Autonomy Mastery Purpose: Engage them with Solution Focus

Autonomy Mastery Purpose, moneyIt’s not money that motivates people to better performance and satisfaction … according to Dan Pink.

He says money is a motivator, but in a limited way. Surprisingly, it doesn’t encourage anything beyond getting the work done.


Autonomy Mastery Purpose Bad adviceIf in the first place you don’t pay people enough, they won’t be motivated at all. When was the last time you met a highly motivated and engaged employee in a place like your Internet telco supplier, let alone Walmart or McDonalds? They are likely working hard, but are not engaged.

This phenomenon is not restricted to front-line people in the service industry. Have you ever been treated indifferently by a well-compensated lawyer or doctor?


Autonomy Mastery PurposeDan Pink tells us that when we take money as an incentive off the table, higher engagement comes from three things – autonomy, mastery and purpose.

Makes sense, doesn’t it? Easy to say, hard to practice?

So, how do we turn these three potentially abstract ideas into action?

Autonomy Mastery Purpose EngagementHow do we make it viable for the individual, then the teams in which they operate?

How do we achieve greater engagement through autonomy, mastery and purpose?

Solution Focus offers one approach and some tools with which to develop the practice. It’s not too complicated to apply the Solution Focus framework of:

  • What’s already working that we don’t need to change (in each of the three elements)?
  • Suppose each element was working really well, what would that look like?
  • Suppose people started to notice a difference right away, what would that look like?

Could autonomy, mastery and purpose become foundational aspects of all organizational improvement? They can certainly help the people in organizations contribute more to better outcomes. It might even mean that the staff increase profit thereby allowing them better compensation.

A big thank you to Dan Pink and the fountain of insights at RSA. The mission of the RSA (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce) is to enrich society through ideas and action.


When I Insist, You Resist. How Not To Create Engagement

On the one hand, the old line, ‘organizations are full of people anxious to be told what to do’ may still be true. Organizations are also full of people resenting hierarchy, or at least, wishing there was less of it, especially the hierarchy that generates politics.

I Insist_You resist
So, here’s how you’re going to do it…

The hierarchical types usually ask, ‘Why won’t they do what I tell them?’

Wouldn’t it be lovely if we could issue clear goals and direction and that they could be well understood? Ideally we could then let people get on with things and be totally engaged in making it happen. But, life and the organization are not that simple.

We’re not talking about bringing social justice to organizations. Nor about the few folks do like being ordered around.Command, insist, resist

The one thing we can take for granted is that if we want to create engagement, this line matters:

When I Insist, You Resist.

While the thinking about applying the idea comes from the likes of Steve de Shazer’s therapy and coaching, it applies equally to management and leadership.

So, when we do know where the organization, or the team is headed it’s increasingly important to create employee engagement, transparency, etc. How do we avoid resistance?

Here’s some practical Solution Focused principles and practices to overcome your insistence and their resistance by getting people engaged from the start:

Slow the Pace 

– It’s counterintuitive, but this will always speed things up.

Develop a deeper understanding

– Help them understand the direction and thereby understand more yourself.

Avoid being the expert who knows exactly what needs to be done

– The people doing the work need to figure out for themselves how it will get done. Besides, collectively they may know more than you! Assume they are the experts – even though they may not know it.

Seek details

– Not just about the obstacles, but what’s already working. Then, how they see direction being implemented.

Find the compelling reasons for change

– Help them see for themselves why the change/direction is necessary, plus how they will get there.

Establish mutually agreed upon goals for change that will bring the project goals to life

– Besides the big picture, how they will get small implementation steps and momentum happening.

Go on. Give it a try!


De-escalate Confrontation To Create Engagement

Angry frustration surfaces within and between organizations and individuals all the time. Sometimes it escalates in ugly ways.

Any person capable of angering you becomes your master; he can anger you only when you permit yourself to be disturbed by him.  – Epictetus

Consider this scenario: Your business partner organization is feeling very threatened. Your team has been awarded funding for a project that they believe they totally own. The funder is sending them a message, but your partner doesn’t hear it – they are mad at you and are finding ways to undermine you.

De-escalation is proving preferable to confrontation in areas like policing. Maybe we should think the same way in organizations.

I have come to the frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element…it is my response that decides whether a crisis is escalated or de-escalated… – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe*

How do we de-escalate a real or potential threat / crisis when it is driven by the anger of others, and maybe ours too? Let’s use the above scenario to illustrate one way to engage the better way. Try this when you talk with them:

Sounds like you are quite upset by what’s going on.    Just say it and listen – don’t engage. Not yet!

How did you manage to do as well as you have so far?    Or  

If others were to give you credit for the good work done so far, what would they say?

How did that work?

What might have gone better?

Sounds like you have accomplished a lot. Thinking of the shift in funding what do you see yourself doing with the knowledge and skills you have? How else might you continue to be successful in other ways?

Notice that the frustrated partners are now talking a little more purposefully about themselves, not the funder or you. They are beginning to think about solutions for themselves.

De-escalate to engage in solutions (theirs) and make progress. The miracles can wait.        

Is this conversation going to create a dramatic change in attitude? Likely not, but it will give the other party things to think about … while you get on with your newly funded project. Who knows, they might become a contributor to the new project!

*The whole quote by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: I have come to the frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element. It is my personal approach that creates the climate. It is my daily mood that makes the weather. I possess tremendous power to make life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration, I can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis is escalated or de-escalated, and a person is humanized or de-humanized. If we treat people as they are, we make them worse. If we treat people as they ought to be, we help them become what they are capable of becoming.


Applying Solution Focus for Creating Sustainable Businesses

Challenges for Sustainability v3.0 in businesses:

Guest blog post by my colleague: Venkat Subramanian Somasundaram BEng,MBA, Business & Sustainability Consultant and a supporter of Solution Focus.

My latest paper on Sustainability v3.0 attempts to define the forthcoming Sustainability initiatives in businesses organizations, Sustainability 3.0. The paper also identifies the three anticipated key challenges for Sustainability 3.0 and initiates discussion on how can we collectively solve them using Solution Focused change techniques.

Sustainability v3.0:

So, how does Sustainability 3.0 look like? It is a state in which all employees in the organization realize the importance of sustainable business practices and make decisions while coordinating with all relevant stakeholders. The key challenge for Sustainability 3.0 is Engagement.

After analyzing global reports and white papers during 2011, the three key challenges for sustainability 3.0 were identified:

1.  Creating Change Leaders (tribal leaders) for total engagement:

Building an enduring corporate culture of sustainability in the business organization, where all employees are totally engaged in the formulation and implementation of sustainability initiatives, is the greatest challenge for sustainability in businesses. How can we create change leaders or influencers at all levels of the organization to promote sustainability?

2.  Communicating the Value Proposition to businesses

How did companies end up embracing “Quality” as an organization wide norm “Total Quality Management (TQM)”? How can thevalue proposition of “sustainability” be communicated so that it becomes a cultural norm or policy within businesses?

3.  Co-creating policies that promote Good Growth:

How can the businesses, governments and all related stakeholders co-create policies that promote good growth (financially, socially and environmentally sustainable)?

Need for Solutions Focus Change:

It’s high time we stop speaking about problems faced by companies, environmentalists, consumers, and governments in the field of sustainability. The repeated recession strikes on the economy should accelerate our actions in making the world more sustainable and arrive at comprehensive solutions quickly.

My question: How do we solve these 3 key challenges for sustainability initiatives in businesses using solution focus change techniques?

For an in-depth version of Venkat’s blog post click here