Articles tagged with: employee


What a good workplace looks like: Purpose, Recognition and Growth.


In August 1983, I visited the Highlands & Islands of Scotland for the very first time. Everything was magnificent including, and I now know very unusually the weather. It was sunny, warm and dry every day for the whole trip. I fell in love with Scotland and have returned many times over the past 34 years. Unfortunately, I have never again experienced a similar extended period of perfect weather. In fact, I have frequently spent days suspecting that I was participating in some kind of ongoing ice-bucket challenge. Notwithstanding my subsequent experiences, I always think of Scotland bathed in the sunshine of my first visit. My perception and belief about what was both possible and desirable was set early. As a result, I return to Scotland with a sense of optimism, although experience has taught me to always pack my wet-weather gear.

It has been very much the same for me when it comes to work. I was similarly blessed in my first “real” job in 1987. It provided a very positive experience about what good looked like in the workplace and how work could be a “soul-enhancing” experience rather than a “soul-destroying” one.  Over the last 30 years I have managed to experience a few similar positive work environments, indeed I am very proud that I have been involved in creating some of them. However I have also experienced or should that be endured the workplace equivalent of the “ice-bucket challenge; endless inclement cultures seemingly devoid of hope.   

What I have learned from these diverse experiences is the difference between good and bad in the workplace. I believe it can be distilled down to the presence or absence of three factors. These factors are firstly a sense of purpose or meaning, secondly an ongoing stream of evidence of making a difference, that is adding value to something or somebody and lastly a feeling of personal growth or development.

When all three factors are present they amplify and reinforce each other.  They are, in a very healthy sense contagious, in that individuals who display them communicate them to their colleagues, creating an environment which retains the right people and attracts other like-minded folk.

Unfortunately, when one or more of the factors is weak or absent then they diminish the positive impact of those that are present and good people leave in search of what they intuitively know is missing.

Let’s look at the three in a little more detail. Purpose is often talked about at a big-picture level and it is certainly motivating to think that your work is changing the world in some way for the better, Whilst I would always recommend that every organisation has a clear purpose in the form of a well-crafted mission statement, my experience is that it is the ability to find purpose in the more mundane tasks that our work often involves, that makes for a real sense of meaning on a daily basis.  Activities designed with clearly visible progress and completion are a great way of providing this. It is also useful to focus on individual human interactions; “how” we do things and how we make our colleagues and customers feel are just as important as the “what” of what we actually do.

The second factor is related to our significance as individuals. Is what we do noticed and valued? Ongoing feedback and recognition is vital. The best kind of recognition is timely, individualised and specific; it seldom comes in the form of an impersonal award via a HR system! Validation from and the respect of our peers is especially important. The environment should be one where everyone is involved in improvements and is both allowed and encouraged to make changes. Again, it is the knowledge and visibility of progress that is vital. Performance indicators and metrics are of the most value when used to allow people to manage themselves as opposed to the more usual situation when they are used by managers to manage employees. An example of this approach is the world renowned “Toyota Production System”. In Toyota, the supervisor/manager’s role consists of facilitating process improvements and developing individuals. 

This last point provides a nice segue to the final factor, Growth.  Everybody needs to feel that they are developing in some way. The amount and type of growth required varies hugely between different individuals; this is definitely a case where one size does not fit all. A healthy workplace recognises this and provides a wide range of support, options and development paths along with just the right amount of challenge and pressure. I have been coaching and mentoring managers across the globe for many years and seeing these individuals grow and develop has been one of the most rewarding aspects of my career. Management author David Bolchover argues in his excellent book “The 90-Minute Manager” that one of the core tasks of any manager is the development of their people. Unfortunately, this task is often either forgotten completely or put to the bottom of the priority list, after all development usually takes time and costs money.

A healthy working environment that attracts and retains competent people and delivers the required results can take many different forms. Whatever the form it will be an environment where its people can find meaning, be recognised for their contributions and feel that they are growing.  I strongly believe every workplace can and should be improved by a systematic focus on enabling these three factors.  I know what a good workplace looks and feels like. Hopefully you too have experienced similar positive environments. The knowledge that they exist should give us hope that we can recreate them anew. It is this same hope that has kept me going whilst trudging through the driving rain on many a Scottish mountainside.


The 90-Minute Manager – David Bolchover

Toyota Talent : Developing Your People the Toyota Way - Jeffrey K. Liker , David Meier


Find Purpose & You'll Live Longer

Create meaning at work to improve your health and wellbeing.

Find Purpose & You'll Live Longer

When I was a student I worked many a labouring job on construction sites and in factories just to earn some money. One of the jobs I enjoyed the most was being a cleaner, because at the end of my job I could see the fruits of my labour. The work area was now clean; sure it would get dirty again but at least not immediately, and the other people working at the factory directly benefitted from the cleaner workspace. I actually felt proud of my accomplishment. I also used to work on production lines stacking bricks, this I disliked because it did not matter how hard or fast I worked there were always more and more bricks to stack. The job never seemed to end. All I wanted to do was get back to cleaning, at least there seemed to be some clear purpose to it.

Throughout the 1970s, American historian Studs Terkel travelled the country interviewing dozens of people about their jobs. After interviewing people from telephone operators to strip miners for his book Working, Turkel concluded: “Work is about a search for daily meaning as well as daily bread, for recognition as well as cash …” As Terkel saw it, most of us “have jobs that are too small for our spirit” – that is, a good job is about more than a steady wage.

Surveys show that a sense of meaning or purpose is often rated as one of the most desirable qualities in a job, sometimes even topping perks like a higher salary.

In a 2014 study published in Psychological Science, researchers Patrick L. Hill and Nicholas A. Turiano analysed data collected from over 6,000 people as part of the longitudinal Midlife in the United States (MIDUS) study. As part of this questionnaire, participants answered questions gauging their sense of purpose in life as well as questions that gauged other psychosocial variables, including the experience of positive and negative emotions.

Fourteen years after the initial survey, approximately 570 of the original participants had died (about 9% of the sample). Interestingly, those who had self-rated themselves as having a high sense of purpose were more likely to have survived. Even after controlling for other factors of well-being, the results of the analysis showed that purposeful individuals outlived their more aimless peers.

“Our findings point to the fact that finding a direction for life, and setting overarching goals for what you want to achieve can help you actually live longer, regardless of when you find your purpose,” Hill said in a statement. “These findings suggest that there’s something unique about finding a purpose that seems to be leading to greater longevity.”

Feeling a sense of meaning in life, and in work specifically may also be good for our wallets. In a new study, Hill and Turiano found that a sense of purpose also predicted financial success.

“Studies show that purpose correlates positively with more expansive future time perspectives and with a greater sense that their time is being used effectively to fulfil long term goals,” Hill, Turiano, and colleagues write in the Journal of Research in Personality. Purposeful people may be more likely to save money or make investments that support long-term goals, and not squander resources based on impulsive decisions.

As in the previous study, the research team analysed data collected from MIDUS. This time, the research team also analysed self-report measures on income and net worth. The median net worth in 1995 was $32,500. Around 9 years later, when the second wave of the survey was conducted, the median net worth had risen to $137,700 in 1995 dollars.

More purposeful people came out ahead of their peers; a one standard deviation increase in purpose was associated with an “increase of $4,461 in income and $20,857 in net worth over time, even controlling for the other variables.”

Exactly why purposeful individuals gained an economic edge was unclear but these individuals could be more focused on their occupational objectives. If so, purposeful individuals may strive toward occupational success, which would likely increase personal income.


Hill, P. L., & Turiano, N. A. (2014). Purpose in life as a predictor of mortality across adulthood. Psychological Science, 25(7), 1482-1486.

Hill, P. L., Turiano, N. A., Mroczek, D. K., & Burrow, A. L. (2016). The value of a purposeful life: Sense of purpose predicts greater income and net worth. Journal of Research in Personality65, 38-42.


CEO and line manager behaviours shape organizational performance and organizational identity

CEO and line manager behaviours shape organizational performance and organizational identity

Research findings from the Institute of Leadership and HR Management from the Univeristy of St Gallen reinforce what we have known for many years now, and that is that CEOs play a significant role in influencing lower-level leaders, organizational identity, and organizational performance. They act as role models for the firm's management and determine which leadership behaviours will be rewarded or punished, thus having an important influence on the company's transformational leadership climate. In addition, CEOs are an important source of organizational identity strength. CEOs communicate the company's values internally and externally. Consequently, they have the opportunity to shape the perception of the company. CEOs should take advantage of this unique opportunity. They should be clear regarding how they want the company to develop eg.,vision, and should transmit the feeling that they are part of the company and that all company members are part of the same team. Importantly, these are behaviours that every leader can exhibit. Thus, even though certain individuals might seem more charismatic than others, all top managers can adopt important behaviours to influence both the leadership climate and organizational identity.

Line managers are also important for shaping the organizational identity and subsequently performance, which they can do by adopting a transformational leadership style. Many of line managers' expected behaviours match charismatic CEO behaviours, for example, creating a vision for their team that is in line with the company vision and values, creating a joint team spirit, and leading by example. All these behaviours enhance the organization's organizational identity. In addition, HR processes can be adapted to foster a transformational leadership climate as well. The selection of new managers and criteria for promoting existing leadership personnel should include behavioural aspects, which are in line with the company values. The same is true for firm-wide leadership trainings, which should target the demonstration of transformational leadership behaviours including charisma. Finally, organizations can try to influence the company organizational identity directly. In order to develop pride in the organizational goals and values, employees need to be aware of them. Therefore, internal marketing activities via the intranet, company newsletters, and firm events should deliver appropriate messages. By answering and communicating such information thoroughly, companies can create a pronounced organizational identity.


How to Manage Conflict in Teams

Setting teams up for success is the best way to avoid conflict

How to Manage Conflict in Teams

Stanford Professor of Organizational Behavior, Lindred Greer provides good advice on how to manage conflicts within teams. In this video she outlines the types of conflicts that can occur within teams and how to deal with them.  Conflicts can arise from differences on tasks, process, relationship and status.  Understanding who is involved in the conflict and why they are involved is the first step in managing the conflict. 

With virtual teams it's important to have a face to face kick off which allows them to get to know each other and understand the context that others are coming from. In our work with virtual teams across the globe we always insist on a face to face meeting where team members come together. In the face to face meeting not only do we work on the task/s the team has to manage but we spend time working on interpersonal relationships. We then have face to face followups every 3 months. In the intervening periods we conduct teleconferences which run to a strict agenda and time. The benefits of such an approach far outweigh any of the costs involved. Setting teams up for success is the best way of avoiding conflicts in the first place.



Developing Empathy to Increase Emotional Intelligence

Developing Empathy to Increase Emotional Intelligence

The ability to understand why people behave the way they do is a critical component of emotional intelligence, and it is a skill that can be taught. To be successful, it helps if you can develop empathy towards the person or people whose behaviour you are trying to understand. The psychoanalyst Theodor Reik (a student of Sigmund Freud) defined empathy as a process involving four components:


  1. Identification - focusing one’s own attention to another and allowing oneself to become absorbed in contemplation of that person.
  2. Incorporation - making the other’s experience one’s own via internalizing the other.
  3. Reverberation - experiencing the other’s experience while attending to one’s own cognitive and affective associations to that experience.
  4. Detachment - moving back from the merged inner relationship to a position of separate identity, which permits a response to be made that reflects both understanding of others as well as separateness from them.

Steps 1 through 3 involve the ability to put your self in the shoes of the other while step 4 requires that you detach yourself from the situation so you can present a “rational” and “objective” response.

Without being able to do steps 1 to 3 you can’t accurately do step 4, and as my experience has born out, it is not so easy for people to do steps 1 to 3. That is, people have great difficulty putting themselves in the shoes of others.

So what can you do to develop this ability? There are a few techniques that can be used such as:

Emotional attribution tasks where participants are presented with short stories describing emotional situations and asked what the protagonists might feel in those situations;

Faux pas task where participants are read a story with the occurrence of a faux pas and asked if they detected the faux pas—that is, a socially awkward situation;

Being assigned to groups that differ in terms of perspective-taking instructions before watching videotape or listening to an emotionally laden story and then discussing their reactions.

These techniques put the focus on developing self-awareness and mental flexibility, so you can step outside your own immediate reactions and put yourself in the shoes of the other. Empathy then is a skill that can be learned and you can use it to enhance your emotional intelligence.

Posted in Business Management


Building Smarter Teams - Thomas Malone

Building Smarter Teams - Thomas Malone

Very interesting article on the latest research into group intelligence.......
"We had expected that the group intelligence would correlate with the average or maximum intelligence of individual group members. But we were surprised to find that the correlation was not very strong. In other words, just having a bunch of smart people in a group doesn't necessarily make a smart group"


Posted in Project Management


Creating a safe space for innovation

Understanding how your measures affect employee behaviour

Clayton M. Christensen is the Kim B. Clark Professor of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School. In the business consulting field he is a “rock star.” He is the author of best selling business books and consults on the subject to many global companies.

In his book “The Innovator’s DNA” Christensen prescribes what it takes to be more innovative and to be successful at innovation. Perhaps it is stating the obvious (as far as I am concerned but then again I do understand a little about human behaviour being a psychologist), but one of the keys to success is to create a space for innovation to occur.  What that means is that employees should be able to experiment and trial new ideas without fear of negative consequences if things don’t work out.

“Establishing an Innovation is everyone’s job philosophy requires creating a safe space for others to take on the status quo. Researchers call this psychological safety, in which team members willingly express opinions, take risks, run experiments, and acknowledge mistakes without punishment”.

Another key is to give people time to innovate, obvious once again since how will you be able to experiment with out the time to do so? But when you hear, as I did, employees told to increase their utilization rate to 95% (utilization rate is the percentage of billable time) the only time they have left is the time for toilet and lunch breaks. There is no space for innovation.

Many years ago I consulted to an organization that was serious about innovation. The senior management team created a budget code so that employees could allocate hours to innovation and reduced the utilisation rate down to 80% so that employees could allocate 20% of their work hours towards innovation.  The result was that innovation happened.

The Innovator’s DNA provides a great resource for anyone wanting to create an environment for innovation to flourish, but in order to do so stumbling blocks like the requirement for high utilization rates must be dealt with first.

Posted in Innovation

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