For the past couple of weeks I’ve been working, alongside the other guys from We Do Things Differently, with a wide range of people who work at a significant manufacturing company in the UK. We’ve been asked to work with some highly skilled shop floor workers and managers, stretching their innovation muscles, and sharing our techniques for creative collaboration.
They’ve been great, but inevitably some familiar challenges emerged: knowledge trapped in silos; lack of empowerment (whether real or perceived), and anxiety about the future competition. It’s not a wild guess to say that the majority of employees around the world would cite similar concerns about the way their company operates - after all, only 13% of employees describe themselves as engaged in their work.
Employee engagement levels have never been particularly heartening, but the importance of having engaged and motivated employees has never been greater. Why? Because of the global competitiveness we’re experiencing, the ever-increasing speed of change, leading to the shortest life-span of companies ever seen. As President Obama said, in the this week’s State of the Union Address, the only people likely to stay in the same job, with the same benefits were sitting in the chamber listening to him - for everyone else, getting comfortable with the anxiety of change is the long-term reality.
We only have to look at some of the world’s most profitable companies (Apple, Berkshire Hathaway, Google, Toyota) to see that they also have high levels of engagement and innovation. Typically, however, most companies think that engagement and innovation require inducements - financial and lifestyle perks. But the research tells a different story. Teresa Amabile, from Harvard Business School argues that “when people are intrinsically motivated, they engage in the work for the challenge and enjoyment of it… Managers in successful, creative organisations rarely (need to) offer specific extrinsic rewards for particular outcomes… The work itself is motivating… the most common extrinsic motivator managers use is money, which doesn’t necessarily stop people from being creative. But, in many cases, it doesn’t help either.”
And the missing, invariably overlooked, key to intrinsic motivation is the creation of a dynamic learning culture. People are born naturally curious, but too often formal learning - and the workplace - become devoid of curiosity. When people aren’t learning, they’re not motivated. And if they’re not learning, the business isn’t innovating. And if they’re not innovating, they’re on death row. It’s actually as simple as that.
Many companies get this, but they don’t know how to create a great learning culture. So they lay on a ton of training. Job done - we’re a ‘learning organisation’. But as Matt Moore, Knowledge Manager at PWC, Australia said when I interviewed him: “What gets badged as ‘organisational learning’ is really just the mass training of individuals. Corporations have to balance three levels of learning: the individual, the group and the corporate. When they get it wrong, it’s usually the group that gets neglected.”
At We Do Things Differently, we passionately believe that a culture of open learning enables collaboration, increases motivation and stimulates innovation. We believe that the answer is in the room, or in the network. But a true learning culture is driven by the group. It dismantles silos, empowers individuals and eradicates anxiety.
Prioritise your learning culture and everything else will follow: collaboration, innovation, engagement and, of course, performance. If you don’t believe me, just ask Apple, Google, Berkshire Hathaway and Toyota.