking even longer to complete.
The General Manager was fascinated by what he was observing and wondered why Dave was slowing down. Was it possible that Dave was simply getting progressively more tired, or could there be more to it. Driven by his curiosity the General Manager posted a question on the healthyDEALER.com blog, which provides all kinds of free leadership insights and teamwork perspectives for automobile dealers, and got the following explanation:
There are three levels of human effort stimulated by three forms of motivation, as follows:
- Survival Effort is motivated by self-preservation and is only evident when a threat to our survival is present. In modern American society survival is not something most of us think about or face on a daily basis. We just don’t encounter many true threats to our survival like people in third world countries might, or the kinds people many centuries ago did on a regular basis. Hence, it is rare in our society that we tap into this kind of effort.
- Mandatory Effort is motivated by a sense of obligation (like paying back a debt or getting a paycheck), an appetite for more of a good thing (like money or pleasure), or pain avoidance (like being yelled at by a boss or getting fired). We refer to these types of external, or extrinsic, motivators as the proverbial “carrot and stick”. Extrinsic factors provide an external impetus to exert more or less effort. There may be short spikes in our productivity when the extrinsic factor is first introduced, but the effect is usually short lived and the individual eventually settles back into their regular routine. In fact, after exerting more mandatory effort, as a result of an increase in external factors, like at month end in the car business, or during a sales contest, we might even go into recovery mode after the external motivator is removed, and lower our output for a period of time.
Mandatory effort was very prevalent during the industrial revolution when most people had very little and the progression of materialism was rapid. Over the long term, however, especially in our current environment, external motivators only drive us to a 40-70% productivity level on average. In a negative environment, where staff feels disengaged, or as a result of cortisol (look for a future article on cortisol as it is one of the least understood side-effects of the diminishing boss) produced in response to negativity and stress, most people will put in just enough effort (40-50%) to avoid getting fired. In a more favorable environment people may put in more effort (50-70%), but only that which they feel obligated to contribute.
- Discretionary Effort is what allows for peak performance. Motivated by internal, or intrinsic, factors such as autonomy, mastery, and purpose, people will put in up to 50% more effort on their own and feel better in the process. Intrinsic means that which comes from within – things that we ultimately do for ourselves. Autonomy is the desire to direct our own efforts – the brain likes control and comes alive when it has the chance to call the shots. Mastery is our desire to achieve, compete, and become the best—pride is closely linked to this. Purpose is our desire to be a part of something bigger than ourselves—people will work harder and longer for a cause than they will for external rewards, like money. The challenge, especially for managers, is that discretionary effort must be volunteered. It cannot be coerced or forced. But when it is volunteered the exertion of additional effort actually results in a feeling of satisfaction and fulfillment—which serves to motivate even more effort.
Let’s apply this to the story of Dave and the Tires. Initially Dave was motivated by survival. He was willing to do just about anything to feed his family. Once his basic needs were met his motivation reduced to “mandatory” levels. During the first third of the project he exerted a combination of survival and discretionary effort. That is why he did the job so quickly. Once he earned enough to feed his family his survival need was met. Further, when Dave learned that there wasn’t a real purpose behind moving the tires his sense of purpose was eroded. Hence, the project was taking longer because the survival and discretionary elements were dissipating and he was increasingly relying on mandatory effort.
In reality all of us contribute or withhold effort depending on the type of motivation we experience—extrinsic, intrinsic, or a combination of both. You will notice it at work, at home, in sports, or any other place where productivity or effort can be measured.
The challenge in most workplaces is that a management approach, which peaks at about 70% effort, tends to be the default mode of most bosses. Why? I believe it is because most bosses just don’t know different.
The best leaders, on the other hand, whether knowingly or intuitively, inspire and cast vision. They create environments of self-direction and encouragement to do and be your best. As a result their people continuously offer up discretionary effort resulting in up to 50% greater productivity.
In his book, Drive, Dan Pink goes into greater detail about the importance of intrinsic motivation in the modern workplace. There is also a great YouTube video that provides an overview of the progression of motivation – search for “Dan Pink Motivation.”
- Develop more of a leadership approach. Take time to inspire and cast vision. Explain not only what needs to be done, but why it is important or necessary. Explaining ‘why’ helps people buy-in and gain a sense of purpose.
- Don’t micromanage. Rather give room for people to figure out how to get the job done on their own while coordinating the timing and details with others. Self-direction [autonomy] provides a sense of control, causing the brain to become more active.
- Don’t impose targets. People do more of what they want to do than what they have to So, rather ask your people what they think they can accomplish if they give it their best and get them to commit to a target. Then provide support, accountability, and development to help them become their very best—not for you, but for them. This will release a feeling of mastery.
- Final thought – a paycheck is like rent for people’s hands and feet, but their hearts and minds must be volunteered. Treat your people like you would volunteers—cast vision, seek buy-in, give room to do some things “their way”—and they will happily do more for you and the organization.
I invite you to join me at Digital Dealer 24 Conference & Expo (April 10-12, 2018 in Orlando) for my session “The Power of Up-Care! Research Reveals Up-Care to Be 3x More Effective Than Up-Sell.”
Author: Herb K. Mast
Herb Mast is CEO of HealthyDEALER. As an executive coach he enables Dealers to achieve more of their potential through greater intentionality in the areas of leadership, culture, communication, teamwork, and organizational health. Additional insights, articles, and practical solutions are available at www.HealthyDEALER.com