Friday, September 10, 2010

Step Seven: Continually Improve Training and Tasks Using the Helpful Motivations You Want to Draw on for Encouraging Near-Perfect Performance

Therefore we do not lose heart.
Even though our outward man is perishing,
yet the inward man is being renewed day by day.

— 2 Corinthians 4:16 (NKJV)

Times change. Opinions shift. People mature. New
influences arise. All such variations make it important
to continually improve training and tasks to make them
more relevant to and rewarding for those who do the
tasks and those who benefit from their actions. Three
sources of inquiry can direct us closer to near-perfect
group performance:

1. Examine those who aren’t being considered for doing
the tasks.
2. Consider the latest thinking and attitudes of those
who are doing the tasks.
3. Learn how the beneficiaries feel about what they are

Let me briefly examine each performance perspective
to describe how more can be learned and accomplished,
beginning with those who aren’t being hired or asked to
do the tasks. Over time, employers usually recruit and
hire people who are much like themselves. You’ll often
see workplaces and volunteer activities where each
person looks almost like a clone of the next person.
What’s even more likely to be true is that their thinking
is in lockstep. That’s a good trait if you have a perfect
idea of what needs to be done. Otherwise, it’s very
harmful … acting more like blinders that focus
attention in the wrong direction.

In many organizations, such homogenous staffs are
often seen as the result of prejudice, requiring changes
due to either a legal or a moral responsibility. Those
ethical perspectives may be true in a given instance,
but I think they miss a more important point: If an
organizational unit fails to draw on a large cross-
section of people, it is impoverished in terms of being
an interesting place to work where people can learn to
perform better. Customers miss opportunities to
benefit. Everyone is worse off.

Contrary to the view that narrow hiring practices are
primarily excuses for discrimination, my experience
has been that the practices more often reflect a form of
narcissism. The people doing the hiring are looking for
people who will admire and model them. When that
result is achieved, it isn’t good for anyone and certainly
doesn’t encourage near-perfect group performance.

It’s very helpful to grasp why different kinds of people
either aren’t being hired or retained by an organization.
Do they not apply? If so, there may be problems with
making potential applicants aware of the jobs or with the
motivations that are being provided. Do they apply
but not rate well in interviews? If that’s the case, the
interviews may be crafted too narrowly to grasp all the
elements of what someone can provide. Do they get the
jobs or the assignments but find the tasks or
motivations to be unsatisfying and quit? In that
circumstance, it may well be that the organization is
long overdue to reconsider what motivations are
offered and how the training and tasks are done.

Leaders also need to be up-to-date on what those doing
the tasks are thinking and feeling. Otherwise, what were
once highly motivating tasks will become boring and
unrewarding, and performance will decline. A
potentially motivating offset can be to shift who does
the tasks so that everyone becomes trained in how to do
a broad range of what needs to be done. When that
cross-training occurs and experience grows, fewer
problems occur when someone is out sick or leaves for
another position. A more substantial benefit is that
those who do the tasks develop a better sense of how
everything fits together. As a result, helpful
improvement suggestions will increase. Some workers
may instead be more motivated by focusing on what
they are doing. It would be discouraging and
distracting to cross-train these employees. Keep
asking. Views may change and leaders’ responses
should, too.

Leaders can also gain a lot of perspective by spending
full days working at these tasks alongside those who
normally do them. During such hands-on experiences,
perspectives shift to provide better understanding of
what the problems are that create mistakes and how
motivating or discouraging the circumstances are.
Spend enough time with the regular workers, and they
will begin to tell you things that you need to know but
that have been bottled up for one reason or another.

In addition, organizations gain when those who have
been doing the task for a long time are encouraged to
rethink what the purposes of the organization should
be and how to achieve those purposes. As part of such
a fundamental review, it is very valuable to visit and
consider methods employed in noncompeting
organizations that reflect totally different approaches.

For instance, assembly lines lead to a lot of mistakes
and higher costs as people scramble to deal with
problems without stopping the assembly line. Someone
who has worked on an assembly line for many years
would well know that near perfection isn’t going to
happen on a traditional assembly line. Let those
assemblers visit organizations that use team and group
assembly, and they will be very open to the advantages
of greater cooperation in a friendly context where
people can more easily assist one another. By contrast,
if you send managers and supervisors to investigate
the same methods and they report negatively about the
opportunity, realize that self-interest may be at work
because their jobs wouldn’t be as important in such an

Even when the training or the task itself doesn’t need
to be redesigned, the forms of motivation may still need
to be. Employees and volunteers can easily become
cynical about new motivational programs that feature
slogans, signs, and hoopla but don’t connect with their
own sense of what’s important and right to do. Let those
same people help design and explain new motivational
programs and opportunities, and their sincerity will
move hearts and minds toward making many

Beneficiaries of near-perfect work change their minds,
develop new needs, shift their attention, and look for
variety. Keep providing them with what was once their
ideal, and you will eventually dissatisfy them. For
instance, there was a time when providing bigger and
gaudier tail fins was a factor in what vehicle would be

More recently, almost everyone wanted as large and
high a vehicle as possible, regardless of gas mileage.
After gasoline prices rose above $4.00 a gallon, sales
of gas-sipping, smaller vehicles began to take off

Even in what seems like a straightforward area such as
improving quality, the same issue exists. When quality
is poor in offerings, customers will be most concerned
about the primary functionality of the offering. For a
vehicle, a functionality issue might be how often it
breaks down and has to be repaired. After functionality
is acceptable, many customers will start to be concerned
about quality issues related to appearance. In a vehicle,
this might relate to how good the paint job looks. Once
those problems are solved, customer preferences may
well emphasize making life more convenient for them
such as how well the vehicle’s cup holders accommodate
a variety of beverage container sizes and shapes.

In addition, customer needs with regard to what they
already use change over time. Companies tend to focus
on what customers care about near the time of a
purchase decision and not so much the rest of the
time. For instance, vehicle manufacturers don’t want
you to drive their product until it falls apart. They
would prefer that you buy a new one every year. To
encourage more sales, they steadily increase the
prices of parts on older models so that at some point
it becomes cheaper to buy a new vehicle rather than
to retain the older one, even if you prefer the older
one. Someone who feels victimized by the parts
pricing of the current vehicle’s manufacturer may seek
out a different manufacturer for the next vehicle who
doesn’t gouge customers so much with high prices for
replacement parts.

New business environments may raise totally new
issues. For instance, during the recession that started
in 2008, unemployment in the United States grew by
more than at any other time since the 1930s. When
some automotive companies went bankrupt, many
people who made auto parts lost good-paying jobs
with few prospects for obtaining equally attractive
new ones. Someone who was concerned about the
pain to individuals and families that was created by
this economic environment might want to know how
the purchase of a vehicle would affect people who were
or might become unemployed. Without paying
attention to what motivates customers, a vehicle
manufacturer with a good story for helping
employment might fail to tell that story.

Copyright 2010 Donald W. Mitchell All Rights Reserved

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