Improve morale: go to the gemba.

A McKinsey survey last year revealed that non-cash motivators — praise from immediate managers, attention from leaders, and a chance to direct projects — are at least as effective as the three most highly rated monetary ones.

My first reaction was to add this research into the Gobsmackingly Obvious Business “Insight” Hall of Fame. I mean, really? McKinsey needed a survey of 1000 businesspeople to learn that praise and attention from the CEO is motivational?

But then I realized that McKinsey is only mirroring the pervasive cluelessness of most corporations. The study goes on to explain:

Why haven’t many organizations made more use of cost-effective non-financial motivators at a time when cash is hard to find? One reason may be that many executives hesitate to challenge the traditional managerial wisdom: money is what really counts. While executives themselves may be equally influenced by other things, they still think that bonuses are the dominant incentive for most people. “Managers see motivation in terms of the size of the compensation,” explained an HR director from the financial-services industry.

Another reason is probably that nonfinancial ways to motivate people do, on the whole, require more time and commitment from senior managers. One HR director we interviewed spoke of their tendency to “hide” in their offices—primarily reflecting uncertainty about the current situation and outlook. This lack of interaction between managers and their people creates a highly damaging void that saps employee engagement.

Interestingly, lean management provides the opportunity to institutionalize all of these things: praise; attention from leaders; the chance to direct projects; plus autonomy, mastery, and purpose.

There’s a lesson here: go to the actual place where your people are working. Talk to them. Say thank you. And find out what’s important.

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6 Responses

  1. Mark Graban says:

    Thanks for the post. I’m glad you tie Dan Pink’s work into this, as I think it’s completely compatible with a lean environment where everyone is engaged, for a hospital’s example, in making improvements so they can provide the best patient care.

  2. Dan says:

    It’s interesting to me that lean is so deeply compatible with “humanist” approaches to management (“Theory X, Theory Y,” or “Drive,” for example) — even as it’s so often misunderstood to be a Taylorist nightmare.

    As you’ve been preaching about for the last few years, Respect for People is one of the pillars of lean. Why it’s so hard to convey that to people is beyond me.

  3. Paul Everett says:

    What jerked my chain was the idea that going to the gemba is motivational. That’s because folks think motivation is externally applied. I differ, sharply. Motivation is an inside job. Going to the gemba should be about removing the blocks to the natural expression of the already existing motivation within every human being. So, acknowledging the person, giving careful, accurate praise, catching their eye, providing another viewpoint, and etc., are all block removers, as are specific acts that kill the stifling bureaucracy that is extant everywhere. Just don’t think you are motivating folks. They already are.

  4. Paul — thoughtful comment, very much in keeping with the humanist approach to management. Your point that the visit to the gemba is a method of removing obstacles to motivation sharpens the discussion – in a good way.

  5. Curious Cat Management Improvement Blog » Carnival of Human Resources says:

    [...] Improve morale go to the gemba by Dan Markovitz – “go to the actual place where your people are working. Talk to them. Say thank you. And find out what’s important.” [...]

  6. Jess Cruz says:

    Go to the “Gemba” to learn from your “Associates” people about the process where they work.
    This does not always have to be problem based, opportunities for improvement will reveal themselves if you use a check list for Lean Principles or the 7 Wastes.

    Treat people with dignity and respect. (Informal introduction to each other, listen to every word)

    Ask them what they do and why they do it? (They will show you things you may have never considered because they are the experts.)

    Ask them what would make their job easier? (Don’t judge or try to fix it, just listen and make note for follow up, unless safety is at risk)

    Ask them what they like most about the job? (The improvements made should not compromise the “Quality of Work Life”)

    Offer your help in things you only truly intend to address. (Don’t give them promises you don’t intend to keep)

    The more your team’s see you are approachable and willing to listen the more they will reveal to you. This is trust and respect well earned if you follow through with making improvements to the work they do.

    If going to the “Gemba” is a new practice you may find it a challenge to organize the information that will start to flow your way. (The opportunities are in the details)

    Regarding motivation I agree it is something each of us controls from within, however it is greatly influenced by those who we surround ourselves with daily. Quality of Life is not an individual activity; it is based on many things that surround us. We choose who and what we allow to influence us, thus we are solely responsible for our level of motivation daily.

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