The Roots of My Obsession by Kevin McManus
I find the question of “What motivates people?” to be one that is essentially guaranteed to ignite a spirited conversation. The sad part of it is that most people focus mainly on extrinsic, as opposed to intrinsic, motivators – you know, pay people more money and they will work harder for you. Intrinsic motivation is really where it is all at – finding a way to capture peoples' hearts. Dr. Deming knew this many years ago, as did Maslow, Herzberg, and others, but few people were really motivated to learn how to put these theories into practice. Motivating people extrinsically seemed easier, was more tangible, and at least on the surface, appeared to give us the results we were after … at least in the short term and on the surface.
I personally got ‘turned on' to the topic of motivation during my MBA coursework back in the late 1980s. At that time, I was fortunate enough to be working at a site where people really mattered – we actually talked about the distinctions between the two types of motivation in our plant's steering committee meetings when we were trying to decide how to further improve Quality Circle / self-directed work team process. As this was my third employer during that decade, I was beginning to discover differences in how people were managed. I had not yet began to learn however how management systems are actually the things that drive human behavior – in other words, lead them to do the things that they do each day.
I was both more naive and less angry back then. I had yet to witness consultants ripping companies off, or managers taking credit for other peoples' work. I had not observed twenty years of concept recycling and tool regurgitation. I had not seen the impact that the media and technology would have on our already twisted and warped views about what motivates people and what people really care about. I had yet to discover what would really motivate me to take the paths I have taken in the business wilderness.
Back in the early 1990s, it seemed like we were really screwed up as a country and world. Some, including myself, would argue that we still are, but I think a lot of people have become numb to the fact that we continue to use up our natural resources, pollute an environment in a manner that may limit its ability to recover, or warp the minds of our children about what is really important in this world. I used to be motivated by the need to help make this planet a sustainable, good place for my son to grow up in. I wanted him to at least have the opportunities I had, and I wanted him to be able to live a full, happy, and productive life. As he grew older, I have to say this motivation shifted – I guess I realized at some point that he was going to make it, and that I had to find a different way to ‘save the world.' Plus, technology and the Internet came along to distract me.
Today, to put it bluntly, I am motivated by the fact that to most people, work sucks. The acronym ‘TGIF' (Thank goodness it's Friday) is probably on the Top Ten list of most recognizable acronyms. Just like Fred Flintstone at quitting time, people can't wait to leave the workplace each day. More and more people appear to endure whatever ‘work' might throw at them so they can live their real lives away from work, even though they have to do a lot of this living in the dark – they've used up most of their waking (and usually daylight) hours at work! Most bosses are bad bosses, and most jobs are grinds – we seem to accept this and we even poke fun at it. I don't think it has to be this way, I am convinced that it can be changed, and I have made it my mission to somehow try to change it. My slogan is “Work sucks, but it doesn't have to!”
This is the first major root of my obsession – we spend the majority of our waking hours in an environment that is demotivating. That alone is bad enough, but when you consider the systemic ramifications of this fact, the resultant social impact is even more concerning (or at least it should be). I have come to believe that the prevailing work environment is primarily to blame for the problems in general that we have in society. People have a bad day at work, so they go home and take it out on themselves and their families in one way or another, or at a minimum, they go home and tune out. The next morning they get up and take the baggage from the night before back into the workplace to serve as fuel for another less than pleasant day.
On top of that, more and more people are medicating themselves both legally and illegally to make work more tolerable. In addition to drastically affecting our productivity on the job, such practices only serve to further squash and misdirect our intrinsic motivation. After all, you can't expect the workplace to serve as a means for flushing out the bad stuff out of our brains and replacing it with good … can you?
This cycle repeats itself 250 times a year, if not more. With each rotation of the reinforcing loop, things degrade a little bit more. Work impacts society, and society impacts work. This situation would be bad enough if we didn't actually fuel this fire that is slowly, but steadily, burning out what little intrinsic motivation we might have. How do we fuel this fire? - We do this by attempting to make things better with the same tools that got us into this problem in the first place – by driving ourselves, and others, insane. Sure we place new labels on these tools, but deep down inside, they are still the same ones that did not even used to have a digital existence. What am I talking about? I am talking about the tools we use to improve our workplaces – you know, the six sigma tools, the lean enterprise tools, the total quality management tools, the extrinsic motivators.
The second major root of my obsession is the penchant we have in business for ripping people off. Some would call it our capitalistic nature, and others would call it simple naivety. In order to distinguish between these two evils, you have to look for intent. Do consultants and managers (people) mean to sell people a bill of goods when they come in selling the same improvement tools and approaches that were sold twenty years ago, but touting them as something ‘new and improved”? Are they trying to deceive you when they attempt to sell you something for thousands of dollars that can be obtained for free over the Internet or for less than $10 from a GoalQPC Memory Jogger? Do they not realize that you will be lucky to get thirty minutes of true value from the eight hours and $700 that you invest in a training course? Are meetings supposed to be boring events?
To me, that's like asking the question “Do infomercials mean to be deceiving?” In some cases they do, and in others they don't. Some would argue that it's the customer's responsibility to make these types of distinctions anyway. Let the buyer beware right? Somehow this does not seem right to me – we all live in the same world, and we depend on each other to make it a sustainable and better place. Taking advantage of others does not support this dependency, and that is what motivates me.
Dr. Deming said that “the prevailing system of management has destroyed our people.” He said this more than twenty years ago – what would he say today if he could witness what was going on in the world, and in particular, the work world. Being a statistician, Industrial Engineer, and quality guru, what would he think of the six sigma and lean fads that are going great guns in today's business world? What would his reaction be to the approaches we are trying to use to make our workplaces ‘more effective'? Would he be amused, mildly annoyed, significantly taken aback, or really mad? Would it matter?
I want to do my part to change the way we treat people in the workplace. I want to do my part to help make work a better place, and I am really not motivated by the desire to make a lot of money. I want to help people learn that while improvement tools may come in many different forms, they are really much more similar than different. Intrinsic motivation does not come from extrinsic wealth. Money might make the world go ‘round, but at least from my perspective, it does not buy you that much happiness. Happiness comes from within, just like intrinsic motivation.
I want to close by saying that I know that there are others out there like me – not all consultants and managers are ‘bad', and not all organizations treat people like machines. The problem lies in the fact that a high percentage of them are and do. I don't think all is lost – I do believe that we can change and have time to change. I also believe in my heart that if we make work a better place, society will improve as well. Do you want to be part of the problem, or part of the solution? What motivates you?
Would You Like to Learn More?
Click on one of the following links to learn even more about Great Systems! and the types of systems improvements I can help you make:
“The only thing I know is that I do not know it all.” -- Socrates