I am NOT saying that employees are cows.
Just the opposite, actually. Well, guess I am not sure what the opposite of a cow would be, but I have always been focused on issues of people and performance and looking for ideas and approaches to generate improved alignment and results.
In a LinkedIn discussion about motivation and alignment, I remembered an analogy that old friend Ken Junkins used when we were talking about people and motivation, so I thought to share it in that discussion as well as pop it into the blog. Here is the rough storyline as to how I remember Ken using the story of herding cows back 30 years ago…
I am reminded of the herd of cows wandering aimlessly in the pasture. You, the manager, need to get them to the barn, so how do you do that?
Some managers will go out and get their supervisors to shoot guns and ride around the back with horses, yelling and screaming. That will get some of the cows to move away from them, (hopefully toward the barn). But, it will not be a successful enterprise unless you have lots of those herders and those herders are all sharing the same goal of moving the cows toward the barn within a certain amount of time.
Another approach is to get some sweet feed and sprinkle it out on the ground between the herd and the barn. Not many of the cows will know it is even there, but the ones that do will begin to move in your desired direction.
As those cows move, more of the others will wonder what is going on and begin to also move in that direction. With some gentle prodding from the management team, after the cows are beginning to go in the right direction, the herders at the back can begin to gently motivate the laggards, at least getting their attention that something is happening.
It is a slow process and not nearly as much fun as riding around fast and shooting guns and yelling and screaming. But you will have more contented cows and need a lot less management overhead to get them to where you want to go…
You can read more on my metaphors of herding here, with a pretty funny and well-linked article on herding cats and frogs. Click on the image to go there.
Managing and motivating people is seen to be a difficult task. Some people believe that aversive control and punishment are the best rewards, most likely because they think that this approach is what motivates them. (That is probably not true, but it is a belief.) The research shows pretty clearly that intrinsic motivation generated through teamwork, alignment, good feedback systems and congruent values is much more effective that extrinsically-driven approached.
Extrinsic rewards may work, and they may work better for some people than for others, but they are not generally effective over the long term. And the use of aversive control generates all sorts of problems. (See the article on sabotage and defense, aversive control and punishment by clicking on the icon below)
The two articles linked to the illustrations share a good bit of research data about motivating and aligning people toward workplace improvement. I trust that they may stimulate some thoughts about what you might try do to differently or that they will confirm some of the things you choose to do now.
Let me update this with one other video, not about herding cows but about herding sheep. With the proper environment and the right support (think of a few well-trained sheep dogs to keep things under control, as you might with a few well trained and supportive and aligned supervisors), you CAN move sheep seamlessly. This is an amazing and lovely video that Tim Whittaker allowed me to share:
So, we CAN generate alignment and communal performance. We can move organizations forward with proper planning and training (and maybe some hiring). We can generate innovation and improvement.
Please note that we sell some simple to use tools for generating engagement and alignment at the front lines or for use in strategy implementation frameworks.
And you have some fun out there, too.
For the FUN of It!
Dr. Scott Simmerman is a designer of team building games and organization improvement tools. Managing Partner of Performance Management Company since 1984, he is an experienced presenter and consultant.
Learn more about Scott at his LinkedIn site.
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Also published on Medium.