Who Hid Workplace Motivation? It Lies Within.



If you live in Richmond, and you attended Dan Pink's lecture at the University of Richmond in early April, this PBS NewsHour piece by economics reporter Paul Solmon does an excellent job of walking you through one of Pink's key points about motivation. If you didn't attend Pink's lecture, the nine-minute video segment is a reasonably good substitute for what was an exceptionally good morning.

In a nutshell, Pink uses several decades of solid research to demonstrate that money is not the great motivator. Money matters. We need it to live, and most employees want to see it distributed in two ways – fairly (no huge pay discrepencies from worker to worker) and reasonably (as in "enough money to live reasonably well"). The companies who understand some of the deeper drivers for solid performance are doing things a little differently, Solmon reports.

In Pink's new book "Drive" he makes a compelling case that the three biggest drivers for performance (at work and in life) are autonomy (give me some freedom of choice), mastery (help me get better) and purpose (remind me that my work matters). I think there are a couple of additional drivers, but I wholeheartedly agree with Pink's premise.

Feedback Is The Key To Mastery

Business writer Dan Pink came to Richmond on April Fool's Day, but his message to the crowd of more than 400 business professionals, creatives and students was no joke: If you want to increase engagement and performance (for yourself, your team or your organization) you need to do more than lookover people's shoulders and stroke a regular paycheck.

In fact, Pink strongly suggested that looking over people's shoulders – known as micromanaging in most circles – was a great way to put a drag on engagement, and that linking performance to pay was the motivational equivalent of a pair of concrete boots.

"Management is a technology from the 1850's. There aren't many technologies from the 1850's still in use today," Pink told the audience at the University of Richmond's Modlin Center. (The University of Richmond and the Visual Arts Center of Richmond organized the event; BankAmerica and Floricane were the primary business sponsors.) If you want to motivate people, pay them well and give them room to achieve autonomy, mastery and purpose, Pink told the group.

Mastery is the sense of growth and achievement, of regularly increased competency. Pink said th e biggest motivator at work is the feeling of progress – those days when you've made steps toward a goal tend to be the days we feel the most engaged and successful. The irony is that employees often don't see those daily accomplishments – no one calls their attention to the minor milestones and small steps that accumulate to deliver big results over time.

Which makes the work of managers today something different than simply being bearers of a 170-year-old legacy of directing and controlling the work of others.

The best role for a manager in today's business environment is helping people see their progress – not once a year during a performance review ("Performance reviews are a version of Kabuki theatre where we all read through a script and hope it ends quickly," Pink said.) but on a daily and weekly basis. Helping people see their progress, and celebrating that progress with them, is the most critical task a manager or leader can play day-to-day within an organization.

It's called providing feedback, and it's a way to help people achieve mastery.

It doesn't have to stop at work, either.

One of the most compelling stories about feedback I've ever heard came from a previous employer. He owned the company, and it wasn't unusual for him to spent 14 hour days at the office, especially during the company's peak growth years. He was married, and had three young children.

He shared this story during a leadership workshop we were conducting within the organization as a way of sharing what he wanted leaders in the organization to understand about feedback – and about the values of our company.

I picked my daughter up from school recently, and she was riding in the back seat. I asked her, "What can I do to be a better dad?"

She started laughing. When she stopped, I asked her again. She was quiet for a moment, and then she said, "Do you really want to know?"

What she really meant was, "Is it safe for me to tell you the truth?"

I told her I did want to know.

She said, "You know, when we go behind the house to the creek and we pick up little sticks and throw them into the water, then run alongside them to see which one goes fastest? You could do that with me more."

At this moment in the story, he paused and put a hand over his heart to indicate just how deeply his daughter's simple request had struck.

I asked her what else I could do to be a better dad.

"You could have breakfast with us sometimes," she said.

In the past, I would have immediately started to explain to her how busy I was running a company and how so many people depended on me, that I had to spend time at work and with her mom, sister and brother. I would have told her that one day she'd understand how important my work was.

But a little voice in my head told me to ask for more.

"Is there anything else I could do?" I asked.

"You know how we all played in the yard together last weekend? That was a lot of fun," she said.

There were more than a few damp eyes in the room at this point in his story. What everyone in the room know, and he briefly explained, is that his daughter could have asked for anything – a new bike, a vacation, a shopping trip. But she asked for the one thing she truly wanted, which was more time with her dad.

Someone in the room raised a hand and asked, "So, where did you have breakfast today?" Laughter rippled around the room.

"Well," he said, "I had breakfast here with this group today, but I've had many more breakfasts with my kids since that conversation. And I'd like to think that I'm doing a better job of giving my daughter what she wants from me."

It's a powerful story, especially if you're a parent.

But it's a simple lesson in feedback. Feedback involves simple questions – What can I do better? How can I provide you with the support you need? What else can I do to help you succeed?

Far too often, we avoid receiving feedback. We don't invite it, and we don't realize the power that comes from asking others to provide it to us. No, we tend to corrupt it by offering it to others uninvited, and we justify that action by telling ourselves that we're trying to help that person improve.

Feedback involves simple questions, and it starts by inviting others to provide it to us. (That's called modeling the behavior you want to see in your organization, by the way.) And it gains momentum by creating an environment where you do that often and with many people.

So why not start today? Go ask a coworker a simple question, like "How can I be a better coworker?" Or go home and ask your spouse or partner for feedback. Or your child.

And then shut up. Listen. Ask for more.

Then start changing your behavior. You're on the road to mastery in at least one small corner of your life.


Partnering with Bon Secours in the East End

The Sisters of Bon Secours work to bring "good help to those in need," and the work of the physicians and staff at Bon Secours Richmond Health Systems in the East End of Richmond is a clear example of that work in action. In fact, there is good work happening all over the East End.

I've told several people that I've spent more time in the East End – essentially the northeast corner of Church Hill – this year alone than in all of my 40+ years in Richmond. That's a testimony to the economic, racial and geographic divides that still permeate Richmond. Those divides were illu minated earlier this year when I took a bus tour of the East End with the Peter Paul Development Center, a nonprofit serving the educational needs of young students in the area. Here's what I wrote about that experience elsewhere:

Our 20 minute bus ride probably never went more than two miles from the center itself, but along the way we passed through four of Richmond's public housing communities (seven, if you consider each section of Mosby separately). Which is to say we passed through the highest concentration of poverty in the Richmond region.

The four public housing communities -- Mosby, Whitcomb Court, Fairfield Court and Creighton Court sit in a semi-circle bounded by I-64, Nine Mile Road and Shockoe Bottom. Between them, they house more than 2,000 families with an average income level below $10,000 a year. The sizable minority of the residents in the East End live well below the poverty line (39%) and live in single-parent households (46%). Armstrong High School, which serves the four housing communities and other East End residents has been labeled a "drop out factory" by Johns Hopkins University -- more than 40% of students who start out as freshmen finish their senior year.

But it's been my work with Bon Secours Richmond Health System that has really put the East End – stretching into Henrico, Hanover and New Kent – into full perspective.

For the past month, Juiet Brown and I have been working with a small team from Richmond Community Hospital, a small hospital at the corner of 28th Street and Nine Mile Road, facilitating discussions with local physicians representing different communities connected to the greater East End.

As so often happens when I'm facilitating small groups, I tend to be the person in the room who learns the most. One evening, we sat at a table with nine doctors who collectively had more than 200 years experience serving the residents of Jackson Ward, Highland Park, Church Hill and other Northside and East End neighborhoods. These men and women grew up in the shadow of segregation, and have watched Richmond's social fabric unravel and reweave itself many times over. Their passion – for the communities and people they serve, for their profession, and for Richmond Community Hospital's place in the city – was palatable.

We'll be closing out our physician discussions in a few weeks, and deliver a more complete report to the hospital administration. But I already know that I'll walk away from this experience with a much deeper understanding of and appreciation for the people at Richmond Community Hospital. They're truly doing good work for Richmond

Engage in a Conversation on “The Common Good” at UR

It should come as no surprise that the University of Richmond is hosting so many intense conversations, workshops, lectures and forums on community building and leadership – both are part-and-parcel of the new focus brought by UR's President, Ed Ayers, in recent years. Next week's "The Common Good" open discussion promises to be a great way for folks passionate about the Richmond community to come together to speak their mind about what the common good looks like – or should look like – in our community.

The event will be held Tuesday, March 31, from 8:00 a.m. until 10:30 a.m. at the Jepson Alumni Center (breakfast at 7:30 a.m.); the discussion is free and open to the public, but registration closes on Friday, March 26.

"We try to offer at least one opportunity during the Jepson Leadership Forum season to have a conversation--rather than a lecture--around our theme," said Sue Robinson, who directs the program for the Jepson School of Leadership Studies. The 2009-10 Forum season, has explored The Common Good with internationally known scholars.

The Wednesday, March 31 program is organized by Jepson and the Bonner Center for Civic Engagement at the University of Richmond, Leadership Metro Richmond, and LEADVirginia—all organizations interested in building social capital and furthering public discourse around topics of mutual concern. Professor of Leadership Studies Douglas A. Hicks who teaches, among other courses, justice and civil society, will open the morning at 8 a.m. with brief remarks. Then, attendees will engage in small group discussions about The Common Good in the community. Notes from the individual tables will be shared briefly in a report-out session and later developed into a written report that will be shared with the community. In addition, if there is interest, follow-up discussions will be organized by Leadership Metro Richmond.

Going Deeper with the Region’s Image Makers

[If you came here from the April Floricane newsletter looking for the post on our work with the Virginia Historical Society, the correct link to "Take 180 Years of History, Shake Well" is here.]

In February, I spent a fun-filled day with the marketing team of the Richmo nd Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau (RMCVB) talking about team culture and individual leadership. We capped the day off with a hands-on arts class led by Amie Joyaux at the Visual Arts Center of Richmond. Apparently, the day was such a hit that I was invited to spend a day in March with the RMCVB's entire staff -- almost 30 sales, marketing and support professionals who rank among the Richmond region's strongest ambassadors to tourists, national associations and business travelers.

One goal for the day was to build relationships and greater awareness across areas of the organization that often find themselves traveling in different directions (the sales team stays on the road a lot, and the marketing team juggles a host of projects at any given time). But the President of the RMCVB and his top managers also felt it was important for the staff to understand the changing strategies -- not just of the RMCVB, but of destination marketing organizations in general.

We spent one of the most gorgeous days the year has offered inside one of the more gorgeous rooms in town -- the newly renovated donor lounge at CenterStage. We talked strategy for a few hours, and provided the entire staff with a deeper perspective on how their individual efforts connect to the big picture. Then we shifted gears.

Immediately after lunch, we did a brief exercise with the Insights Discovery Personality Assessment and took our time discussing how our individual styles impact how we work and interact with others. We also explored what the team's strengths and weaknesses might be based on where personality clusters and gaps existed across the larger grouping.

Back in the donor room, the RMCVB staff moved into smaller groups to discuss how different audiences -- such as tourists or national associations -- might perceive Richmond, and how they collectively could work to either strengthen or minimize those perceptions. Not surprisingly, the staff identified communications and collaboration -- with each other, and with regional partners -- as being critical next steps. Future meetings will map out specific actions and tactics that will help them achieve their goal of being the best destination marketing organization in the country.

Take 180 Years of History, Shake Well

It's hard not to feel the weight of history when you're facilitating a conversation with the Board of Trustees of an organization founded by Chief Justice John Marshall in 1831. It's even more weighty when the collective brainpower of the board represents a bit of Who's Who of Virginia business, politics and education – folks like the presidents of the College of William & Mary and the University of Richmond; business leaders like Brent Halsey of the former James River Corporation and Hiter Harris of investment banking firm Harris Williams; and strong civic voices like Bill Thalhimer. For good measure, why not hold the meeting at the historic Williamsburg Lodge?

That's a bit of an aerial view of a two-day facilitation I just completed with the Virginia Historical Society, as it works to set a strong course toward it's third century as a collector, interpreter, educator and advocate of Virginia's history.

One of the great things about the VHS is that they have a strong staff that thinks hard about the organization's role, and a strong board that brings a strong commitment to its fiduciary and strategic roles. Their President and CEO, Dr. Paul Levengood, is a bit more than a year into his role. A recent recipient of Style Weekly's "40 Under 40" Award, he brings a new perspective to an old organization. Likewise, the board has had its share of change, and there were many new voices at the table discussing changing demographics, evolving technologies and the organization's future role.

My job during the two days was to kick-start dialogue, ask good questions, connect the dots between the perspectives in the room, capture notes and be as in-the-moment as a fast-paced, wide-ranging discussion allowed. In a few weeks, we'll pick the conversation back up in a series of discussions with the staff of the Virginia Historical Society; I expect they're going to bring as much energy and a lot more context to our conversation!

New Client: Facilitating History in the Making

I'll be spending some time with the Board of Trustees and the staff of the Virginia Historical Society, facilitating a series of discussions about the strategic direction of the Commonwealth's preeminent center for history and genealogy. It's a bit of an interesting homecoming for me; in the early 1990s, when I was trying to make a living as a freelance writer, I spent my weekends manning the front desk at the VHS, greeting visitors to the archives and galleries.

Four Steps Toward Building Your Brand


This past Friday, Jonah Holland and I headed to the new Westin Hotel for the monthly Retail Merchants Association gathering. We were going primarily to hear Lisa Moroni-Hall and Cathy Ferris McPherson of Brandevotion speak; I was fortunate to spend a fair amount of time with Lisa and Patrick Ind when they were working on some massive branding a ctivity at Luck Stone.

It was a packed house (and there was a pediatrics party going on right next door; Jonah and I managed to chat it up with my favorite pediatrician – the online and connected Dr. Gayle Smith).

But the bulk of the morning was spent wandering the brand maze with Lisa and Cathy. They kept it simple, but relevant. Your brand should do four things, very well:

  1. Provide a clear definition of who you are.
  2. Ensure that you are well-known for one thing.
  3. Create a signature look.
  4. Leave a personal mark with your clients.

They provided plenty of context in each area, which I capture below.

Who You Are

Beneath the very simple "who you are" notion lies a whole series of important questions – such as, "Why are you in business?" and "What are your strengths and weaknesses?" Perhaps one of the most important questions – "What do you want people to say about you and your business?"

You are branding to be different, to be distinct, Lisa said. Find out what people love about you, and do more of that.

They talked about two examples – one national and one local.

Nike's brand is that they are cool enough and serious enough for competitive atheletes, they told the crowd. And local bistro Can Can has built their brand around "a whirlwind of pleasures and vices."

Be Well-Known

In terms of becoming well-known for one thing, Lisa and Cathy suggested taking a hard look at the messages you are sending – are they clear and comprehensible? Lisa cited Toys "R" Us, which is about kids, kids, kids. "There's no doubt in everything you see from them that it is for kids."

Does the customer care about what you are saying? Are you motivating sales with your communication?

"We work with so many organizations that craft a message and put it out there for six months," Lisa said, "and then they want to change it. People don't know what they stand for."

Signature Look

It's back to consistency again – design with consistency in mind. Think about your logo, your collateral material, the design and layout of your physical space. Does your internal marketing convey a consistent signature look and feel? Test your message by asking strangers to look at your website, or visit your store, and then ask them to describe what they experience or feel as a result.

Consistency, clarity and repetition = Recognition.

Personal Mark

What you leave behind with every interaction should reinforce your brand message, they said. But you should also make sure you validate your customer's expectations and deliver on your brand promise.