All That Jazz

July 6, 2008 by
Filed under: People, Teamwork 

I sat down to lunch recently with a good friend, and we talked about challenges we face in staying motivated, and in keeping the troops motivated as well. On reflection, I think it is a matter of keeping everyone jazzed.

We all hear about amazing places to work, and Google comes up in a lot of conversations. Flexible work conditions, amazing perks, even one day a week where employees focus on whatever they want to (which has been the fruitful source of many of their products or research areas). Done right, everyone wins, and Google’s success is at least partially a testament to this approach.

If we miss something, though, things won’t always work out as we had hoped. In this one shop, my friend had set up what seemed to be a great work environment – totally flexible work hours, a comfortable workplace in one of the city’s trendiest areas. Even the incentive to the troops to be creative and come up with great new ideas.

What happened was the opposite of what was intended. While not everyone took advantage of the flexibility, there was enough of a drop in energy that the net effect from the group was disappointing. Product wasn’t coming through as expected. Those new ideas? Well, not too many materialized. In the end, it turns out a couple of people were let go.

What went wrong? We didn’t nail a conclusion over lunch, but I have a hunch or two. If we take a look at what Google stands for, there are a couple of statements that may be relevant. Buried deep in their Philosophy is the statement “Give the proper tools to a group of people who like to make a difference, and they will.” While it sounds like this group did what they could to provide the proper tools and environment (granted, their pockets are not quite as deep as Google’s), the desired result didn’t materialize. Could it be in that phrase “who like to make a difference”?

Stop right there. I’m not headed down the path of suggesting that they were a bunch of deadbeat employees that don’t like to make a difference. I think intrinsically, we all want to make a difference in what we do, but we all also go through stages of lower energy. I’ve gone through bouts where I felt like I was drifting along, I’m even dragging myself out of a stage where I felt quite burned out, after a little too much of that making hay while the sun shone.

Where I am headed with this is that alongside the great work environment, there needs to be a fresh, exciting raison d’être, something that motivates and inspires us to greatness. The second relevant statement from Google’s site is their mission statement itself: “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful”.

Few companies have such a compelling vision. While I don’t think we can all have such strong visions for our existence, we need to develop the best vision we can, and it needs to be something that the entire team buys into. It has to be something that jazzes everyone in the group, something that inspires them to make a difference. Whether it is inspiration to defeat a common enemy, or altruistic and world-saving, there should be no question about what you are all trying to achieve.

A good workplace is important, to be sure, but the motivation needs to be more than a request to get your work done. A strong vision can truly jazz a team, it is the difference between the workplace being a job and a joy. – JB

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