Happy talk – Motivation unplugged

"Cos' I'm worth it" - A marketing executive from L'Oreal rocks out at the Marketing Directors Forum in Athens

I was reading the blog of Video Arts the other day on the issue of happiness at work.  It reminded me of the words of honorary punk rockers Rogers, Hammerstein and Captain Sensible, “Happy talk”.  Yes, it’s nice to be happy at work, but that’s only half the story.  We looked at the blues and motivation previously.  The Smiths’ classic “Heaven knows I’m miserable now” is the mantra for people stuck in jobs that don’t fit their skills, attitudes, inner or outer desires.  Let’s check out the dark side of the motivational equation:

What then are the reasons to be cheerful at work?  Certainly NOT because the 360 degree appraisal system has been put online in full colour,  because the team has won a set of fake plastic palm trees inscribed with the company mission statement, or when the HR department places a ‘People are our greatest asset’ plaque in every toilet cubicle.

It may be slightly quaint or even old fashioned to say this, but whatever happened to good old job design, as described by Hackman and Oldham?  They pointed out that people work well when they have well designed jobs.  These include some good old fashioned but not out of date factors:

  • Skill variety – using an appropriate variety of skills.
  • Task identity – being able to see the whole task.
  • Task significance – the extent to which people identify with the task and its importance to something wider.
  • Autonomy – giving some discretion over the way in which work is done.
  • Feedback – gaining an idea of how well people convert effort into performance.

In practical terms, many of the tried and tested methods of improving job design at work still have value.  For example:   vary work where possible to encourage skill variety;  assign work as a whole unit to enhance task significance;  delegate tasks to their lowest possible level to create autonomy and responsibility;   connect people to the impact of their work through feedback.  Some of the world’s best workplaces such as Prêt à Manger use these principles intuitively as they are common sense, although they are not commonly applied.  Others have made significant improvements by just following them as a conscious protocol, such as I have observed in work at The Royal College of Physicians.

My latest book Punk Rock People Management offers us three chords on motivation:

  • Design work according to Hackman and Oldham’s principles.
  • Eliminate pointless tasks from the daily grind that add no customer / stakeholder value.
  • Remember that reasons to be cheerful include: being listened to; doing things that count; understanding why they matter; being part of something; not having to do pointless tasks;  getting meaningful feedback on what you do and so on.

‘Punk Rock People Management – A no-nonsense guide to hiring, inspiring and firing staff’ is available for purchase of as a FREE download via the Punk Rock People Management webpage.  If you like this extract from the book, you will also LOVE my other book ‘Sex, Leadership and Rock’n’Roll’, acclaimed by Tom Peters, the daddy of them all.  Contact us to book your next conference keynote based on our heady mixture of business leadership and music.  Just back from Greece, and shortly appearing in Romania, South Africa and Slough – hardly a Rock’n’Roll schedule I admit! 🙂  Read a review by clicking on the picture:

Good companions

I leave not with Happy Talk by Captain Sensible, but with his rather more thoughtful anti-war / eco warrior song “Glad it’s all over” – The Captain ‘extinguished me’ with a fire hydrant at the Marquee during a Doctors of Madness gig, for which I am eternally grateful.

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