How Do You Go About Getting People at Work to Do What You Want Them to Do? Part 4 – Day 119

Saturday 09:30am, Hyatt 48 Lex, Lexington Avenue, New York

The fourth and final part of this mini-series on control looks at self-regulation. This is a pretty huge topic and the theories and discussions surrounding self-regulation are plentiful. I’ll try to keep this entry short and sweet, so here are a few of my thoughts and insights concerning self-regulation, performance-related incentives and motivation.

First of all, from a manager’s point of view, self-regulation is really the elixir of control management. When it is in place and works well your team’s self-regulation allows you to focus more on bigger picture stuff and less on micro-management. Secondly, a central assumption of self-regulation is the notion that an individual is highly professional, excels at working and thinking independently and is motivated. And really, it’s the motivation part that I find fascinating.

One of the key takeaways from the unit on human resources management that I completed last month was that I actually don’t know what motivates my team. Nor do I know what would leave them feeling dissatisfied. Sure, most of them have financial incentives and the like, but I also know that other factors apart from money are important motivators. So, I’ve decided to find out, and I’m getting some very interesting and surprising answers.

At Primal Pictures (pre-acquisition) we had no financial incentives. Zero. However, post-acquisition we nearly drowned in incentives; it could not have been more different. If you closed a deal during the week, you could dress down on Fridays. If you closed a deal, you could enter into the weekly draw to win dinner for two or a spa break. If you closed a deal, you could earn your right at the temporary Speakeasy where you could play video games and have cocktails. While it seemed to motivate some people, I never really connected with this type of incentive.

I recently watch a TED talk on motivation that turned my view on motivation and incentives upside-down. It’s well worth the 17 min, but the summary is that scientific research has shown that financial incentives work well for jobs that involve mechanistic tasks that require focus, but that they have the opposite effect when applied to jobs that require complex bigger picture stuff.

We’ve been doing it wrong folks.

Three Things That Motivate Me and Three Things That Don’t – Day 117

Wednesday 10:27pm, Hyatt 48 Lex, Lexington Avenue, New York

Motivation is a fascinating phenomenon. It has the potential to change lives and it can write history. Without it the great thinkers and leaders of our modern world would not have realised their dreams and we would not have had the civil rights movement, free trade and market competition or the world wide web; we would not have discovered DNA or understood the impact of global warming.

Motivation at work is essential for all organisations as it tends to bring out the best in people. Conversely, lack of motivation, dissatisfaction even, has the opposite effect.

Before I release the fourth and final part of the mini-series on control, I thought I’d share the top three factors that motivate me as well as the top three factors that dissatisfy me.

  1. Success. The feeling of having exceeded my own and others expectations by whole heartedly immersing myself in an activity. Nothing feels better that succeeding or winning.
  2. Making a difference. Success means nothing if I don’t feel like I’m making a difference in people’s lives. Whether it’s to enable my team to develop and progress in their professional life or to connect our products and services with those that need it, making a difference matters to me.
  3. Challenges and complexities. Give me an easy task with fairly obvious methods and a predictable outcome and I’ll probably neglect it or do it very last minute. On the other hand, give me a complex task where it’s not immediately obvious which way to go and where the outcome is difficult to predict, I’ll most likely deliver a 4-page strategy document, complete with a SWOT analysis and sections on assumptions, dependencies and a forecast for good measure.

Upon reflection it’s scary how this particular characteristic has followed me throughout my entire life. As a child, I dedicated myself to classical piano and spent over a decade learning how to master Rachmaninoff, Mozart and Beethoven. As a teenager I was drawn to science and left high school in the top 20% of my class. This trend continued through university, both at UCL and Oxford, where I received my undergraduate and postgraduate degrees. As an adult, I trained to become an Iyengar yoga teacher in my spare time, completing 8-10 hours of practice or teaching per week for over a decade. A few year’s ago, I felt that work wasn’t intellectually stimulating so I picked up Mandarin, as I found myself travelling to China for work. And more recently, I completed five 23km obstacle course runs in 18 months. Oh, and of course, starting this MBA.

I think you get the picture. Definitely a sign of over-achievement syndrome.

Having identified what motivates me, what about dissatisfaction factors? Or in other words, things I dislike to such an extent that it stops me from remaining satisfied:

  1. Inefficiency. When I cannot be efficient due to let’s say poor decision-making time frames, I tend to run out of steam sooner or later.
  2. Unfairness. Nobody likes to be treated in an unfair way and I detest it. Treat me or any of my colleagues in an unfair way, and you’ll have me knocking on your door to tell you otherwise – irrespective of who you are. Maybe my Latin roots are showing their true colours, or perhaps it is my upbringing in the socialdemocracy that was once Sweden, but to be treated in a fair way is essential to how I feel at work.
  3. Abuse of power. Nothing leaves me feeling more powerless than when a line manager throws their weight around and uses their position to win an argument. I’m a firm believer in seeing other people’s perspective and I’m happy not to have my way as long as there has been an intelligent discussion.

There you go. Three things that will have me working harder than ever and three things that, if not fixed, will see me walking out on you. But what about my team? Do I know what makes them tick? Do I know what they dislike?

As a manager, it is essential to know this and I recently discovered that I didn’t.

To be continued…

Tough Mudder

Thoughts While Waiting for a Haircut – Day 103

Wednesday 17:38, Rocket Barber Shop, Hackney Road, London

Today I’ve been at FSG for six months and received via e-mail the good news that I’ve passed my probation!


There’s hardly a queue at Rocket today, so this entry will be uncharacteristically short. I’ve therefore decided to summarise my six months at FSG with my top 5 list of achievements and small victories:

  1. I’ve created a team. I cannot stress the importance of this. If you don’t have a team that believes what you believe and share the same goals and aspirations, as a manager, you’re in for a real struggle. Luckily, the guys are great. Lots of banter and jokes and with the continuous effort we will secure another year of double-digit growth.
  2. Instil best practice across sales and marketing. The saying goes ‘don’t fix it if it’s not broken’ and in my case there has been a lot of fixing. From small tweaks here and there to some significant systems overhalls. But in the end of the day, everyone has welcomed the incremental changes and improvements to make us a strong commercial unit.
  3. Turned copywriting upside-down. One of my frustrations in my previous company was the way our marketing approach copy. It’s actually really difficult and generally a marketer is not a great copywriter and vice versa. One of the aspects that I love in my current role is that I can implement and train individuals on how to write compelling copy. I’m inspired by great writers and communicators from all walks of life, but especially Simon Sinek.
  4. Remover of obstacles. My former line manager presented himself on his first day of taking over the management of the sales team like the remover of obstacles. I’ve learnt a lot from him, and one of the things that stuck was this phrase. As a line manager, you have to stretch and support, but if you don’t remove the obstacles in people’s way, your stretching and supporting will be in vain. I continually challenge my team to think differently and challenge the status quo. And if I can remove whatever they feel is in their way, I sure as hell will.
  5. Grew the sales and marketing team from 6 to 11 individuals. There are huge opportunities for us and with a strong and hard-working team I know 2015 will be successful.

I can feel it in my bones!


How Do You Go About Getting People at Work to Do What You Want Them to Do? Part 3 – Day 99

Now that we’ve covered control through direct supervision and rules and regulations, let’s move on to something less autocratic.

Control through culture – our shared norms, values and beliefs – is one of the more intriguing forms of control as it revolves around the complexities of human behaviour. Culture is what holds organisations together, a little bit like glue, and attempts to influence or change it is a little bit like social engineering, not too dissimilar from the Dutch industrialist Van Marken’s original meaning in 1894.

There are two forms of culture in an organisation, visible and hidden. Visible culture is the easiest to understand as it’s tangible and as such can easily be changed, influenced and controlled. An example of visible culture is a company logo and tag line, corporate websites, open plan offices, type and style of furniture, leisure areas and mini-environments but also things like who gets a laptop, business cards and presentation of annual awards. The list goes on and on, but I think you get the picture.

The hidden aspect of culture is much harder to identify as it resides in the minds and behaviour of individual employees. It is through words and actions that we build realities of relationships with our colleagues, but the values and beliefs associated with these relationships remain intangible, making control of hidden culture much more challenging. Hidden culture is also incredibly difficult to measure, as it relies on the honesty and openness of employees, and we’ve already established that this is a complex arena where the principal actors are power and politics.

Here are a few examples to help illustrate my points.

The offices of my previous employer were located next to St Paul’s Cathedral and opposite the London Stock Exchange. Once you had made your way through the strict security protocols and taken the escalator to the first floor, you were greeted by a team receptionists who, together with the concierge, were ready to assist you in any way they could in order to make your day pleasant and, of course, efficient. We had a staff restaurant (who would’ve guessed I could have daily eggs benedict) and even sparkling water on tap. I confess it is the poshest offices I’ve ever worked in. I also confess that it made me feel privileged and important, and I sure wanted to prove to myself and my boss I deserved all of these luxuries.

And there you go, quad erat demonstratum, control through the visible elements of culture. Was I gullible? Yes, a little. Does it always work? No.

The main issue with control through culture in this scenario is that it focused too much on the visible elements and neglected the hidden elements. I found it very difficult to connect socially with other colleagues, possibly because I sat right in the middle of a sales floor with what felt like over one hundred 25 year-olds, but of course, there were other contributing factors as well, such as recovering from post-acquisition trauma, continuous organisational change and the introduction of flexible working and hot-desking. All of this meant that the company I had once worked for was now a brand that kept losing a little bit of its soul for every day that passed. I’m being melodramatic to some degree, and there were integration attempts, especially on the sales floor, with its never-ending contests and special rewards, but these failed to instil the concept of shared values and beliefs.

Over the last six weeks I’ve come across some pretty interesting examples of cases of culture control. Google is a great example with its variety of perks and quirky mini-environments all aimed at making employees feel and believe what Google wants them to feel and believe. But what’s important is that culture has the capacity to unlock tremendous creative and commercial behaviour. Google’s 20% Time is a good example of this. Here, employees can spend up to 20% of their time working on their own projects unrelated to their job role. And lo-and-behold, some of Google’s top products have come out of this initiative. Similarly, the Australian software company Atlassian has what is called FedEx days. Here, employees are given 24 hours to go and work on something of their own and have to present – and deliver – their project the next day.

Pretty cool, eh?

Having read about culture control made me realise how much potential there is to unlock. It just requires someone to turn the key.

At FSG, I’ve recently started an initiative called Lightbulb Sessions and the idea is to get a group of people together from different departments and facilitate and encourage cross-departmental and cross-functional solutions to specific problems or challenges we face. Our first session will be next month with the sales, marketing and digital teams.

Have I mentioned how much I’m loving this course and my job?


How Do You Go About Getting People at Work to Do Things You Want Them to Do? Part 2 – Day 98

Wednesday 20:54, Old Bethnal Green Road, London

One of the most painful and rigid ways of exerting control over someone else is through rules and regulations. This form of control can suck the life out of anyone, leaving you powerless, incapacitated to do anything, and takes a little bite off your humanity until what’s left is an empty shell of meaningless motions and actions.

Another word for this form of control is bureaucracy, and whilst most of us associate this with the inefficient administration of public bodies its original meaning from a management perspective evokes images of an optimally structured organisation where rules and regulations allow for a fair way of conducting business.

Bureaucratic control is also defined as an indirect form of control and whilst initially it didn’t seem like we really used bureaucratic control at FSG, it suddenly dawned upon me that I was wrong. I just hadn’t seen it for what it was.

How many of you have a staff handbook, for example? At work we call it the Company Reference Manual (sounds inviting, right?) and it consists of 29 pages of do’s and dont’s. It’s an awfully tedious read and if I had to take guess I’d say that very few people have read it. And if they have, very few actually remember its content.

One of the more fascinating methods of bureaucratic control is the concept of the panopticon, devised by this dead guy I use to see on my way to the library at UCL. Let me explain before I continue the main story. Upon his death, Bentham donated his body to science and wanted it publicly dissected. What’s spooky is that his head ended up perched on top of his auto-icon, which was located at the end of the South Cloisters. So every time I went to the library, you saw this mummified dead guy looking out into the void.

Ok, back to the panopticon. In this type of institutional building those being indirectly supervised conform to the desired behaviour through the potential of direct supervision. Imagine a prison block designed in such a way that all inmates were under the impression that the prison guards could observe any of them directly but they didn’t know if or when this could occur.

Sounds familiar? No? Think again.

Think of your behaviour when you see a speed camera. Does it make you slow down a little? Probably. What about if they were fake or broken but you couldn’t tell? Would you slow down? I think you probably would.

In sales we use these things called Customer Relationship Tools, or CRMs. The most popular one is Salesforce and it is the bane of most sales people’s and sales managers’ life alike. In a nutshell it allows individuals to organise their work and manage their sales pipelines. It also allows managers to run reports at any given time without anyone knowing. The problem though is that the system can very quickly fill up with ‘bad data’ if it’s not kept up-to-date. At its best, Salesforce has the potential to make a significant improvement in all sales peoples’ lives and allow managers to produce realistic forecasts. At its worst, it’s a lose-lose situation and brings out a nagging and frustrated manager and a sales person that no longer cares.

While bureaucratic control has a place in organisations, I don’t feel it’s a particularly efficient way of getting people at work to do what you want them to do. Often, you get unintended consequences like exaggerated and unrealistic pipelines.

Another downside of bureaucratic control is something called rational instrumentality. It’s where individuals adhere to rules and regulations no matter what and fail to understand the value of a situation. An example of this lead to the death of Alison Hume in 2009, as firefighters were told they were not allowed to rescue her from the mineshaft she had fallen in to and ultimately became a death trap. The opposite of rational instrumentality is knows as substantial instrumentality and took place as firefighters ran to the rescue of those that were trapped in the World Trade Center towers in New York in 2001. Here, people lost their lives because they cared and wanted to help.

I think it’s fair to say that a little bit of bureaucratic control is necessary as it outlines the basic rules and regulations associated with employment. However, too much usually leads to a whole heap of unintended consequences, and as managers we have the responsibility to identify those unintended consequences and prevent them from happening.


How Do You Go About Getting People at Work to Do Things You Want Them to Do? Part 1 – Day 97

Wednesday 21:33, Old Bethnal Green Road, London

No, this is not an entry for the next edition of Carniege’s self-help book How to Win Friends and Influence People. Rather, it’s my attempt to make up for being rubbish at blogging last month and to share my thoughts and insights on what I’ve been reading for the last six weeks.

I intend this to be a four-part series on the issue of control. I hope I’m not over-promising here; there’s just so much to say about this topic.

No matter who you are or where you’re working (or not working), you’re either under someone else’s control or you’re controlling someone else. Maybe not all the time, but it’s definitely there. Even the old lady in front of you in the queue at Tesco’s is exerting a degree of control over you in the form of creating dependency.

Control between humans is as old as, well being human, I think, so roughly 2 million years. And whilst I’m making wild assumptions about the evolution of behavioural psychology I may go as far as claiming that technically control is something that pre-dates being human and is most likely something that evolved when we were still prokaryotes or something similarly ancient.

Today’s entry is about control through direct supervision. This form of control is pretty straightforward as it’s really about getting people at work to do what you want them to do by just being there physically. The MBA at the OU is steeply geared towards combining academic rigour with practical managerial relevance, meaning that we are incessantly asked to think about every concept, theory and model through the perspective of our own work situation.

This has lead to some interesting discoveries.

As an employee, I feel that I’m hardly ever under control through direct supervision. Sure, my line manager does his usual walkabout but I think this is merely to say hello and see how things are going on my side of the office (we don’t have an open plan office). He also comes to have a look at the whiteboard which has the sales team’s revenue commitments and actual sales. Oh, hang on! This is control through direct supervision. Does it make me crack the proverbial whip and get my team into action? Nope. I normally just stop what I’m doing and have a chat. At my previous company, [redacted information], an important stakeholder was once visiting the offices and we were told to ‘look busy’ and make sure our teams were ‘not on breaks’. Funny stuff, eh?

I guess that direct control through supervision is like being at school, when other pupils (never me, of course!) only did what the teachers wanted them to do while being directly supervised, and stopped the moment the teachers’ attention went elsewhere. In Swedish this is called ögontjänare, which oddly translates to ‘eye-servant’, but I guess it kind of makes sense to us Swedes. Direct control through supervision is also a little like doing a group class at the gym or having a personal trainer. While you may working your butt off when the instructor is shouting directly at you, do you work equally hard when they have moved their attention to another poor soul? Hmmm… it’s quite likely the answer to that question is ‘no’.

Anyway, back to work. What about direct control through supervision in my role as a team leader? Well, I sit with my team and I see myself as being very much a part of the team as well. By sitting in the midst of them all I see and hear everything and it’s not rare that I discover things I like my team not to do or to do more of. One of my preferred ways of control through direct supervision is to travel with my team, either by attending conferences or being on the road with them. It’s a great way of seeing individuals in action and I use it as a tool for reflection and development.

They say that humour in the work place is often about things that affects us most. Let’s see if you can figure out what this one was about:

December 12th was Christmas Jumper Day here in the UK. The charity Save the Children were running their clever campaign ‘Make the world better with a sweater’ and most of us at FSG donned funny, crazy, ugly or plain ridiculous Christmas jumpers. I picked up a blue college jumper featuring a snowman, complete with a carrot nose, straw arms, a pipe (eh!?) and three bells. Yes, real bells that jingled as I moved about the office.

‘We were just saying that we thought you could wear that jumper all the time’ one of my direct reports said. ‘We can hear you walking around the office, so know when you are close’ he joked.

An innocent joke? Does my team relax more when I’m not physically there? Or does my omnipotent presence fuel my team into a frenzy of activity every time I manage to sit down at my desk in between meetings? Or is it the anticipation of my presence that drives productivity?

Lots of questions and not any real answers, but this last questions leads me on to the next form of control…

Come back tomorrow for more from The Executive Kitchen!

Direct supervision

No rest for the wicked – Day 96

Tuesday 12:24, Old Street Underground, London

Time flies when you’re having fun, they say. Time also seems to fly when you’re incredibly busy too, it seems.

It’s day 96 and we’re already in February, a month known for Valentine’s Day, Carnival and Chinese New Year, and for being incredibly short. February. No doubt you too will fly pass me.

Looking back, January was kind of a crazy month. Whilst escaping to Cape Town over the holidays was definitely the right thing to do in order to keep my sanity, the size and now state of my inbox is my current cause of insanity. I’m still playing catch up since I got back to work on Jan 12, and trying to fill four vacancies in my team, the annual appraisals plus organising the 2015 sales kick off, hasn’t helped with managing my workload.

It’s definitely no rest for the wicked.

Well, hopefully things will stabilise somewhat in February. And hopefully I’ll make time to reflect on my learning here on The Executive Kitchen. January’s single, pathetic entry puts me to shame. The unit I’ve just finished was on human resources management and covered things like control and motivation. I had all the intention in the world to reflect and share my thoughts on these fascinating topics. But alas! There’s only so many things poor little ol’ me can fit into a day, and sadly The Executive Kitchen’s January entries were neglected (but not forgotten).

On the positive side, the MBA is going well. Today I handed in my second essay (fanfare! applause!). I’ll re-write it as a blog as in its current state it’s probably too incriminating to share publicly. Having scored a disappointing 58% on my first essay, my approach this time was quite different. Hopefully I’ve nailed it and if I don’t get a distinction, well so be it. What’s important is that I keep on learning and feeling motivated to continue learning.

At my appraisal a few weeks ago I told my boss that I’ve never been happier in my professional career – ever.

Not a bad place to be, I reckon.

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