Part One of a Three-Part Series
Rarely are organizational leaders presented with an inflection point where they have an opportunity to shape the future of their organization’s workplace consciously. One such opportunity is in front of Executives as the pandemic evolves and “return to work” efforts unfold. As this transition happens, a new model for work will emerge right before them. Whether they consciously shape their organization’s work environment into a competitive advantage, let it develop as it will, or attempt to force it back to its former state is a choice every Executive faces. Which will it be?
Will the “Great Resignation” continue? What will it take to retain your employees or attract new talent? How will a new hybrid work arrangement unfold? How can you increase innovation and employee ownership to meet the competitive demands of the marketplace? These and many other challenges will require leaders to engage their employees and initiate a strategic effort to rethink work and the workplace culture.
Some leaders will hope the workplace returns to what it was, blaming employees for not being loyal as they depart. Others will proactively take an in-depth look at work design, goal setting, people systems, and, importantly, the culture. They will check to see if the purpose and mission of the organization inspire people. The strategic-minded leaders will check to see if human resource systems support the changing interests and needs of their employees. And they will want to know if the current organizational culture promotes dignity, respect, and inclusion so each employee can fully contribute and develop themselves.
The timing is perfect for a strategic-level conversation to ensure the organization’s mission and purpose inspire employees to achieve. And there is an opportunity to engage in a strategic discussion about the future workplace (including the goal setting and people systems) and to look at the organization’s current and the optimal future culture. Compensation will likely remain an issue for a while, but the “force-multiplier” for attracting and retaining employees will be the work setting and culture over the long haul.
Given the importance of culture, strategic discussions need to include a formal assessment of the organization’s current culture to see if it supports operational and business outcomes—such as innovation, customer service, teamwork, talent attraction and retention, employee engagement, and an effective hybrid workplace. Employees are emerging from the “Great Reflection.” They have had time to reflect on what they want in their lives and from work. The organizational assessment needs to look at how well the current culture and work climate support the present-day needs of employees as the pandemic evolves.
“The timing is perfect for a strategic-level conversation to ensure the organization’s mission and purpose inspire employees to achieve.” –Madeline Marquardt
Finally, leaders must determine whether their organization’s culture promotes intrinsic motivation – the unspoken attractor for employees. In the end, culture will be the force that balances the compensation issues at hand and creates a competitive advantage.
Some leaders will react to the current employee and workplace situation by implementing changes in structures and human resource systems without regard to the type of culture required to meet employee and business demands. They will likely fail in these efforts. Already we are seeing early attempts by businesses to force employees back to work by using arcane tactics for “taking roll” with electronic badging records. The media has reported on financial institutions monitoring badging records, which have created fear-based work environments. Experience proves that such fear-based environments decrease innovation, quality, and accountability. Looking at the bigger picture, one can see the need for more in-depth strategic level conversations, producing improvement strategies that address organizational and employee needs and foster the development of a constructive culture.
The leader’s job is to create a workplace where employees want to come, contribute, and stay. We are at an inflection point. Will you seize the day? Carpe diem, the moment is here!
The Type of Culture Matters
As noted above, over the long term, the work setting and culture will be the “force-multiplier” for successfully navigating the workforce transition as businesses learn how to thrive in the Covid (and post-pandemic) environment and effectively respond to shifting employee workplace needs. Developing a culture that promotes personal intrinsic motivators will give employers a competitive advantage in retracting and retaining employees and is equally essential in adapting and innovating to meet the current marketplace demands. Richard Ryan, PhD., sums it up with, “We’re interested in what we would call high-quality motivation when people can be wholeheartedly engaged in something and have both their best experience and their best performance.” The quality of the culture will matter.
Over time, we have seen four broad intrinsic motivators that are always present when employees have their best experiences and produce exceptional results. More generally, we have found that companies achieve and sustain high levels of performance when their cultures support and reinforce behaviors that promote four conditions: Meaningful Condition, Learning Condition, Human Condition, and Autonomous Condition. These motivators are influenced by and consistent with Ryan and Deci’s Self Determination Theory1 and the Key Dimensions of Meaningful Work as defined by Marela and Pessi2. The Four Conditions also encompass Abraham Maslow’s3 and Carl Roger’s4 Actualization Theories.
Meaningful Condition – encompasses an environment where individuals can see their work as making a difference or they find the work is personally meaningful in some way. Making a difference involves objectively significant work and contributes to the goals of the team or organization. Personally, meaningful work impacts the individual emotionally. They perceive the work as serving human, and customer needs or in some way contributing to a broader societal purpose. Employees find such work personally appealing, other-oriented, and a contribution to something larger than themselves.
Learning Condition – addresses the human drive to know and satisfy one’s curiosity. Abraham Maslow, Carl Rogers, and many other researchers found that people naturally seek and thrive on opportunities to learn and develop themselves when in a supportive environment. Recent organizational theory references becoming a Learning Organization, but this seldom addresses the personal-needs level where intrinsic motivation plays out. Instead, it will require organizations to promote behavioral expectations and people systems that support employees in pursuing learning, growth, and mastery. The resulting culture will create a highly attractive environment for members.
Human Condition – addressed by organizations that develop cultural norms and expectations for including their employees, respecting individuals, building teams, supporting each other, and treating each other with civility. When the culture creates a respectful environment, employees feel safe, take reasonable risks, learn from mistakes, fully contribute, and offer creative ideas. This environment motivates people to reach out and typically includes a diverse group of people to develop innovative solutions.
Autonomous Condition – addresses people’s need to have some degree of control or influence over what they do and how they go about their tasks and projects. Research shows that employees are motivated when they operate from an inner directiveness and experience autonomy. Organizations promote autonomy by means of behavioral expectations for employees to offer ideas about what work to do, how to go about their work, and who to work with.
Bringing Strategy and Culture Together
To what degree does your organizational culture promote the four intrinsic motivators? If it does so not at all, will you lack a competitive advantage to attract and retain employees and innovate solutions to meet an evolving marketplace? If, to some degree, it does promote the four intrinsic motivators, do you know how it does so and how to encourage even more of the necessary behaviors? The good news is we can measure organizational culture and climate. Readied with data from a valid assessment of their organization’s current culture, executives can engage in a strategic level conversation to promote a culture that will retain and attract talent in this competitive environment and foster much-needed innovation.
In Part Two of this series, we share the fundamental principles behind our change strategies that can help organizations shift culture and improve performance. If you’re interested in having a positive impact on your organization or those you serve (as a consultant), you’ll find value in the approach we bring to light in Part Two. It’s the same approach we’ve applied across a broad spectrum of companies to determine how their organizational cultures can be redirected to encourage and reinforce behaviors that intrinsically motivate employees to pursue excellence, continuous improvement, innovation, learning, and teamwork.
As specialists in strategy, we have used scientifically based, valid, and reliable assessments for more than twenty years to measure an organization’s current operating culture and define an optimal culture to help meet its strategic challenges. If you feel this type of approach can help your leadership team gain clarity on key next steps and to embark on a development journey, we welcome a conversation. Feel free to contact us through Human Synergistics; we are long-term accredited practitioners in their suite of assessments. Or contact us directly at Ephektiv.
1 Ryan, R. M. & Deci, E. L. (2000). Self-Determination Theory and the Facilitation of Intrinsic Motivation, Social Development, and Well-Being. American Psychologist. Vol. 55, No. 1, 68-78.
2 Martela, F. & Pessi, A. B. (2018). Significant Work Is About Self-Realization and Broader Purpose: Defining the Key Dimensions of Meaningful Work. Frontiers in Psychology.
3 Maslow, A. (1943). A Theory of Human Motivation. Psychological Review, 50(4), 370–396.
4 Rogers, C. (1970). On Becoming a Person. Houghton Mifflin/Sentry Edition, 1970.