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Part Two: Are the Happiest Employees REALLY the Most Productive Ones?

In my last post, Part One: Are the Happiest Employees REALLY the Most Productive Ones?, I explained the truths of employee satisfaction surveys and pointed out three elements that help create a motivational environment: autonomy, mastery and purpose. Let’s dig a little deeper.

Part Two: Are the Happiest Employees REALLY the Most Productive Ones?First, a little Organizational Development 101:  The only reason organizations exist is because (generally speaking) we can do more collectively than we can individually. For example, manufacturing facilities and airports, even with today’s automation, can’t be run by one person. It takes a lot of people to do that, and aligning all that talent requires a purpose and direction. Next, necessary functions are identified to support direction and purpose. For instance, at a manufacturing facility, somebody’s got to sell something before anything can be manufactured. We also have to consider operations, safety, human resources, accounting, finance… (you get the picture). Several functions are necessary to accomplish a common purpose. Those functions are broken down into responsibilities and tasks, the next layer down in organizational development. We lump the similar responsibilities and tasks together and form jobs. Those “jobs” are supported by metrics we use to measure job performance. To summarize, metrics support the jobs and those jobs deliver the responsibilities and tasks that support the necessary functions that drive the purpose and direction of the organization.

At solutions 21, we do a lot of strategic planning with all kinds of different organizations. One of the questions we ask during that process is, “Why is it necessary for your company to exist?” That question stumps a few people (the president or the owner has a pretty good idea). We’ve found that people with a clear ‘why’ make better decisions. That filter helps identify things you want to do and things to be avoided. It points people in the right direction by giving them an idea of what’s off-limits and where to allocate resources. When organizations set a specific direction, we see four (predictable) employee reactions:


  1. Buy-in: the best possible reaction. If they understand your why and agree with it, they’re much quicker to adapt and work with.
  2. Wait and see: You have to spend some extra time and resources to win this group over to your direction, purpose and why.
  3. Opt out: Not too many problems there; they tend to fire themselves or choose to leave on their own.
  4. Quit and stay: the worst possible reaction. Cubicle zombies. Vocational pygmies. Saboteurs. This group actively brings down anyone in their blast zone. They understand your why, disagree, and work against you. Get rid of them quickly!

Ben Franklin said, “By failing to plan you’re planning to fail.” That got me thinking why do some robust, well-researched plans stumble? And Why is it that sometimes you’ll find cocktail napkin plans that do so well? I searched Google for “strategic planning” and got 102 million hits. Then I Googled “strategic planning process” and got 15 million hits. There are more than 51,000 books on Amazon.com about “strategic planning” and 11,000 of those talk about the strategic planning process. There seems to be no shortage of information.

What all of those strategic planning resources have in common are analytics. They’ll ask you to do an environmental scan and a SWOT analysis to identify strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. They take a look at the competitive landscape, do a market analysis, and break-even calculation. I’m not berating analytics at all – I think they’re necessary to win the minds of the people that you’re trying to convince to invest or the people that you’re trying to convince to come on board with you. But what are you doing to win the hearts of those same people? What are you doing to make sure that there’s a compelling reason for everyone in the organization to get up in the morning and do what you do?

Compelling reasons engage people (and customers). It also helps them believe in your why. If customers and employees believe in your why, so many things become so much clearer. If compensation were the only thing that people were concerned about then there would be no social service agencies, volunteer organizations and no military; all lower paying jobs that have huge whys. Some mission statements provide compelling ‘whys:’

  • “To unlock the potential of nature to improve the quality of life.”– Archer Daniels Midland
  • “Organizing the world’s information to make it universally accessible and useful.”– Google
  • “Be the fabric of real time communication on the web.”– Skype
  • “Make sure all this shit works the first time.”– Gate LLC (salty but compelling, no?)

The mission or why drives people’s behavior. When they understand the why, it’s so much easier for them to take on what comes next and fulfill the organization’s purpose.

Many thanks to our guest blogger, Rob O'Donnell of solutions 21. Please LIKE us on Facebook and FOLLOW us on Twitter to stay up to date with the lastest blog posts and educational articles. You can also click here to download a free copy of an excellent eBook written by Buddy Hobart, which contains information and advice about consulting in today's business world.