leadership incorporated blog

December 17, 2012

Leaders: Are You Using The Activation Phenomenon To Succeed Bigger?

A 2001 study at Johns Hopkins showed that when nurses met the medical team by name and asked about their concerns early on, they were more likely to note problems and offer solutions than nurses who were not treated as valued team members. Getting people personally involved activated their participation, their sense of responsibility and their willingness to speak up.

The researchers called this the “Activation Phenomenon.”

Think about your own experience in workplaces where you were (are) activated and challenged to be at your best. Weren’t you more interested in your work? Did you look forward to getting to work and not want to stop? Did you have moments in which time stood still while you worked your magic? Didn’t you find yourself caring deeply about the work, the results, your clients, co-workers, and vendors?

On the other hand, most of us have experienced not being encouraged to use our smarts and skills and can-do spirit. We’ve felt frustrated, bored, undervalued. We’ve questioned our own worth. We’ve done our time without caring about the results, because, really, what was the point of caring?

Companies that produce the best results over time more often make people feel the first way. Organizations that create the second set of feelings, generally have to spend a lot of their time and capital on people problems, efficiency problems, quality problems, turnover problems…yes, all kinds of problems. And that gets in the way of creating sustainable success.

Do some of the engagement issues come from the people themselves? Of course, yet no problem is one-sided. And your business is either doing things to activate engagement on the part of its people, its clients, and its vendors or it is doing things to deactivate them.

So, it’s a good idea to periodically take an unflinching look at some of the conditions business leaders create that either activate or de-activate even themselves:

  • Create A Strong Sense Of Purpose: When we feel connected to the “why” behind our jobs, we work longer, harder, smarter and with greater passion. When disconnected from the end results of our work, our roles become abstract and we become disengaged.
  • Offer A Good Meaty Challenge: Stretching people just slightly out of their comfort zones is highly engaging. On the other hand, asking too little keeps us feeling bored and insignificant. However, asking the impossible breeds resentment and lack of respect.
  • Build A Connected Team Feeling:  Personal connections, being part of something bigger than ourselves, knowing others depend on us and that our delivery has an impact on their ability to perform is a powerful and energizing motivator. When work is impersonal and disconnected from others, it’s much harder to care.
  • Treat People With Respect: Virtually everyone does their best work when approached consistently as valuable human beings and team members. Conversely, being talked down to, blamed, ignored, yelled at, dismissed, and so on, almost always results in mutual disrespect.
  • Provide Constructive Feedback: Study after study shows that people work harder when we know how we are doing, whether the feedback indicates we are exceeding, meeting, or failing to meet expectations. One critical warning: make sure feedback is actionable and focused on the work, not the person. Blame, judgment, and feedback that does not suggest a course of action will demotivate.
  • Give The Authority To Make Decisions That Impact Outcomes: When people are able to create and carry out actions that produce results, we feel empowered and take ownership of the process. When we’re held responsible for conditions over which we have no control, we become passive and resentful, feeling that we’ve been set up to lose and that it doesn’t matter what we do.
  • Allow Permission To Make mistakes: In environments that encourage mistakes (and learning) we feel freer to think out of the box, to come up with new and better ways and speak up when we see the potential for problems ahead. When mistakes happen, we don’t hesitate to surface them and get to immediate resolution. On the other hand, when we fear “getting in trouble,” we risk less and cover-up more. Which do you think is of greater benefit to any organization?

See anything here that your organization might do better on? What conversations can you have in the next few weeks to activate yourself and the people your business depends on to hit the ground running in 2013?

Wishing you a happy holiday season and some highly activated growth in the new year.

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1 Comment »

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