Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Candle Problems for Dummies: Not Apply Much Today

In his presentation in July 2009 on motivation, Daniel Pink makes a significant point: there’s a gap between science (the evidence) and what business does. Nowhere is it more obvious than with the subject of rewards. His point: people don’t always perform better with bigger rewards. Because it depends on the problem. The more complex, the less effect an external reward. Yet, organizations, as a general rule, don’t differentiate their approaches.

The first decade of the 21st century has been bountiful in its non-routine problems, constantly surprising us and keeping us off balance. These “out of nowhere” occurrences don’t have easy solutions.

When we apply our known routines to them, the puzzles often remain. For example, the early warning system for tsunamis did little to help the people on the American Samoa Island because it was too close to the epicenter of the earthquake. Many economists saw the financial crisis coming but could not apply their collective pressure (their early warning signals) enough to influence key decision-makers. Life has definitely become more complicated. There is much more work to do to prevent and manage risk, to anticipate and to imagine.

Opening up our minds literally is the way forward. That means motivating people from within than without. Pink stresses three factors: “autonomy” (letting people direct their own work), “mastery” (having the opportunity to get better and better at what matters) and “purpose” (being involved in something beyond ourselves).

David Rock, author of Your Brain at Work, wraps up the challenge of motivation or engagement similarly in the acronym “SCARF”:

Status: praise and mastering a skill and being paid for it all boost an employee’s sense of status and by association—motivation. Threats to status like performance reviews do the opposite;

Certainty: uncertainty registers tension in the brain shutting down problem-solving ability. If leaders can create a perception of certainty, for example, by breaking down problems into small steps or by exuding the confidence that “We can do it!” the chains of uncertainty become less of a burden;

Autonomy: Many studies indicate that if people feel they are not being micro-managed, that they are able to direct their work decisions relatively freely, the more stress remains under control, the more inspired they are to do good work;

Relatedness: If individuals feel they belong (at work), they trust more and they are able to build the necessary relationships to innovate and to produce.

Fairness: Perceptions of unfairness activate hostility and undermine trust. Leaders that “do the right thing” help collaboration flourish.

As different from 20th century leadership and management, brain science in the 21st century is helping us better understand really what works. We know that threats to our well-being generate the fight or flight hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. Chronic doses of these hormones do not open up our minds to novel solutions. On the other hand, serotonin and oxytocin flood our brains when we are happy and engaged. In turn, they help us focus and undertake higher problem-solving skills.

Like evidenced-based medicine, the science of the brain is illuminating the way for “people-management”, providing the hard evidence as to why soft power works. The candle-light of soft power multiplies not only in our minds but it also generates the energy for innovation.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Margie's Health Care Reform Advice for President Obama

Language matters in leadership. Look at what has happened with President Obama’s use of the term “public option” for health care reform. Who would’ve have thought that hope and goodwill, the populace feelings that elevated Barack Obama to the American Presidency, would turn into fear and paranoia?

In Canada, people like Margie, who has lived many of her years without universal health coverage, knows what fear is. As a 5 year old, she watched her 8 year old sister die from diphtheria. Margie survived barely. Neither was denied access, as the incident happened in England. Back in Canada, it would be another 43 years before true universal health coverage was available to Margie and her family. In the interim, she and her husband paid full price, as you go, and later paid premiums to private health insurers to keep the costs reasonable. Her husband always managed to work out “deals” with hospitals to pay them back on a monthly basis after Margie’s hospital stays for childbirth. The financial costs for raising a family remain vivid in Margie’s mind. It was tough!

Fast forward to 2009, it is incomprehensible to Margie that the United States, one of the most innovative and entrepreneurial nations in the world, has a health “care” system like she experienced in Canada 40 odd years ago.

But, Margie is a political “junkie”, having studied political science at University (she graduated with her degree when she was 55!). After having watched closely the debates and the rhetoric, Margie has an idea.

Stop talking about “public option”. Start communicating the message that a system will be created to allow 47 million or so American citizens without coverage to buy into an “affordable option”. Assure the majority that has health coverage that nothing will change. That is, there will be nothing lost. Improvements will be made as is typical for any system. Life will go on as usual. No worries.

Well, Margie knows it’s not quite that simple, because the costs in the existing health insurance system are spiraling out of control. Critics worry about a “parallel” system competing with a “public option”. Margie thinks that sounds strange for a society that prides itself on competition. Whatever! Borrowing a phrase from the grandkids! Furthermore, how can coverage for 47 million more be financed?

Margie says: “One step at a time”. That’s how it was done in Canada. Tommy Douglas, who spearheaded the reform, started small---Saskatchewan. That “pilot” evolved over a few decades. It’s hard to implement full-scale change. Much easier to begin “where the love is”, learn as you go and, build “buy-in.