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Posts Tagged “Edward Deci”

Simon Sinek says the following: “Offer someone the opportunity to rebuild a company or reinvent an industry as the primary incentive, and it will attract those drawn to the challenge first and the money second.”

I believe much of what is expressed about incentivizing the salesman emanates from underestimation, condescension, and even contempt for that person and her profession.

I don’t read sales books. They make me mad. From my own experience as an executive salesman, I believe most sales managers approach the whole subject of sales incentivization ass-backwards.

In my case, this judgment comes from being an unexpected, untrained, and accidental success as an entrepreneur in elite sales outsourcing. My intent as a company founder was to build a happy life and create a community of peers who shared my values. While I wanted to make a comfortable living, money was not my business raison d’etre. And over the years I have managed to assemble a coterie of sales executives who, to one extent or another and in their variegated ways, were compadres in the realm of service, morals, humor, and fierce independence.

After 20 years of sales success emanating from my personal sales intuition and longing to be part of an ethical sales and service community, I began to discover I was not as odd or alone in my approach as I had always assumed. And even more, there is an increasing body of scholarly research that supports the instincts of my life experience.

This is particularly true in the realm of sales incentivization. My core assumption has always been that good salespersons don’t fundamentally work just for money. Rather, they work for satisfaction, service, happiness, a free life and other non-quantifiables as much as for money. Research has shown that, after reaching a threshold of $75,000 or so, money has limited ability to incentivize. (Note, Conscious Capitalism and the Small Giants community).

Dr. Edward Deci, Director of the University of Rochester’s Human Motivation Program says:

“When people say that money motivates, what they really mean is that money controls. And when It does, people become alienated–they give up some of their authenticity–and they push themselves to do what they think they must do.” (Why We Do What We Do: Understanding Self-Motivation).

I have always felt that salesmen are particularly misunderstood. I’m told that sales hires fail 75 percent of the time within the first year. That is a phenomenal statistic. While the reasons for this are complex, I believe the overemphasis on monetary reward is a large part of it.

People want to be part of an organization that imbues quality and meaning to their lives. Yes, they need to make money, but I don’t believe it ever activates their ardor and deep commitment. It does not inspire full use of their internal resources, their full being, their passion.

When I ran my executive sales outsourcing firm Corporate Rain International, I genuinely tried to start with the assumption that every person I hired should be better than me, that every person I hired could teach me something, that each person I hired could comfortably grow the extant values of my company as a corporate companion.

To quote Edward Deci again, “[In speaking about motivation] the proper question is not, ‘How can people motivate others?’ but rather, ‘How can people create the conditions within which others will motivate themselves.'”

I agree. Thank you, Edward Deci.

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672_creativity-in-life-1053044-flash-1053044-flashI love eccentric people.  I must admit I am partial to hiring them.  And it has almost always paid off for me.

When you can harvest the bounty of original personalities you often have something special indeed, particularly in an executive sales company like my own firm, Corporate Rain International.   Yes, original people are often arrogant, blunt, erratic, and moody.  But they are oh so wonderful.  They offer an extraordinary value to the employer who can stomach them.  For myself, I can not only stomach them, I truly swim in the joy of their company.  I am enlivened by their intuition, their humor,  their integrity, and, frequently, by their love.

Harking back to my experience with Tracy Goss’ Executive Reinvention Program last month  (“Overcoming Success and Transformational Entrepreneurship”), I think her seminar was seeking to imbue some of this originality and passion into very accomplished, but safe, corporate executives and managers, thereby creating transformational and impassioned corporate leaders who have the spirited orneriness and originality of the entrepreneur.

The big problem with hiring creative, independent folks is managing them.  I have a whole company of these folks.  People often ask me how I can manage them as a boss.  Well, the short answer is I basically don’t manage them.  I coax them, I spoil them, I admire them, I love them.  I let them fail and grow—and mostly succeed.  My risk is leavened by the fact that I never hire someone unless I think they are better than me.  I want a company of CEOs.  I only ask them to have a moral core, a commitment to my culture and community, and to follow simple administrative process.  I seldom need to fire my associates.

So how do you engage, utilize and retain these creative, questing souls?  Here are six specific suggestions.

  1. Give creatives meaningful work.  Creatives often think about the bigger issues in life, the forest as well as the trees.  Only give them interesting, challenging projects and  clients.  Give them hard stuff.
  2. Trust them.  Assuming they are ethical and diligent, let them fumfer their own their own way to success. Give them the freedom and flexibility to flourish.  Don’t force them into  undue structure or quotas.  It obviates the very reason you hired them.
  3. Be flexible.  If they excel, let them do it their way.  If they create superb results working five hours a week in their underwear at home, when you are paying them for 30 hours  in the office, who cares?
  4. Give them a sense of ownership.  Ask their opinion and take their advice seriously.  Make them feel valued, an essential part of the organism that is your company.
  5. Don’t expect to motivate them through money.  Of course pay them fairly, but research indicates these out-of-the-norm employees may actually be discouraged and perform  poorly when they are rewarded just for completing a task.  (Note the seminal research by Edward Deci, recorded in Psychological Bulletin, vol. 125, November, 1999.)   And note what that irreplaceable wise man of motivation and happiness, Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi of Claremont Graduate University, says in his classic book, Flow:  “The  most important quality, the one that is most consistently present in all creative individuals, is the ability to enjoy the process of creation for its own sake.”  Indeed.jeff-bezos
  6. As a caveat, do not make pure creatives managers.

When Jeff Bezos hired a search firm to staff up his aborning and disruptive company Amazon, he reportedly was asked what he was looking for in an employee.  Supposedly he responded, “Give me you wackos.”  Amen, Brother Jeff.  Me, too.

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I was belatedly thumbing through my Money Magazine (Oct. 2012) last week, vaguely reading a series of not particularly illuminating articles about money, investing, retirement,etc., when I came across a short interview with Clayton Christensen, HBS professor and management guru (pp.97-100), that made me cry hallelujah.

Christensen is most famous for developing the idea of disruptive innovation, delineated in his book The Innovator’s Dilemma.  However, he has just put out a very personal book that applies his business theories to the finding of integrity and happiness in life.  It’s titled How Will You Measure Your Life?in which he specifically addresses what makes a business life worth living.

He says, “You want to be in a job where you’re motivated.  There’s a theory that was articulated by the late psychologist Frederick Herzberg.  He makes a strong point that there’s a big difference between motivation and incentives.  An incentive is, ‘I will pay you to want what I want.’  Motivation means that you’ve got an engine inside of you that drives you to keep working in order to feel successful and to help the organization be successful.”

Christensen speaks to the increasingly important field of “happinomics,” which posits that beyond a certain minimum salary, people don’t work for money.  They work for satisfaction, happiness, a free life, and other non-quantifiables.  Avatars of this new school of business psychology include Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (Claremont Graduate University), Edward Deci (University of Rochester), and Andrew Oswald (University of Warwick-UK), as well as populizer Daniel Pink.

For example, Dr. Oswald states:

“The relevance of economic performance is that it may be a means to an end.  That end is not consumption of beef burgers, or the accumulation of of television sets, not the vanquishing of some high level of interest rates, but rather the enrichment of mankind’s feeling of well-being.  Economic things matter only in so far as they make people happier.”  (Happiness and Economic Performance-Economic Journal-1997)

Entrepreneurship is as much an act of vocational faith as it is one of calculation.  Christensen says most entrepreneurs are looking for personal growth and meaning almost as much as they are looking for financial success.  He is very positive about current entrepreneurial opportunities, saying,  “The great thing about society today is that we are awash in money and opportunity.  With good ideas, a lot more people can succeed than historically we might have thought….If you can’t grow [in your present circumstances], there are all kinds of ways to create new companies and new environments where you can….Most of us end up being successful in a career we never imagined.”

Finally, Christensen recounts turning his current life around by applying his business insights about meaning and happiness to his own recent experience, which, for him, has taken the form of service.

“I’ll give you an analogy from my own life.  Four years ago I had a heart attack.  Then I was discovered to have advanced cancer that put me into chemotherapy. About two years ago I had a stroke.  I had to learn how to speak again one word at a time.  The more I focused on the problems in my life, the more miserable I  was.  And then somehow I realized focusing on myself and my problems wasn’t making me happier.  I started to say,  ‘Every day of my life I need to find somebody else who I could help to become a better person and a happier person.’  Once I started to reorient my life, the happiness returned.”

On the other hand, as Ingrid Bergman put it, “Happiness is as simple as good health and a bad memory,”  Thank you, Ingrid.

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Stay home. Be happy. Increase the efficiency of your company.

Last week I wrote about the under-appreciated value of the older employee. This week let’s consider the virtual employee. Both of these non-traditional HR solutions have buttressed the value and efficacy of my executive sales outsourcing firm Corporate Rain International for 16 years and I heartily recommend our approach. It’s the way business is increasingly going, whether you like it or not, but more importantly, it can lead to a cornucopia of personnel riches for the entrepreneur and a large boost to corporate esprit de corps.

Traditionally, the most valuable employees are those who arrive at their desks early and remain there after everyone else goes home. And they often are great workers. However, these single-minded office hard-drivers are not necessarily what the evolving worker wants to model himself on.

The Kenexa Research Institute of Minneapolis, Minnesota has done extensive research on the telecommuting employee. Surprisingly, in a poll of 10,000 US workers, 73% of remote and home-based workers were happy with their company as a place to work, compared with 64% for traditional office workers. Furthermore, 70% of the telecommuters said they were “proud to tell people I work for my company,” in contrast to 64% for traditional office workers. Jack Wiley of Kenexa states:

“When companies allow employees to work remotely or from home, they are explicitly communicating to them that  ‘I trust you to be dedicated to the accomplishment of the work, even if I’m not able to observe you doing it.’ It boils down to respect. I respect you and I have confidence in your commitment to the work—to do this under the conditions and at the time you feel will be most productive for you.” (WSJ-September 11, 2007)

Lifestyles and people’s needs are changing. I believe most contemporary employees are looking for a freer, less top-down work atmosphere. Jack Wiley of Kenexa notes that the most important thing an employee wants from an employer (besides compensation) is appreciation for the work they contribute and to be treated respectfully.

Flexibility is an increasingly valued commodity for employees. Many of my executive sales associates are very out-of-the-box in their needs and values. They are not people who necessarily want a traditional career. For example, Corporate Rain has sales executives who are raising venture capital on the side. Also, mothers who have held high-level corporate positions, but no longer want to be in that particular rat-race. We  have two associates writing books on the side, as well as associates who consult independently in fields like PR, HR, Non-profit, ROI augmentation, and the production of beer. We even have had a former VP of Jack Welch who owns a trout farm in North Carolina!

These are non-traditional employees who value the lifestyle flexibility offered by my firm. Most of these folks are of a quality I could never afford but for the fact that Corporate Rain offers unique support for flexible lifestyle enhancement. (My company is also a company of equals. In many ways, it’s intentionally as close to a Communist company as you can get and still be a going capitalist concern. But that’s a discussion for another day. Maybe next week.)

Employees’ changing values and desires will change the office world. Edward Deci and Richard Ryan of the University of Rochester are exemplars of a new school of “happiness” research. They have found that employees do their best work when motivated from within, when they have control of their time and decisions, and when they feel a deep sense of purpose. (Intrinsic Motivation and Self-Determination in Human Behavior–Plenum–1985)

So, why not happiness, freedom, AND work? Thomas Jefferson, who died on July 4, 1826 (as did John Adams), said, “It is neither wealth nor splendor, but tranquility and occupation, which give happiness.” (Letter to Mrs. A. S. Marks–1788) Thanks, Thomas.

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