A few weeks ago I received an e-mail from an unknown colleague at IBM, who had stumbled upon my blog. He was very nice to say that it was a very unusual blog that he found interesting to read but he was also quick to point out that I hadn’t written anything in quite some time. Unfortunately true – I am a great procrastinator and while I sometimes have ideas for new topics, I never sit down to write them up.
Now I promised this colleague that his prodding would be enough to put me over the hump to write a new post.
One of the things that has always puzzled me is the nature of work. Particularly the work in our environment where we are responsible with innovation and leading the company to new businesses.
Last year I heard an interesting talk by a German author Anja Förster. She started with the example of the printing on most Apple products: “Designed by Apple in California – Assembled in China” to exemplify the management dilemma she wanted to talk about.
“Assembled in China” stands for the management methods and expectations in employees we had throughout most of the last century, employees were expected to be hard working, obedient, punctual, and if possible intelligent. Interestingly enough you can pretty much order people to behave like this and also measure and enforce such behavior. Most management approaches still follow this model.
“Designed in California”, however stands for new employee qualities. We want employees to be engaged, be creative, and have passion for what they do. The interesting challenge is that these latter qualities cannot be obtained with the same management methods as the former nor can they really be measured all that easily. In fact, the old management methods probably run completely counter to what we look for in employees today. If you think not everybody can develop these qualities, think of what people do in their spare time, how they pursue sports (train for marathons, climb mountains, …) or other hobbies (work in charities, sing in choirs, build cars, …) – how can we translate that type of engagement and passion to the work place?
Do we do it by setting aggressive targets (financial or otherwise)? Do we do it by offering rewards (financial or otherwise)? I would claim that more often than not, neither financial targets nor incentives, serve to inspire these qualities. I believe often it is a sense of doing/changing something important, of charting unexplored territory, of doing the impossible, or simply belonging to a team is what causes engagement and passion and lets creativity flow.
As an aside, I worked in sales for a few years and when I started, I was told all sales people are “coin operated”, my experience was very different, they cared about doing something good for their clients. Yes, they also cared about winning against the competition, but the sales plan always came last and never drove their actions. Now this may have been unique, but then I may have been fortunate to be with that group of people.
I wonder what your experiences are in developing engagement and passion and being creative at work, your own and that of your colleagues or employees?
Please let me know your comments.