Episode 024

How to find meaning and stay motivated at work

How do you find meaning and stay motivated at work?

Jane Garza & Kim Perkins, two organizational design & psychology experts, talk about the latest research behind what really drives us to deliver our best work.

In this episode, we cover:

Today we’re talking with Jane Garza & Kim Perkins from NOBL.io, an organization founded to help teams change the way they work for the better.

Jane & Kim share how they’ve helped teams successfully reach higher levels of motivation & collaboration.

And it’s a far cry from the rewards and punishment systems that researchers have learned from rats in mazes 60+ years ago.

Instead, they highlight the importance of:

  • How meaningful work is one of the most powerful driving factors for people
  • Moving away from a fear-based approach to work to a strength-based approach
  • How a leader in an organization can start a shift toward making space for more meaningful work

They also share just how NOBL has helped companies such as Calvin Klein and Reddit change the way they measure success with small, easy to implement steps that add up over time.

Enjoy!

Show notes
  • [00:01:30] What Kim does at NOBL and how she got into positive organizational psychology
  • [00:03:32] What Jane does at NOBL
  • [00:04:05] What engagements with clients looks like at NOBL
  • [00:05:42] What it means to lead from the middle
  • [00:07:32] How NOBL helps teams become more motivated
  • [00:11:58] How to translate research into real-world modifications to help people working in organizations
  • [00:19:42] The importance of moving from a fear-based way of approaching work to a strength-based way of approaching work
  • [00:24:48] How a leader in an organization can start a shift toward making space for more meaningful work
  • [00:25:48] The skateboarding method
  • [00:29:57] How team members can help managers understand and consider management methods other than the mechanical model
  • [00:33:29] How workers are motivated by knowing what their work does for others
  • [00:38:00] Pro-social motivation
  • [00:39:17] What companies can do to help give work meaning for their employees
  • [00:40:54] The importance of focusing on the positive
  • [00:47:54] How to make sure that a positive vision becomes ingrained in company culture
  • [00:51:11] Resources that Jane and Kim recommend
Transcript

[00:00:05] David: Welcome to The Human Strike Back by Hotjar, the weekly podcast designed to help you succeed by putting people first. I’m David Peralta. Today, you’ll be hearing from Jane Garza and Kim Perkins from NOBL.io, an organization founded to help teams change the way they work for the better. They work with clients such as Calvin Klein, Reddit, and Tesera, helping them make long lasting improvements in the way they communicate collaborate and measure success.

Jane actually reached out to me, asking if I might want to interview NOBL's founder, but I was so impressed by her and Kim's knowledge that I invited them to come on instead. In this conversation, Jane and Kim dived into some fascinating topics about how they are helping teams truly be more effective at working together, such as the need to see organizations as organic, fluid and based on people and their relationships to each other rather than a mechanical model where people are replaceable and they're just to fulfill a certain function.

Also we talk about how motivation and productivity is trying to recognize the meaning and value of the work we do and how to get rid of work that is meaningless. Finally, how to shift a negative culture towards the positive by taking small, easy to implement steps that add up over time. Enjoy.

Kim and Jane, thank you so much for taking the time and coming on the show.

[00:01:25] Jane: Our pleasure.

[00:01:26] Kim: Our pleasure, yes. This is going to be really fun.

[00:01:27] David: I'd love to hear a little bit from both of you about what kind of work do you do at NOBL and how is it that you've got into doing that kind of work. Why don't we start with you, Kim?

[00:01:40] Kim: Okay. At NOBL, I'm an organizational psychologist. My doctorate's in positive organizational psychology and so what that means is that around NOBL, I both look after research, the executive coaching piece of it and also trying to figure out how we measure the success that we have for our clients.

[00:01:59] David: How did you get into positive organizational psychology?

[00:02:03] Kim: This is my third career. My first career was a journalist and so I was a writer. I had a great deal of curiosity about how humans behave. Then, I took a few years off and discovered I had a hidden talent which was speed-skating. I got all of that speed-skating and pursued that as a career so I was a professional speed-skater for about five years.

[00:02:29] David: In-line or ice skating?

[00:02:31] Kim: In-line, which is where a lot of the Olympians and ice come from even though it is not an Olympic sport.

[00:02:37] David: Did you compete?

[00:02:39] Kim: I competed. The longest race in the world is 87 miles and I won it three times.

[00:02:46] David: Wow, very impressive.

[00:02:47] Jane: I didn't know that about you.

[00:02:51] David: You get to learn something about Kim as well.

[00:02:55] Kim: In the course of that, you teach a lot of workshops and you work with a lot – and whenever [...] I was working with other people on their performance, and it really occurred how much of athletic performance is similar to what we do in organizations in that if you want an individual to get better with their skills, you work on the individual's skills, of course, but you also work on the group dynamics and you work with the leaders because everybody's going to follow what they do as well as individual skills. I thought, "Wow, I bet this really applies in organizations," and that's what led me to the path of organizational psychology.

[00:03:32] David: Very nice. Jane, what about you? What do you do at NOBL and how did you get there?

[00:03:37] Jane: At NOBL, I'm an organizational designer and we work as consultants as Kim mentioned so we go into companies. I work very hands-on with our clients, with the managers there and the teams and basically help them try out new ways of working to improve their communication and collaboration, all sorts of things. It's a very on-the-ground job and we take a lot of the research that Kim does and we implement that in real time with them.

[00:04:05] David: How long is a typical engagement with a client?

[00:04:08] Jane: It varies. Our longer engagements, which is what we really prefer, we call that Embedded Change and we help the company make substantial changes, and those are from 4 months to 12 months, usually.

[00:04:22] David: What does an engagement typically look like? What kind of problems are your clients typically facing and how do you both work together to help them solve those problems?

[00:04:32] Jane: It really varies from client to client and it also changes over the course of the project, typically. Every system will respond differently to us coming in and change over time and have a different need but, usually, it's around innovation, for sure, collaboration. Almost every company is struggling with just meetings like one of the biggest problems of every company is how do you communicate and stay up-to-date on information and still have time to work on your own stuff and have that time for flow. What else would you want to add, Kim?

[00:05:05] Kim: That's pretty on-target. The work that we do changes depending on who we are doing it with because it's meant to be really responsive. I'd say that the main thing about our process is that when we're working with companies for a change, rather than doing it from a top-down "here's what you have to do now" perspective, it's really about having it be led from the middle so that people are more empowered to make their work processes look more sensible to them to connect them to the bigger purpose of what's going on and to connect them to each other. That helps overcome a lot of resistance to change that people talk about.

[00:05:42] David: I can imagine what from the top-down looks like and I can imagine from what the bottom-up looks like but what does from the middle look like?

[00:05:50] Kim: There are a lot of times when, on the ground, we know the process that we do with work is broken. This information doesn't always filter up the channels so from the middle means that this is the position where people can know both what the leaders are looking for in terms of the general strategic direction and also know what the work looks like on the ground for the people carrying out the work. That's a place where people have access to both perspectives and therefore can get a lot done to change things to make it a lot more streamlined, a lot friendlier and a lot more productive.

[00:06:35] David: Do you typically work with management, with leadership, with people who are more on the ground? What aspects of the team are you working with?

[00:06:45] Kim: We work with the whole team from the top-down depending on what we are there to try to achieve so I don't think that there's any level that we do more work with.

[00:06:57] Jane: We purposefully try to target all levels because that's where we feel like it really becomes successful. With the top, we focus on your vision. With the middle, it's really like, "How do you teach them the skills and empower them to make that vision a reality and how they did then bring that down to their little levels?" On the ground, it's getting them involved, and sometimes there's the most energy there. They're the closest to the customer often, too, so they really understand the change that needs to be made and they understand what will or won't work about it and how to iterate over time, too.

[00:07:32] David: A lot of the work that you do, I take it, has a lot to do with motivation and understanding how to help people be more productive, more motivated in what they do but, lately, Kim, you were mentioning to me prior to this interview that a lot of the research behind motivation is now moving not just about productivity but to a much more human side of how to be motivated. I was wondering if you could both walk me through a little bit about that and helping us understand more about this human side of motivation.

[00:08:04] Kim: Sure. People often use it in terms of that they're very highly-motivated, to mean like extra energy, but motivation is really just what you choose to put your attention and energy into so it's all about the choices you make. When you're thinking about motivating, you have to motivate yourself a lot of the time but you also have to motivate others to help get people going all in the same direction, and that's one of the tasks of leadership.

When we're thinking about motivation, a lot of the really classical research that people know from their undergraduate careers comes from the 1940s and 1950s when large-scale research was first being carried out in a more scientific way, and a lot of what people come back to are researches that's very behaviorist in nature. That means running rats in mazes. This is when we're talking about rewards and punishments, positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement, variable reward schedules, all of this really behaviorist stuff that is described by what animals do. Not to say that that's not useful anymore but, really, the field has moved beyond that in many really important ways. Everybody has heard of Maslow's Pyramid, right?

[00:09:23] David: For those of us who haven't, could you please give us a quick overview?

[00:09:28] Kim: I'd be happy to. This is an idea that, first, in terms of motivation, a person first needs to get their basic needs met for sleep, food, shelter. Then, once those are met, they can move up the chain and think about esteem needs, that they're a part of a group and belonging. Then, finally, at the top of that comes their own intellectual development, their self-actualization, their expression of meaning, their purpose in life, which seems very reasonable except it doesn't really work that way. It was discovered that people actually would forego sleep, food and other physical safety in order to get to the meaning and purpose in life, in order to carry that out for themselves, and they would be making these choices on a regular basis, which is making choices. It's what motivation is.

That opened up a whole lot of research on the macro level about what else might be going on here besides just the idea that humans respond specifically to rewards and punishments within a very specific field or maze. In the past 30 years and especially the last 10 years, most of the research has shifted away from how to control people and more into how to help people have a more direct expression of their highest values because that's what people really want.

[00:10:56] David: In this research, you were mentioning, in other words, people were making sacrifices in order to reach something that had more value and more meaning for themselves. They were actually willing to sacrifice their sleep. They were actually willing to sacrifice food in order to do something that had a higher purpose in their view. Is that correct?

[00:11:14] Kim: Absolutely. A higher purpose was intrinsically motivating for them. I think we've all stayed up half the night playing video games because it's so fun. Certainly, people do that to make art; people in sports, sacrificing their physical safety all the time in order to do something that is personally meaningful and has intrinsic value to them. What we often see in work is that, really–and this is the most cutting-edge part–is that people will do that in order to help other people as well. If they can see the clear benefit to other people, then sacrificing some of their own safety in a physical way is considered one of the most rewarding things we can do.

[00:11:58] David: How does this translate from research into how we modify our organizations to help people tap into this meaning and this drive?

[00:12:09] Kim: There's a similar pattern in organizations. We used to think of them as mechanical models, a cog in this large machine, and that really emphasized the actions you take and the role you play that anybody could do. This is the old mechanical model of organizations. In a similar way, we've gone to thinking of them more as biological organisms where there's less emphasis on the role you play vis-a-vis the res or others and the rest of the work getting done and more taking it over in terms of, "What do we want to accomplish here? What this could look like? How do we want our relationships to be?"

That's a much more organic and biological way of looking at work, but you have to get rid of the old mechanical model of thinking of this person, who is a cog in the machine, does Action A which then relates to Action B from this other person. When you get off of that model and start thinking about what we're actually trying to achieve here, what kind of relationships do we want to have each other and what it would take to get there, it's a very collaborative place and it makes a lot of sense for innovation and teaming. I think Jane has a really good story about that. Jane, do you mind telling it to our listeners?

[00:13:27] Jane: Sure. That is a lot of where our work centers around innovation and collaboration. One thing we were thinking about this week and specifically with motivation was a product that we did with a client recently where we were trying to innovate how they saw their external partner. This external partner is absolutely a household name so it's very VIP, you cannot mess with this relationship too much and we, as NOBL, were trying to figure out, "How do we innovate this without messing anything up? How do we make it safe to try and not too scary?" because it's such an important relationship that they had.

We kept running into this roadblock. Every time we would talk to them about, "What's a safe to try experiment? What can we do to innovate?" because this relationship was causing so much stress to the team that they were just completely overworked. They can't say no because it's such a VIP relationship and that's where they feel like they are, just completely powerless, having to say yes to everything. We were like, "Okay, even baby steps? What's the small thing you can do like kill this one email or one piece of the project just to give you a little bit of time back or think through how you can approach it differently?" For a good amount of time, we just kept running into this wall of, "No, I don't think we can't mess with this. It can't be messed with. No way."

We were really internally wondering, "Is this going to be our biggest roadblock with this client and are we going to get past it?" Eventually, we got to a point where we got them to start to experiment. They basically found one report that they had been doing for this VIP client that was taking a lot of time but it was just a small report. They were like, "Okay, maybe we can diminish this report. Why don't we go to the people who are creating it, who they're creating it for and see if it's still needed in this format?"

It's super simple. It's just like looking at one report. They found out that the people who were creating it were four people that took 48 hours for those four people. It was always overtime because they were already maxed out on time so it was just like an extra thing that they had to do over and over again for this one client. They realized the return that, "We're getting for this isn't much at all but we're working these four people to the bone to get it done," because they were giving up their weekends.

They went back to their VIP client and they started to explore like, "What are you getting out of it?" like, "Have they given us any feedback on it?" As they start to explore that, they realized, "We actually have never heard of whether or not they're reading this at all? Is anyone even on the other side of this report or are we just creating it for thin air?" but because they were looking at it through this mechanical, cog in a machine, that's always been the process, no one had never questioned that and as soon as they started to question it, they realized this report was of their own making.

The department itself, internally, had started creating this report as a thing to have, like a historical data, but no one was ever requesting it, no one was ever reading it and yet it was taking up all of this time for these people. That was the first indicator to us. For this team, they had this "Aha!" moment. They were like, "Wow, so often, a lot of the work that we feel like is being generated by this VIP client that we can't say no to is kind of our own making. It's just a legacy process that we've been continuing over and over again."

[00:16:44] Kim: They basically met the enemy and realized, "The enemy is us." Then, that opened up a whole waterfall of effects where they said, "Well, what else are we doing to ourselves that we don't have to do?"

[00:17:00] David: What did they discover?

[00:17:03] Kim: They discovered that in the beginning, they said, "We can't change the way we're doing things because it has ever been thus and it must never be thus." They realized that they actually could change them, that it was not the VIP clients requesting them but it was they who were giving them the VIP clients preemptively and that they didn't have to do this.

[00:17:24] David: What else started to happen? You mentioned a waterfall effect. What kind of changes did they start to see once they started to understand that the assumptions that they had made actually weren't correct and that there was a different way of doing things?

[00:17:41] Kim: Once they started to see that, they could see their piece in the puzzle rather than feeling as though the world was coming at them from all sides and nothing could ever change. They started to say, "Well, what could we do about things?" They started to feel more empowered. The cynicism dropped dramatically. What else did you notice, Jane?

[00:18:02] Jane: I was just going to say, because a lot of this had happened because it was a VIP client, a lot of the actions they were taking were kind of out of fear. It was like a CYA kind of thing. "Build this report because you have to cover your ass." It was a lot of CYA and they looked at a lot of their processes and realized that the rest of it was a lot of safety, like, "How do we build this barrier of, 'Here's all of the stuff we're working on. Here's this big package,'?" just to kind of impress the VIP client but no one was really asking for it.

When they start exploring what's the actual need, what is our customer looking for from us, it was really expertise. The client wants to know that you have it handled and so it gave them this extra level of empowerment to now say, "We don't need to build this report anymore to prove that we're doing the work we're doing it. We're doing it and we can prove it by this and this. It transitioned from a fear-based response of building everything out to make sure they're just covering all of their bases to more of like a, "Here's a strategic approach to this project and here's our expertise."

[00:19:10] David: This sounds like a really important point. The original motivation was actually coming out of fear, which is basically, you've got this amazing client or you've got this project. I can see how this can translate to so many different situations, your work or you have a certain position, and you want to make sure that you're letting other people know what it is that you're doing and so, out of fear, you create all of this work to make sure that people see what it is that you're doing but nobody's actually asking for that work. Nobody's actually wanting you do that; they just want you to do your job.

Once they started to realize that they were coming out of this fear-based state of mind and that they actually needed to focus–actually, an important step was actually starting to talk to the client and they started to get direct feedback and learn directly what it is that was valued most from their own services, then that's what they started to see, "If this is the strength that we have to offer, then we should double down on that." Is that correct?

[00:20:06] Jane: Exactly.

[00:20:08] Kim: That's true. They talked to the client and they talked to each other in a way that they hadn't been because they had been just assuming that the process was in the lead all the time and that actual human need in terms of what their customers, even their own team customers, needed.

[00:20:24] David: I think that this is something a lot of people can relate to, and I feel very fortunate at Hotjar where, because there isn't this fear that we have to prove ourselves, the status quo is, "We brought you on because you have something to offer so offer it. You have value so give it. You don't need to prove so just go and do what you're best at," and so that mindset, this, "What is your strength? What is it that you have to offer and how can we make sure that you're offering that and not wasting your time on things that don't provide as much value to the company, that don't provide value to the customers, that don't provide value to the team? How can we make sure that you're getting out of that and focusing on the things that matter the most?"

One of the most important ways that we do that is constantly having a bigger picture, a bigger vision, an understanding of where it is that we want to head, why we're headed in that direction, why it's so important to do that and then, once we have that high level of awareness, we can always go back and ask ourselves, "Is what I'm doing right now actually adding value to that? Is it bringing us closer to that or am I just kind of spinning in my hamster wheel without moving myself or moving the team or helping the customer reach that higher goal?" Have you found similar findings in your experience with the clients that you work with?

[00:21:51] Kim: I'd say definitely. We certainly know that we work on these principles internally in our company for sure. It's difficult to move from a fear-based to a more positive strength-based. With the client we were talking about, we saw a great amount of emotion in literally only a couple of months from doing it through the work rather than trying to do it as an add-on of leader development or trying to persuade people or change minds.

[00:22:20] Jane: The huge shift we see, too, is you can imagine it's much more motivating to do work when it comes out of something that's personally meaningful, you getting to show your expertise versus fear. We have to make sure we're covering our bases, fears. The motivation just skyrockets because you get to really focus on the things that make you successful that you want to be working on rather than all the other stuff that can jump in.

[00:22:46] David: I'll say from personal experience that that's absolutely the case because, at least from my experience, when I've been working out a fear–and I've definitely been in that situation before where I feel like I have to prove myself and it's more about, "Can I show that I'm actually providing value?" instead of providing the actual value–fear does something to your system. When you actually start to go into fear, you actually start to release all kinds of stress hormones which actually bring your productivity and creativity down. It actually moves you out of the part of your brain that is responsible for inspired thinking, creative thinking.

It takes you out of the part that leaves you open to possibility and it puts you into your reptile brain, which is basically fight-or-flight-or-freeze, and that's not a good place to be working from. That's actually the worst place that we could be working from and that's actually a place where so many people are working from as opposed to when you do have something that is personally motivating. Again, from my own personal experience, it's so uplifting. It creates energy inside of me, it creates inspiration inside of me and it actually brings even better quality of work out of me because of how it feels to do that kind of meaningful work.

[00:24:03] Kim: All of what you're saying is absolutely right and what's really important is the relational piece in there because nobody's making the decisions in a vacuum to face it from a fear-based perspective, but there's a lot of legacy structures that do tend to encourage that kind of defensive thinking. It's been estimated that the average American worker spends about 40% of their time managing politics instead of actually doing work. The only way to eliminate the politics or reduce it is to be able to acknowledge and appreciate the differences in what people can bring and not have everybody worried about proving those differences and proving their worth all the time.

[00:24:48] David: If there was a listener right now who was at an organization where there is a lot of managing politics involved in their day to day, what can they do to start to create a shift? Let's put it in that position: If there's a leader in an organization like that, what can they start to do to help shift their organization away from this and towards one where there's more space for working on meaningful work?

[00:25:16] Jane: The client that we're talking about right now is a very politics-heavy client so I think we've learned a lot of skills specifically with this client. Every organization has some level of it, but what we found in this organization is the concept of minimum viable product or skateboarding works so well with them. It's such a part of their language now. We call it skateboarding like the Spotify model for how you develop products. I don't know if your listeners are familiar with that.

[00:25:45] David: Why don't you take us through it for people who aren't?

[00:25:48] Jane: Okay. Briefly, basically, it's the concept of, if you have a client, let's say, that's looking for something to get them from Point A to Point B, the Spotify model says build them a skateboard first, give them something, some prototype that won't necessarily make them happy but will get them from Point A to Point B so they can give you feedback on that. Then, you can iterate and add on a handle, add on a motor, whatever it is, to build it out more and eventually get to a bicycle or a car. What often happens is people immediately go to Cadillac. "How do we build the perfect version of this immediately?" get no feedback on it and then, a year down the road, we haven't had anything to test, our client has just been waiting and we realize that we never really needed the Cadillac but we spent a bunch of money on it and a bunch of time.

We usually will train our clients on that concept, like minimum viable product: What's the basic version of this change that you can initiate or this project or whatever it is–or a skateboard, whatever you want to call it–and it gives them the leeway to then say in future meetings, "Okay, guys. I'm just going to skateboard this. It's not going to be a perfect version of it. Is that okay?" and everyone in the room can give their agreement or whatever and move forward from there.

[00:26:58] Kim: What that does is it creates more psychological safety to be wrong or not have all the answers so that you don't have to put up all of these walls and barriers to protect your ideas going forward. You've got a shorthand and it's a way of getting it into the culture that you can talk about possibilities without having it 100% tweaked out.

[00:27:18] David: It's the concept of aiming for something that's good enough instead of perfect because, once you put it out there, then you can see, "Does this actually work in the real world or not?" and, "What kind of feedback can I get on it so that I can make it even better?" as opposed to, like you said, aiming for the Cadillac and then pouring thousands of dollars or hundreds of thousands of dollars, time and energy into a project that, suddenly, you realize, "Nobody asked for this. Nobody wanted a Cadillac."

[00:27:45] Jane: Exactly.

[00:27:46] Kim: It's true. The way it affects politics is that nobody can get smart points for attacking something that is already supposed to be a skateboard. We know it's wrong so there's no point to be gained for attacking that. Instead, you get points for adding to it and trying to make it better.

[00:28:03] David: In other words, it's the kind of thing where, I'm sure, if you got a group of people together who were in a politics-heavy work environment, I'm sure the majority of them would agree, "This is not productive. This is not helpful. We want to get out of it but we're kind of stuck here." Instead of aiming for a solution of, "How can we fix this problem 100% so that this is completely gone?" it's, "What's one thing that we can do this week to make this situation better?" and then checking in next week, "How did that one thing go?" and then continuing it or improving on it and then either taking the next step or adding something else in a different direction to just try something.

[00:28:42] Kim: Right, getting it part of the culture that you iterate and fix rather than design a whole thing and then attack it.

[00:28:51] Jane: It's worth nothing that that kind of change is not easy. That's why we do the work we do, is so we can be coaches and help along with the process, but it's helpful to remember that small winds are hugely, going back to motivation, motivational and will keep you going as you initiate change. That's why we often work on that level with our clients, is we really want to think through like, "Okay. What's the next low-hanging fruit?" so you could do it step by step rather than going for the gold mine right away.

[00:29:21] Kim: It's true because, a lot of times, people want to think about the end-goal that we want for a change, and that's kind of the Cadillac version but, really, it's all talk until things start to change. By taking it in this iterative way, then you get some small winds on the board. It zaps the cynics. They say, "Oh, look. Things actually are changing. No, we can never do this," which is what cynics always say in the beginning. That way, more people can get on board to help create the change and make it go where it really needs to go because it can't just come from the top because people at the top don't have all the knowledge on the ground in order to make a really effective change work.

[00:29:57] David: Talk to me about that for a moment, actually, because I know the traditional mechanical model is that the orders come down from the top, and I constantly hear from listeners who are in organizations where that's still the case. There's a lot of startups today where that's changing. There's more flat management or there's a lot more empowerment, but there are still people who feel stuck in an organization where it is top-down. Can you help them understand or give them some ammunition to help them help their managers understand what is a different way of doing things, what is different to a top-down. How else can you approach it in a way that's actually still functional? Because I think the fear is that if you don't tell people exactly what to do, you're going to have chaos, nothing's going to get done and there's not going to be any productivity.

[00:30:47] Kim: There's a whole lot there to dive into. In that organizational model that's like the big mechanical model, that's the command and control model where orders come from the top, there's a basic supposition, and that supposition is that, "Nobody will do anything unless I tell them to do it, that if I don't tell them what exactly to do, they will do the wrong thing. I need to tell them how high they need to jump at every moment." In organizational psychology, that's called Theory X.

There's also a Theory Y which is that people want to do really good work, that people have access to a lot more information depending on where they sit. A lot of times, given today's technological environment, it makes sense to have a more decentralized organization because the information that we're all using is out there; it's not this province of a few people at the top or the inside of the organization. If you're working in an organization that's like a consumer organization with a lot of customers, chances are that the people who talk to the customers on a daily basis are probably low-level people who have a much better idea of what's up for them than the people who only talk to other senior managers about it either within or without the company. The sources of information that are available to us from Twitter, from all of the relationships technology made possible, that really plays into making good decisions. There's so much here I could say. I'm losing my train a little bit. Jane, I feel like you have something you want to add.

[00:32:33] Jane: You mentioned that it will organized and it'd be a little bit difficult. I think change, in general, gets a little bit messy in the middle. There's a thing called Kanter's Law and it basically says everything looks like failure in the middle because when you're changing something, if you think of implementing a new technology system, there's going to be a period when you're on both systems and it's going to be a mess. That's just the nature of it which is why we often encourage, when you're initiating change, to take something off of people's plates. I think that's regardless of whether you're taking a top-down approach or from the middle approach. What we find is that from the middle approach gets you buoyant and gets you movement whereas the top-down approach does not as much. It's not as likely to be successful.

[00:33:15] Kim: When thinking about change, though, that also means if you're trying from a more top-down structure to a more horizontal structure, then, in the middle of that, it's going to be a chaos because you're going to have information trying to flow both directions and to both models at once.

[00:33:29] David: I read, recently, an amazing book, actually, which I highly recommend called Everybody Matters by Bob Chapman and Raj Sisodia about the extraordinary power of caring for your people or treating your people like family. It was about a CEO who came from a top-down approach. Business is not personal and if you need to lay somebody off because you need to improve your bottom line, that's what you had to do. He did, over a series of 15 years, a complete 180 degrees and came to realize that people are the most important thing at the center of his business and taking care of his people and empowering them to do their best work but also understanding that that's where the answers come from because they also face a very similar environment where the decisions were all coming from the top-down because another part of what I would guess would be called Theory X is that the top has all the answers, and that's actually not true; that's not the case.

What this company–this was a manufacturing company–started to find and what Bob Chapman started to find is once they started to get more of the people on the assembly lines involved in how to create a more effective process, the increase in efficiency was dramatic because now you had the people who were actually working with the different machines and working with the different parts telling you why things work and why they don't work and why it will work if you put a machine there but if you move a machine there, it's actually going to create a problem.

What happened was once they started to implement the plans that were coming from the people who were on the ground, there were a number of different things happening. The first thing is it created a mind shift in these people where, suddenly, they felt like they had impact and what they did matter. The moment they started to feel like what they did mattered, suddenly, their inspiration started to go through the roof and they started to give even more to the company.

A great example was a guy who probably spent maybe two to three hours a day sleeping at his machine because he was so bored and he didn't have anything to do because of how ineffective the process around him was, he ended up becoming a leader in helping to revitalize the entire sector around him and they ended up increasing output, I think, by four or five times or something like that because he was so inspired to give more once he saw that management was actually listening to them. It wasn't just that there were results that were coming from it; it was also, internally, again, coming back to this feeling of meaning and impact, that all of that increased and you just have this positive feedback cycle at that point which is just like you couldn't ask for anything better than that.

[00:36:12] Kim: It's true. The number one motivating thing for people is knowing what their work does for other people.

[00:36:20] David: Tell me more about that.

[00:36:22] Kim: There's been a lot of studies of people donating to charitable causes. The people who are raising money for the charitable causes, if they're in touch with the people who are the recipient of the funds and they can see what the work that they're doing really makes a big difference in people's lives, they raise way more funds than if they just behaviorally promoted, "We'll give you that Hawaiian vacation if you hit your sales quota this month."

[00:36:51] David: You mean the people actually raising the money inside the organizations, once they understand the impact that their fundraising is having on the recipients, that increases the amount of funds that they are raising?

[00:37:06] Kim: Yes, far and away above having traditional sales incentives.

[00:37:11] David: I found this really interesting because when you're talking about meaning, it doesn't always have to relate to an in-the-sky kind of vision or purpose. It's like what you said, a big part of it is also the impact that you're having on other people and the other people around you because I find a huge motivation in my job, is the impact that I'm having on the team around me, is just massive. When I see that what I do is helping them out and enabling them to do their job better, that also fuels me; that also inspires me.

[00:37:38] Kim: Yes, it can absolutely be your co-workers. It doesn't have to be an end customer or some distant person. Knowing that the work you do matters to somebody makes somebody's life easier than if it's a person in the next cube. That drives a lot of people's motivation to do more, give more, try harder and find better ways to do things.

[00:38:00] Jane: We've talked about this before, Kim. This is like pro-social motivation, correct?

[00:38:08] David: Can you tell us some more about what pro-social motivation is?

[00:38:11] Kim: Sure, pro-social motivation just means that you're doing it because it helps other people as an end in itself, not because it helps other people and then that makes me feel good or something like that but just literally it helps other people full stop. In order to really get the benefits of pro-social motivation, that means that it has to be sailing it to you. You have to be able to see that you're actually helping somebody. A lot of times with pro-social motivation, the opposite is important to notice, too.

If you don't feel like your work actually ever helps anybody, then that is super demotivating and it's probably with our story earlier with the report that nobody read, probably a really big factor there. Can you imagine spending your weekends every month, one weekend every month preparing this report and nobody ever says a word to you about it? It's very demotivating. When you're thinking about how to use it, it's both getting the end-user of your work together with the person who's doing it and also not failing to notice what people are up to.

[00:39:17] David: For people who are in this situation where they're feeling this lack of motivation or this lack of meaning or they don't see the impact that it's having on the people around them or the customers from their company, what are some things that you've implemented or you've seen companies implement that has made a significant impact in that direction and has given people that meaning?

[00:39:40] Kim: I want to say that the retros we do actually have a really big part of that. One of the things that we always encourage our clients to do is to hold retros, which means a special meeting session to see what went well on a project and where we could improve and what we might want to try next time. It goes hand-in-hand with the iterative methods and to have those meetings periodically to see both how the teams are working well together and how a certain project went or could go. That basically tells you in a nutshell what the impact of the work you're doing has on other members of the team.

[00:40:16] Jane: Yeah because, often, we work with clients who–and this is the case in a lot of companies–departments get very silo-ed but they're working on the same project so it's very much like, "Here's the handoff and I don't know what happened with my piece of it after that." Having them do a retrospective together, like getting in a room, build out the timeline of the entire project and talk about, from start to finish, who did what and how did that impact the next team or the team that was working on that at the same time helps them, again, exactly back to pro-social motivation, see the big picture of what's affecting who and how I can improve what I do to improve the project overall or our process together overall.

[00:40:54] David: I can relate to that 100% also, again, from experience here at Hotjar because retros is something that I think is more common in development teams but, since being here at Hotjar, this is something that's been adopted across the entire company so every single team has a retro. What I found when I do a retro is exactly what you say, is, number one, it's a time to just give a little acknowledgment and celebration to the things that went well, which is actually really critical and important because there's also a statistic that teams that tend to outperform other teams or tend to perform exceptionally, there's actually a ratio of positive to negative communication and the actual exact number is 2.7. The number of positive communications to negative communications is 2.7.

Basically, for every negative communication, there should be at least three positive communications, and that doesn't mean cheesy, "Good job," or, "I'm proud of you." It's really substantial, like, "This thing that you did actually had an impact," or, "I really appreciate this." We do these things all the time. In our retro, the positive list usually just outweighs the negative list by so much because we're really recognizing what was going well. At the same time, when you recognize what didn't go well and what can go better, there's just this constant iterative process in place where you're always improving.

"Okay, so we messed up here. We made a mistake here," and it gives you the space to admit mistakes, which is also, we found, to be so critical, is to be willing to say that you did something wrong and then to just have everybody else say, "Okay, well, how can we do it better the next time?" When we do this, it's just like every week gets better and better than the week before. It's amazing so I totally second this concept of having retros.

[00:42:49] Jane: I think you're so right to focus on the positives, too. I think, often, when we talk about iteration, it's fixing what didn't work but teams that are moving quickly–we usually work with teams that are over-worked so how do we find more time in our day? Teams that move really quickly go from project to project so quickly that they don't notice the really great things they did on a fluke that they can recreate and make their lives easier next time, too. In the retros, we focus a lot on what worked well, how do we double down on that and make sure it happens again if it's not already baked into our process.

[00:43:20] Kim: What you're saying about the positive-to-negative ratio, the thing is that humans attend to negative information much more strongly than they do positive information so if you don't purposefully go in and look for positive information to add, you're actually getting a wrong picture of the world around you. It's an inaccurate picture because all of the negative stuff is going to jump out at you and feel really huge and the positive stuff, you're going to be like, "Meh," and that's how we've evolved that way to stay safe but it's not accurate.

[00:43:53] Jane: I was just going to say I was going to give our example of our win-wall which I think is so fun. We had a client workshop a couple of months ago and we decided to do a thing called a win-wall specifically for the purpose of, "Let's be positive. Let's take a moment and just talk about all the things that have gone really well in this change and really celebrate them," basically. We had everyone write down two things that are a huge win and put them up on the wall, and it was great.

There were 50 people so all these different-colored–we gave them enormous post-its so all these different-colored post-its on the walls was really fun to see. As we're reviewing them, someone pointed out there was one up there that was slightly negative and the whole room just zeroed in on that even though there were hundreds out post-its, hundreds of positives. It was just so natural for the entire audience to zero in on that one negative and we realized in the room, "Oh, we're actually doing this exact bias that Kim was just talking about the other day." It's hilarious.

[00:44:52] Kim: It's really fun. A room full of positive and one negative thing, that's what sticks out to everybody. That's the first thing out of everybody's mouth and you have to actually actively balance that if you want to get a full picture. That's one of the reasons why when we are trying to invoke the positive, we always do that first before we get to the negative. If we're doing a retro, it's always what went well first and deal with that because everybody wants to go straight to the negative and get that off their chest, but you aren't going to be able to bring it back to the positive if you let everybody do that. Getting everybody in the habit of seeing what goes well is something that people can add to their meetings to acknowledge that, and I usually suggest doing that straight at the jump of the meeting.

[00:45:39] David: I agree 100%. It really lifts the tone of the whole call and actually changes the way you perceive the negative things so that, instead of being brought down by them, it's actually like, "Okay, well, how can we make this better? What can we do next time to make sure that either this doesn't happen again or we do a better job of it?" Actually, I also wanted to give an example because I recently spoke to a co-worker of mine who is basically responsible for fixing things when they break in our company. Because we're moving so quickly, that happens a lot.

He told me something very interesting which was because he only gets comments when things are going wrong, he almost never gets any comments when things are going right. This was something that started to impact him after a while because he started to feel really demotivated. It went back to this ratio where he was doing an amazing job at fixing these things but there was no acknowledgement of what was going well. There was no acknowledgement of the systems that he was putting into place to fix these things.

It's not that there wasn't acknowledgement; it's that the ratio was totally overwhelming in terms of the negative comments that were coming, and not about him and not about the work that he was doing but just about the things that were happening. That really stood out to me because I felt like, "This guy is amazing. He does a phenomenal job," and, actually, if there was just more room for celebrating the wins and there was more room for acknowledging the things that are going well and building on them, I think his motivation would go significantly up, and that's actually something that he was sharing with me as well.

[00:47:21] Jane: That's a really good point. I come from an HR background. I did HR for about seven years and I worked in culture and how to bring those themes together for companies but a lot of HR teams are very jaded. I think that's partly where that comes from, is a lot of your day is just problems. You're dealing with problems which is like you need someone to do that but there isn't a lot of positive input coming in.

[00:47:45] Kim: It's true. It's really funny, too. Nobody ever calls their lawyers to say, "Hey."

[00:47:53] David: One thing that I would also like to ask you both is once you start to create positive change, once you recognize or maybe do a value exercise and you realize, "Okay, these are the values that the company stands for. This is the vision," what is essential to make sure that that doesn't only then live on a poster on a wall but it becomes really ingrained in an organization and lived and breathed by everybody who works there?

[00:48:19] Kim: Great question: living your values. It's easy to say, hard to do.

[00:48:24] Jane: A lot of our approach, as we mentioned, is from the middle out and we touch all levels. When it comes to baking something into a culture, it is still hugely important that the leader of the organization walks the walk, that they make sure that they're embodying the values and that they're celebrating wins when they see them. That's one of the biggest things that we coach our leaders to do when we work with them, is as you see things start to change and you see the things turn the way that you want them to, point those out, share those, celebrate those. A lot of the time when we ask our clients, "How can we motivate people and celebrate people what they're doing best? Do they want a half day or do they want time off? What do they want most?" it's usually recognition from leadership. I think that would be number one.

[00:49:13] Kim: I have one. We have a practice called even-overs.

[00:49:17] David: What's that?

[00:49:18] Kim: This means that a choice between two good things. Part of the problem with value statements is it's good to have them but if your value is accountability, does anybody not have a value of accountability? What does that really mean? We value getting the job done even over a competing good of getting it done fast, for example, and to get people to really drown on what a demonstration of this value would look like when you're dividing a choice between two good things. That's a way that people can start to see what these values look like in action in a way that can influence their decision-making rather than be a plaque on the wall.

[00:50:08] David: In other words, to focus on, "What would this look like in practice?" especially when you had two great choices in front of you. If you embody this value, what would your decision look like?

[00:50:20] Kim: Exactly.

[00:50:21] David: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense.

[00:50:23] Jane: It helps delegate and deputize others to make decisions, too, because they can think that through when the leader is not there. A good exercise is even-overs are like an exercise that we do at workshops with our clients, a good way to start thinking of those. A lot of people have these implicit ones when they're buying a new house or looking for a spouse. When you're looking for an apartment, your even-over might be low rent even over a large backyard, and you have those in your head but they're not necessarily explicit. We talk about making those explicit with our clients.

[00:50:56] David: That makes a lot of sense, actually, because I think a lot of these values have a lot of implicit in them and it's really important to make that explicit so that's really clear to everybody what it actually means to live that value. One of my last questions is what is a resource that you could recommend to people to help them succeed by putting people first or, actually, more specific to the topic, to succeed in creating an organization that's more organic rather than mechanical?

[00:51:32] Jane: If I can plug ourselves–and this is totally free–but we have a Slack channel for leaders who are leading change in their organizations, and it's a place for them to come and discuss what's going on about it, what's not going so well, share stories, that kind of thing. We found that that's a good resource for leaders to connect with one another and talk on that level across industries and companies.

[00:51:52] David: What is that Slack channel?

[00:51:54] Jane: It is called Leading Change and I'll give you the links so that you can send it to your audience as well.

[00:51:58] David: Okay great, so we'll put it in the show notes. Kim, do you have any resource? It could be a book, a podcast, a TED Talk, anything.

[00:52:07] Kim: There's so much on this topic but it really depends strategically, we think, where people can do it, where people can add it in. What's coming up for me is I want to plug a very little fun, free thing that we have which is called howdowedecide.com, and this is a little flowchart that will help you decide the political process that you should use for making a decision so that people's voices are heard, the right people are engaged and the people who have the information that can help you will do it so that you don't revert to just CYA kind of decisions or keeping all the information at the top. It's a little flowchart where it asks two bunch of questions and then it makes a recommendation on a decision-making method, and we find that this helps people think in more human terms about who needs to be in on this and how people are going to feel about the process, which is where people get their ideas about the justice of the organization. It's always more about the process than the content.

[00:53:10] David: What was that site again?

[00:53:13] Kim: It's called howdowedecide.com

[00:53:15] David: I'm definitely going to check this out as soon as this call is done. Thank you both so much. Finally, where can people go to learn more about the work that you're doing at NOBL?

[00:53:28] Jane: Our website is NOBL.io

[00:53:34] David: Fantastic. Kim and Jane, thank you so much for taking the time. It's really been a pleasure.

[00:53:38] Jane: Thank you so much. This was so much fun. Thanks, David.

[00:53:40] Kim: It really was.

  • SHARE