Sunday, 29 January 2017

We Belong

This is the second in a series of blogs discussing the concept of motivation and what its sources might be. Its prompted by a conversation I had with Bee Heller, from The Pioneers. Bee asserts that there are seven different sources of motivation, and is writing about each of them on The Pioneers website. 

We decided I'd write a commentary piece about each one on my own blog, and look at what's happened in organisations I've worked in and with - whether the source of motivation Bee's blog discussed has been used to good effect or been neglected; what's worked well in terms of creating an environment that enhances that motivation; and what's not worked so well or undermined that motivation for people? 

Here's Bee's blog post on the subject of belonging.  In it, she says that the desire to belong and fit in is a powerful motivator in both society and in particular in the workplace, and offers some thoughts based on anthropology and social neuroscience and her own experience. She says in the workplace, we need to push at the open door that is an employees desire to fit in and contribute to a group in order to unlock their motivation. 

I agree with the concept of belonging but have seen it manifest in different ways. In my Amazing Workplace rhyme I make a comment about someone wanting to fit in being influenced by the attitudes of the people around them, in that the feeling of belonging can be enhanced by things other people do. So thus far, this tallies with Bee's thoughts. As does the sense of danger I feel about groupthink and stifling diversity, which is echoed by Bee. 

In some of my other blogs I've written about things that help the concept of engagement, particularly for new employees when the need to fit in is at it's greatest. In The New Boy I talked about the specific practical things that heighten the sense of belonging in new starters. In The Spark I talked about how you can spot when an employee no longer has that feeling of fitting in. And in Swipe Left, Swipe Right I likened the employment relationship to actual relationships and I believe all humans have a desire to feel loved and needed, which manifests itself in both actual and working relationships alike. 

I have belonged to lots of sports clubs and teams over the years and have often felt both a sense of belonging and a sense of isolation. I've reflected on what made the difference between these two extremes, and it is most definitely the attitude of my team mates that had the greatest effect. When I've had a leadership role in these teams I've gone out of my way to ensure that new members of the teams feel like they are wanted, that their contributions are recognised and that they fit in with the team. And mostly, it's worked too. 

In the workplace, I've felt a strong sense of belonging in just two organisations I've worked for. These experiences were years apart and at different stages of my career. In both cases though it was linked to: a) working for a manager who I respected and got on with; b) having opportunities to socialise with colleagues and being encouraged to do so, whether I ended up doing so or not; and c) feeling like the organisation actually wanted me there and needed me to do something, and that they respected my skills to do so. 

Strangely in both cases I was the first person to do the particular role I was employed in. There was no history or culture to fight against. There was no expectation of me doing what my predecessor had done. And no perceptions of my role to work against me. 

I've seen other examples of employees who instantly belong in a new job. My wife moved organisations last summer and after three days in her new job said she felt like she fitted in and had been there years. Looking back at her experience last summer, it replicated my own thoughts above. She belonged. In a past organisation we took on a graduate employee who within hours of starting seemed like they had been there years, and when they left after about a year it felt like they left a huge hole in the organisation. 

And yet I've also seen examples of employees who, despite the best efforts of the organisation and its people, simply did not belong. I recruited a middle manager who had had a strong affinity to a previous employer and couldn't shake it. She started, like many new managers do, by comparing us to her previous employer and referring to us as "you" and her previous place as "we". In a first month, that's ok. But she was still doing it nearly 18 months later and she had had all the opportunities I mentioned in the above paragraph to encourage her to fit in. But she didn't. We were still "you" and her previous employer was still "we". In this case, nothing that our organisation did managed to get her to fit in. And yet something that her previous employer did had worked SO well that she still felt she belonged there after having left. 

And that, I suppose, is the point I am making. 

That there are things that make someone feel belong in an organisation and these can work very very well, but there comes a point where the employee becomes indoctrinated in that organisations way of doing things and has echoes of brainwashing, so much that it is difficult to undo and affects an employees ability to fit in with any subsequent organisation, despite any efforts made by that organisation. 

Strangely, I've had it myself. 

I've moved to organisations where I've not felt a sense of belonging and yet other employees who have started at the same time as me have clearly and visibly fitted in quicker and more noticeably. Whose fault is it that I haven't felt any belonging? It's hard to tell. 

So what can organisations do? 

I'd recommend asking each employee what would help them settle in and feel that sense of belonging. It might be a daft question at first, and it might take a few attempts to get a useful answer, but what harm can it do? 

It might help that employee to reach optimum performance level and optimum engagement level quicker, and avoids the chance that these levels won't be reached at all. 

So, what would make you feel a sense of belonging? 

Till next time… 

Gary 

PS in other news, we've now got a quote for all our home improvements and need to decide whether to do them, which will be cheaper than the alternative, which is moving to a new home that has everything already done, but that has some attractions too…