Leadership Coach, Speaker, and Writer

How Leaders Can Manage The Perception Of Progress


In much of my work with leaders and organizations in various industries and disciplines, there’s a common issue that they seek help on addressing. Specifically, how do we keep employees invested in the long-term goals of our organization?

For these leaders, the question is not so much how to improve employee engagement as it is how to sustain that enthusiasm and drive over the life span of a project or change initiative where it takes months or even years to achieve a successful outcome.

While I’ve shared strategies and insights based on what successful organizations like Pixar Studios and the European Space Agency do to sustain employee motivation over a long period of time, I wanted to explore what researchers have learned to date about what keeps our motivation going for goal completion when the end point is not so clearly defined or visible.

That exploration lead to a fascinating study done by researchers at the University of Chicago which looked at how a frequent-buyer reward card offered by a local coffee shop could motivate coffee drinkers to become repeat customers.

For this experiment, the researchers created two different kinds of rewards cards where customers would be rewarded a free cup of coffee after 10 purchases. The first reward card version relied on giving customers a coffee cup-shaped stamp with every purchase. With this reward card design, the customer’s focus would be directed towards how many purchases they had made to date.

For the second reward card, 10 coffee cup images were featured on the card and in this case, the coffee cup images would be punched out with every purchase, thereby putting the customer’s focus on how many purchases were left to be made to get the free cup of coffee.

Researchers then told the study participants that they would be given cards that were started by university students who had recently graduated so these cards would be at various levels of completion.

The researchers grouped these partially completed reward cards into two groups – group 1 had only 3 coffee cup-shaped stamps or 7 slots left to be punched and was referred to as having a “low-progress condition”. Group 2 had 7 coffee cup-shaped stamps or 3 slots left to be punched and was referred to as having a “high-progress condition”.

The researchers handed out the different scenario and design reward cards to the various participants and then evaluated how motivated research participants would be to finish the reward card to get their free cup of coffee.

What the researchers found was that when the participants received a card that had 3 coffee cup-shaped stamps or 3 slots punched, the ones that got the card design that emphasized how much progress had been made so far were more motivated to finish the reward card than those who got the reward card that emphasized how many coffee cups were left to purchase to get the free cup of coffee.

Conversely, for those participants who got cards where there were 7 coffee cup-shaped stamps or 7 slots punched, the ones with the card design that emphasized how many coffee cups were left to buy to get the free cup were more motivated to get that free cup of coffee than those whose card focused on how many cups of coffee were purchased so far.

Now for those who run coffee shops or other types of stores that use these kinds of reward cards, this finding is definitely of much interest. But how does this apply to how we can become better at creating those kinds of conditions that help keep our employees motivated over the long run in achieving our shared purpose?

The answer to this question can be found in understanding what’s behind this motivation phenomenon. Click here to continue reading »”How Leaders Can Manage The Perception Of Progress”

Great Teams Share More Than A Destination


The following is a guest piece by author Sean Glaze.

If you’re like most team leaders, you go into your team’s season or project or quarterly sales period with a goal.

And if you’re like most leaders, you find yourself frustrated at some point in that process because you struggle to get the buy-in or create the cohesiveness and commitment that would inspire your team to meet the goals that were set.

Wearing the same uniform – or working in the same office – doesn’t make your group a team.

Goals are important – but setting a goal, like writing a book, is only part of the recipe. It’s like making your favorite chocolate chip cookies. Flour is important – but you need more than just that.

As a basketball coach, I learned that teams must share a destination – they need to agree on a compelling common goal – but teams need to share more than that to complete the recipe for success.

Just as chocolate chip cookies require adding sugar and butter and eggs and chocolate chips to the flour, great team leaders understand that there is more to building a great team than setting a goal.

In my new book, “Rapid Teamwork“, I share the five essential steps to transform any group into a great team – and goals are an important first step . . .

If your people don’t know why they are together, they will not do much while they are together!

So what are the two parts to creating a compelling common goal? Click here to continue reading »”Great Teams Share More Than A Destination”

Leaders, It’s Time To Make Work Meaningful Again


Over the past couple of months, I’ve had numerous conversations with leaders in both the private and public sector, discussing some of the key issues they face today and what they see as the main challenges they’ll face going forward.

In many of those conversations, a common theme inevitably surfaces – how do I get my employees to care more about the work we do? How do I create that environment where people are internally motivated to bring their discretionary efforts to the table?

Naturally, such questions invariably lead to discussions of how can we make work more meaningful for our employees; of how do we help them make contributions that matter to them as much as it matters to our organization.

It’s a train of thought that came to mind a few days ago when my oldest daughter returned home from high school happy to share some great news – “Leslie’s back working at our school”.

To help put this news in context, my daughters’ high school has had to make some serious budget cuts this academic year, which unfortunately included having to let go of some valuable and greatly-appreciated personnel at our high school.

Without question, Leslie is one of these employees. But thankfully, the school’s administration has found some other way to keep him involved and present in the school community, much to the excitement and delight of the students.

Now I’m sure many of you are probably thinking that Leslie is one of the ‘cool teachers’ at my daughters’ high school. The truth, however, is that Leslie is not one of the teachers – he’s the school’s security guard.

So why would my daughter and the other students be excited about his return? It’s not because they go to a dangerous school – far from it. Rather, it’s because of how Leslie approaches his job.

Since the day he started, Leslie made a point to not simply sit in his security booth. Instead, he would reach out to engage with the students, wanting to learn about their successes, and taking part in the fun activities meant to break up to monotony of the school routine.

So when news broke out that Leslie would no longer be working at the school, many of the students were sad to hear it because for many of them, he was the smiling, friendly face that greeted them at the end of their school day. He was also the cheery presence that kept them company while they waited for their parents to come pick them up.

The way Leslie approached his job reminded me of a study I share in some of my talks which found that all of us view our work in one of three ways: as a job, as a career, or as a calling.

Now, it wouldn’t be a surprise to hear a pediatrician or a firefighter talking about their work as being their calling. But for the majority of us, the more likely response we’d give is that we view our work as being our career.

In Leslie’s case, given how he used to be a professional guitarist whose work can be heard on certain album recordings, it should be a given that he’d view his current work as a high school security guard as nothing more than a job.

And yet, in my numerous conversations with him, it was obvious that Leslie never saw his role at my daughters’ high school as just a job, and he certainly didn’t view it as a career.

Indeed, it’s clear to anyone who spent time interacting with him that he definitely sees the work he does in our school as being his calling. Why is that? The answer is surprisingly simple – Click here to continue reading »”Leaders, It’s Time To Make Work Meaningful Again”

Understanding Leadership And The Meaning Of Life


Over the last few years, I’ve had the pleasure of being invited to participate in a number of projects and initiatives looking at collecting the thoughts and perspectives from a diverse set of experts, thought leaders, and personalities. For some of these projects, the contributions being sought were straight-forward and to the point.

But others tended to take on a more thought-provoking approach. The most recent example of this came in the form of a web project I was recently asked to participate in where organizers asked people from different fields and life experiences to give their answer to this question: what is the meaning of life?

As I began to write down my response, I couldn’t help but note how my answer to this profound question also revealed something about the very nature of leadership in today’s workplaces, and what’s required for us to be successful in bringing out the best in those we lead.

Of course, if there was ever a question that continued to capture the imagination and promote a healthy intellectual debate about the value of our collective humanity, it’d be the question what’s the meaning of life.

Lately, it would seem that the answer to this question for our contemporary Western society is the pursuit of happiness, and not surprisingly so when we consider that while the majority of us are not rich, we have nonetheless attained a level of materialistic and gastronomic comfort.

So it would seem that all that’s left for us to grasp for is attaining a constant level of happiness in our daily lives.

Certainly, this is a common theme that’s found in many books and articles looking at how to reignite the internal drives of our employees – that to boost employee engagement in today’s organizations, we need to promote a “happy workplace”.

And yet, if you ask me, the answer to finding the meaning of life – and with it, a greater level of employee engagement and motivation in your organization – is Click here to continue reading »”Understanding Leadership And The Meaning Of Life”

Creating A Workplace Environment Where Employees Matter


One of my favourite stories from the time of NASA’s Apollo space missions involves a visit by a group of guests to Mission Control. As they were walking down one of the building’s hallways, they spotted a man in a lab coat walking in the opposite direction and as they neared them, they asked him what he did at NASA. The man looked at the visitors and replied matter-of-factly, “I’m helping to put a man on the Moon”.

Of course, what makes this NASA employee’s response so noteworthy is the fact that he wasn’t one of the engineers or scientists involved in designing the rockets or overseeing the lunar missions. Instead, he was the building’s janitor.

It’s a story that came to mind in a discussion I had last week with a team of leaders where we were discussing the challenge many organizations face of improving the levels of employee engagement found within the various teams and departments that make up their organization.

Often times, these discussions reveal both a wariness and a sense of uncertainty regarding the complexity and difficulties involved in trying to reignite the internal motivations of our employees to bring their full selves to the work they do.

And yet, what this story of the NASA janitor reveals is the both the possibility and opportunity for us to use our leadership to create that kind of environment where our employees feel valued; where they know that the work and contributions they make matter because it’s tied to the larger purpose that defines our collective efforts.

Indeed, every time I’ve shared this story with clients and conference attendees, I see in their faces that look of understanding and hope that they too might be able to inspire all of their employees – regardless of the role they play in their organization – to feel that sense of connection and value to the shared purpose that defines why they do what they do.

Of course, there are numerous studies out there that have revealed the ease by which we can create that kind of sentiment within our workforce. For example, in a study I collaborated on with Phillips North America around employee engagement and workplace attitudes, one of the more intriguing findings was the fact that more than 50% of the respondents said they’d gladly take a pay cut in order to do meaningful work.

What this reveals is that people want to know that what they do matters; that it makes a difference and creates value [Twitter-logo-smallShare on Twitter], not just for their organization, but for themselves as well.

Unfortunately, the challenge we now face is how to keep our focus on initiatives meant to help inspire our employees while grappling with Click here to continue reading »”Creating A Workplace Environment Where Employees Matter”

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