The Productivity Revolution Is Coming!
The Productivity Revolution Is Coming!!!
Donald A. Dinero, PE, CPIM
Organizations can no longer depend solely on improvements in technology to increase their economic competitiveness and differentiate themselves from their competition. A revolution is coming where success will increasingly depend on the proportion of employees who are passionate about their jobs. The level of an employee’s passion will be combined with skill level to determine job suitability. The impact of this will be similar to the quality revolution 30-40 years ago that resulted in today’s 6 Sigma requirements. Since reward systems are counterproductive, other methods must be devised for having motivation and passion in the workplace. The amount of motivation required must be so great that it cannot be created, but rather, it must be tapped. That is, it will not be possible to increase a person’s motivation to the necessary level. Instead, a person who has a sufficient amount of passion for the job must be the one selected for the position. Given similar skill levels, the more passionate person is the more productive person. In order to select people based on their passion, professional career counseling with psychological testing will be required.
Successful organizations therefore will:
- Offer career counseling to their employees so they can find the right position in their organization
- Psychologically screen candidates so that an individual can not only do the job for which he is hired, but alsowill want to do that job
- Offer career counseling support for high schools and colleges so that people beginning careers start in the right direction
Economic gains will come from people, not systems. Literature on Human Performance Technology states that gains in economic competitiveness will come from people and not from machines or systems. The reason for this is that machines and systems cannot be creative or imaginative. Competition has risen to the level where creativity and extra effort often differentiate success from failure. At the beginning of the twentieth century, one person could conceive or implement one idea that would keep hundreds or thousands of people employed. Consider Eastman and photography, Ford and the assembly line or Edison and the electric light. This is not to say that there won’t be as many new ideas in the future as there were in the past. Also, any given idea will still have the possibility of influencing large numbers of people. The difference, however, will be in how people are impacted by that idea. For example, once Edison got peoples’ attention by lighting up the streets of Menlo Park (in 1879), he started a manufacturing plant to make light bulbs. Although the demand was small initially, it grew rapidly. Edison therefore did not need a lot of people to develop new types of light bulbs, he needed a lot of people to make them – and he would tell them how to do that. He was looking for people who were reliable and who could follow orders. Later, Frederick Taylor quantified the amount of work a person could do so it was easier to differentiate a “good” worker from a “bad” worker; i.e. “good” implying high output and “bad” implying low output. The premise was that a worker would do was he was told because the “boss” knew best. Today, there is too much to know to assume that one person knows the “best “ way to do something. Furthermore, companies are refining the way they operate by using ERP (enterprise resource systems), TQM (Total Quality Management) and Time-Based Competition, for example. Although the concepts in these methodologies are valid, their success is dependent on how they are implemented by employees. Although it is enticing to break work done into small sections so that every person can be told exactly what to do and how to do it, the successful companies are those which give their employees some latitude in decision making. They have found that the disadvantage to telling people exactly what you want them to do is that it is often not what you want done.
In 1960, Douglas McGregor wrote The Human Side of Enterprise (New York: McGraw-Hill) where he discussed Theory X and Theory Y (pp47-48). Briefly, Theory X states that people are generally lazy and will avoid work; Theory Y states that “the average human being does not inherently dislike work” and will seek responsibility when basic needs are met.
Although it was important to recognize these theories 40 years ago, it is even more important to do so today.
People will be looking for job satisfaction. People may believe that having a job you love (are passionate about) is an ideal, unattainable goal. Although everyone may be passionate about something, they feel that it is not possible to make a living at it. Thus, they resign themselves to being employed in positions at which they can make money but which they are not particularly enthused. The result is that much of the workforce goes through eight (or nine or ten) hours of “work” and then they go out and do something they really like to do. The reasons people think this way has to do with the how our society and the economy have changed over the last century. About 100 years ago, people started leaving farms to get work in cities. Since the first half of the twentieth century included two world wars separated by a worldwide depression, people were more concerned about survival and could not be thinking about refusing a job because they did not like it. Also, when you start working at ten or twelve years of age, you can not be too particular about career options. Without training, skills or knowledge, they would not refuse a job in a foundry and wait for one in an assembly plant. Going to college was mainly for the few rich people, but definitely not for mainstream America.
Frank Parson’s book Choosing a Vocation, written in 1909, formed the basis of the form of career counseling known as “trait and factor theory”. “The term trait refers to a characteristic of an individual that can be measured through testing. Factor refers to a characteristic required for successful job performance.” (Richard S. Sharf, Applying Career Development Theory to Counseling, Pacific Grove: Brooks/Cole Publishing, 1997, p. 25) That is, a person’s skills were matched to job requirements. Little thought was given to whether or not the person liked what he could do well. If a person could do something well or if there was an opening available, a match would be made. The assumption was that work was reward enough. Baby Boomers were raised by parents who went through the depression of the nineteen thirty’s and thus they were brought up on the concepts of any job is a good job and the quality of the job varied with its pay. The best job, of course, offered the most security. Because the Baby Boomers experienced a fairly secure lifestyle however, their children are leaning more toward job satisfaction and less toward job security. At the same time, the business climate is such that job security is becoming less commonplace. Although we have a long way to go before everyone is above the poverty level and employed, our society does offer many opportunities to live comfortably. Young people, therefore, will have more of a tendency to seek out something they truly enjoy because they are not worried about survival.
Successful companies will be those with the greatest percentage of people who are passionate about their jobs. By passion, I mean an extreme, compelling enthusiasm and love for something. That means that a person is not just happy or content, but actually takes an interest in the job. You can tell when a person is passionate about something because they
think about it often. When a discontinuity occurs, they view it as a challenge and not as a problem. They’ll try different approaches because what they’ve got is never quite good enough. Although they spend a lot of time with the activity, it never tires them. They may have other interests, but their “passion” is something they are always willing to do. They may have been a poor student in school, but people in their field recognize their capability. They may not be classified as ‘expert’ now, but they always strive to learn more and be better at whatever it is.
Since not many people will fall into a category with that as a definition, one must think of a continuum with “passion for” at one end and “passion against” at the other. Employees have a position along this continuum and a company with more employees closer to the “passion for” end will be better off than one whose employees are closer to the “passion against” end. Realize that an organization’s success is built up over time. Consider it analogous to a war consisting of many battles, skirmishes and incidents. The more battles and skirmishes that are won and the more incidents that are positive, the greater is the chance of winning the war. In industry, a customer service employee who is passionate about his job will overcome obstacles to satisfy a customer. One who is not passionate will be overcome by the obstacles. The result of a single incident will not determine the success of the company, but the more positive incidents that occur (customer satisfaction) will increase the likelihood of the company’s success. Furthermore, if an incident pits one company against another, passionate employees who are involved usually are responsible for the success.
This point may be “intuitively obvious” to some people. However, it is not usual to see “employing and retaining passionate employees” as a corporate objective.
Passion and motivation must be intrinsic, not extrinsic. In Alfie Kohn’s analysis, Punished By Rewards, (Houghton Mifflin, Boston, 1993) he thoroughly documents that reward systems not only do not work but also are counterproductive. If you want somebody to do what you say, then using a reward is a good alternative. Be aware, however, that the best you can hope for is that they will do exactly as you say. That means you will get the number of widgets you want, but you won’t get any more. If a problem arises and you have not explained what to do about it, you will not get your widgets. Realistically, a high target will be hit once or twice but the effort to achieve that goal will not be sustained because the overall effort will be usually between 50 and 80%. If, however, you want to tap the potential of your employees, then you must choose an alternative to rewards and incentives. For motivation to be effective, it cannot be extrinsic, coming from external rewards, but must be intrinsic, coming from an internal desire to perform the task at hand. Kohn shows that rewards have the effect of decreasing both creativity and productivity. Thus, given similar skill levels, organizations which base their output on reward systems (do this and you’ll get that) will not be as successful as those which base their output on intrinsically motivated employees. This, of course, is easy to see in small, start-up companies where everyone is intrinsically motivated.
QUESTION: Where does one find candidates who will be “passionate” about the jobs for which they will be hired? The answer is that you interview for them and include “passion for the job” as a criterion like any other. If you were looking for a chemical engineer, you would use some means to test the person’s knowledge about chemical engineering. You might use a written test with ChemE problems, or you might look at college transcripts, or you might just ask the person to describe what she has done in the field. When determining one’s interest in a job, you would take similar tactics. This might also include a personality interest assessment test. Find out how the person got into the field and why he’s staying in it. Look for previous work experience that would indicate the person has a love for his profession. The main point is to consider “passion” a criterion as any other so that you will investigate it.
THE PARADOX: Determining one’s “ideal job” sounds easy but is difficult to do. When people are asked, “What is your ideal job?” they think they should intuitively know what it is. When a professional counselor questions them further, they realize that they do not really know what their ideal job would be. Personality, skills and desire all enter the equation and a person must know himself very well to know all those facets. As a result, a candidate, especially a young one, may not know what she is passionate about. Even today, people have a tendency to separate work from non-work.
EFFECT OF THE PARADOX: Professional Career Counseling is required to assure a good match between job and candidate. There are several reasons professional career counselors are required to obtain a good match between a candidate and a given job. First of all, a candidate will be subject to many external influences such as family (including a spouse) and friends. Although these people are usually well intentioned, their comments may be based on a faulty or biased analysis. Second, people usually think in terms if preferences: “I like ‘A’ better than ‘B’. To answer an open-ended question such as “What do you like?” implies that they know all the alternatives. Generally, most people do not know of as wide a variety of jobs as does a career counselor. Third, when a person does learn of a job description, he may not know all of its good and bad characteristics and may not possess the ability or awareness to ferret out what they are. Lastly, it is often helpful and sometimes mandatory to discuss a career with someone who is non-judgmental and who can reflect ideas. If a use of a career counselor would benefit both people (employees/candidates) and organizations, why are not they used all the time? The answer: They are not free and the need is not apparent to most people.
Consider the organization and the candidate/employee. There are two sides to the ”coin” of job satisfaction: the organization and the employee. Many organizations know their mission and vision but they do not know (or do not publicize) their “personality”. All companies have a unique personality that reflects the way they deal with employees and customers and how they conduct business. Candidates usually know what they are good at doing (skills) but often they cannot define what they see as their “ideal” job. Most often they do not have an analytically created career plan. They say they want to be an actuary because they are “good in math” and the job pays well, but they do not really have a passion for it. Successful companies are created when company goals and personalities are matched with employee goals and personalities. Companies do certain things and thus have requirements for certain positions. Success comes when they find candidates for those positions who not only can do the job required, but also who want to do that job. Thus, a good fit of a candidate to an organization requires considering characteristics of both. Both benefit if the match is correct since the employee will be fulfilled and the organization will be productive and successful.
QUESTION: How does a company retain passionate employees? First one must create an environment that encourages people to stay. Second, one must create an environment that encourages the person to retain his motivation.
In creating an environment that encourages employees to stay, I would recommend starting with W. Edwards Deming Fourteen Points of Quality. Among these are abolishing quotas, incentives and slogans. Any search engine will supply a plethora of information on Deming’s Management Principles.
Alfie Kohn believes that one can create conditions for motivation by using the three ‘C’s’: Collaboration, Content, Choice (Kohn, 1993, p. 187). Collaboration means that people are more productive when they work in a well-functioning group. The key word here is “well-functioning” since many “teams” exist in organizations that bring shame to the term. The point is that people feel more enthusiastic when they feel a sense of belonging (Kohn, 1993, p.188). Content means that people like to do meaningful work so they believe they are productive. Good management principles require that any non-value-added work be eliminated. That is, if you do not know how a task is adding value or supporting a product, it should be investigated and eliminated if no appropriate reason can be found for its existence. It would then be a matter of explaining how the task fits in to the overall scheme of the product. To emphasize the point, one might show a person how the product is used in the field so that the employee can graphically see how his work has an impact on the customer. The third ‘C’ stands for Choice and means that we are more enthusiastic about what we are doing when we can make decisions about how it is done (Kohn, 1993, p.192.) ‘C’ could also stand for ‘Control’ which is the opposite of Choice. The more control someone has over what you do, the less motivation you have in doing it. The root of most poor management is the effort to exert more control than is necessary.
WHAT SHOULD ORGANZATIONS DO?
The above ideas would be much easier to apply if one were starting a business. They are somewhat more difficult to apply to an existing organization. However, if you never start, you will never arrive. There are several items which existing organizations should consider:
- Create a clear understanding of the organization’s mission, vision and personality so that everyone understands what it is you are trying to do and how you are trying to do it. It is not enough to know that you want to be the biggest widget maker in the mid-west, it is also important to know how you want to accomplish that mission.
- Administer ‘preference’ tests to candidates to make sure the fit is right between the candidate and the job. Just because someone has a degree in chemical engineering does not mean she wants to be a chemical engineer. You will be better off hiring an average engineer who has a passion for the subject than a “Nobel Laureate” who does not like the subject and is constantly looking over the wall for other opportunities.
- Create and implement a career development program and a career-counseling program for all employees to increase the organization’s productivity. Each employee should develop a career path so they know what it is they want to do.
- Support career counseling in high schools and colleges to increase the likelihood of hiring passionate candidates.
- Train and infuse into the organization’s culture all of the above so that all employees know, understand and accept the concept.
WHAT OBSTACLES WILL AN ORGANIZATION ENCOUNTER?
- The naysayers will contend that having employees passionate about their jobs is an ideal goal that is not attainable and that it cannot be crafted but can happen only randomly. Actually, having all employees passionate about their jobs is analogous to zero defects. It usually is an ideal state, but it can be attained. It is certain that if it is not set as a goal, it will never be attained. As with the concept of zero defects, the companies who start first usually pass those which lag behind. Correctly fitting people to jobs is not an easy task and will take time. Have patience!
- Starting or re-emphasizing a career development program encourages employees to move from job to job. Realize that:
I. Everyone cannot move into a new position at once. In some situations, the reality will be that some employees must stay in their current position until a suitable replacement can be found. Again, the process will take time, so remember that “patience is a virtue”.
II. More training will be needed.
III. Done without a well-constructed plan, chaos will result.
- Not everyone likes or dislikes his or her job to the same degree and thus each employee must be treated individually. In some cases, a modification of responsibilities may move an employee closer to his “ideal job”.
- Career counseling and a career development program is an expense; do not look for a short-term payback. Consider it a cost of doing business like supplying desks and cabinets. Also, these expenses will be higher during start-up than during the operation of the program when everyone does not need as much attention.
WHAT BENEFITS CAN BE EXPECTED?
- The obvious – passionate employees are more creative and productive which results in a successful organization.
- The less obvious – a career development program can give an employee hope for his or her future even if they are not in a job for which they have a passion. With hope there is happiness and thus an increase in employee satisfaction and productivity.
WHAT SHOULD CANDIDATES/EMPLOYEES DO?
Take advantage of any career counseling offered at your school, workplace or out-placement agency. In lieu of hiring a career counselor, read up on the topic and keep thinking about what it is you really like.
A Last Note
Companies intuitively upgrade machine tools, computers, equipment and systems to stay current in their industry. It is also intuitive to match a tool with a task. People do not drive a screw with scissors and they do not write a business letter with a marking pen. Yet when the human side of an organization is considered, matching an employee to a position is usually done superficially. It is certain that this will change. Will you be part of the revolution?
Donald A. Dinero, PE, CPIM is a manufacturing analyst who works with companies by analyzing their procedures and then recommending and implementing organizational change, or changes in integrated production methods, systems, etc. He encourages comments on this or related topics and can be contacted by telephone at (585) 305-6820 or by e-mail @ firstname.lastname@example.org. He lives in Rochester, NY and is a member of the Western NY Chapter of ISPI.