What it Takes to Be an Extraordinary Place to Work
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Episode B-5 Transcript:
This episode is brought to you by Business Advancement Incorporated, enabling successful leaders and companies to accelerate to their next level of growth, on the web at BusinessAdvance.com. And now, here’s Pam and Scott.
Pam Harper: Thanks, Chris. I’m Pam Harper, Founding Partner and CEO of Business Advancement Incorporated. And right across to me as always is my business partner and husband, Scott Harper. Hi, Scott.
Scott Harper: Hi, Pam. As always, it’s great to join you again for another episode of Growth Igniters Radio with Pam Harper and Scott Harper®. As always, our purpose is to spark new insights, inspiration, and immediately useful ideas for visionary leaders — and their companies — to accelerate to their next level of growth and success. So, Pam, this is one of a series of special episodes that we’re featuring the summer.
Pam Harper: That’s right, Scott. From May 17th until August 23rd, we’re featuring some of our most popular book pairing episodes and interviews with best-selling business authors. We’re doing this for 2 reasons:
First, We have many, many more listeners than we had when we first featured some of these episodes. If you’re one of those people, welcome.
Second, There’s so much happening so quickly in the world. One of the things we’ve found especially helpful is to think about what has happened since the last time we read a book or listened to an interview. And it’s always sparked some type of “new” insight or idea.
In fact, that’s exactly what happened for us. During this time, we’re focusing on developing additional offerings for visionary leaders to take themselves and their companies to unprecedented levels of growth and success. These will be available later this summer.
So if you’re not a new listener, we encourage you to listen with “fresh ears.”
Scott Harper: That’s right. So, what trends are you noticing with your customers, partners, competitors, employees, technology, or other things that affect your business and your success? And, what’s a new idea from this episode that could be applied to create value? Maybe it’s a different way of thinking about your market strategy. Perhaps it’s a new way of engaging employees or other stakeholders to collaborate to create new value. Or perhaps it’s something else.
Pam Harper: The point is, when you’re focused on creating new value, it’s important to notice what’s different in the world since the last time you looked. When you do that on a regular basis, it’s much more likely that you’ll discover the new ideas that will get you there.
Scott Harper: And so with that, let’s pick up on this week’s topic, presented as it was originally released. Stay with us…
Pam Harper: Our regular listeners know that we’re all about igniting and sustaining momentum for game-changing results. While there are a number of aspects to this, one of the most important things we can control is what we do to create an extraordinary workplace. By extraordinary, I mean a workplace that engages people to collaborate, solve complex problems, make bold new decisions and take bold new actions. As much as doing this is an art, it’s also a science.
Scott Harper: It is. It helps if we can figure out how to do the right things right.
Pam Harper: That’s why we’re pleased to have as our guest today Ron Friedman, an award-winning social psychologist who specializes in human motivation. Ron has served on the faculty of the University of Rochester, Nazareth College, and Hobart and William Smith Colleges, and has consulted for some of the world’s most successful organizations. Ron is the author of a highly acclaimed new book called The Best Place to Work: The Art and Science of Creating an Extraordinary Workplace.
He is a frequent contributor to the Harvard Business Review, Psychology Today, Fast Company, Forbes, and CNN. Popular accounts of his research have also appeared on NPR and in major newspapers, including The New York Times, Financial Times, the Globe and Mail, Washington Post, The Guardian, as well as magazines such as Men’s Health, Entrepreneur, and Success. Ron, welcome to Growth Igniters Radio.
Ron Friedman: My pleasure. Thanks for having me.
Pam Harper: Let’s get into this. You’re a psychologist. What inspired you to write a book about the workplace?
Ron Friedman: Well, it really stemmed from my experience of being in the corporate world. I started off spending years at colleges and universities teaching human motivation, cognitive psychology, the psychology of happiness. Then I decided, “You know what? I’m going to go off into the corporate world.”
What got me into academics is I really enjoyed learning new things. What you discover as an academic is that the learning process really slows down once you become a full-time professor because your job is to teach the same thing again and again. I wanted to recapture that experience of learning new things, so I decided, “I’m going to go off into the corporate world,” and I became a pollster. My job was to measure public opinion, figure out what people think and then apply psychological principles in consulting to organizations and telling them what they needed to say to be more persuasive.
The biggest surprise for me came in the experience of being an employee, and coming to recognize that there was a massive divide between the things that psychologists know as factors that contribute to motivation, creativity, and productivity, and how most organizations operate. I decided, “You know what? I’m going to turn my attention to taking all the research that I’ve been studying for all of these years and translate them into plain English so that managers and employees alike can start applying the science of top performance.”
Scott Harper: It’s so important. In fact, you’ve written that, according to Gallup survey estimates, disengaged employees cost businesses over a $550 billion each year. Yet, almost nothing has changed since Gallup began tracing employee engagement near the turn of the 21st century. Now, you’d think with all the science and all the studies out there, people would know more how to influence engagement and commitment, but apparently they don’t. What’s going on?
Ron Friedman: Well, I think it comes down to the disconnect between the science and the modern workplace. We have all of these great studies that academics are writing about for other academics. But if you ask the average employee, the average manager even, what would make them satisfied with their jobs instantly, you’ll hear things like “I want a promotion,” or “I want a nicer office,” or “I want a raise.” While all of those types of improvements will lead to enjoyment and happiness in the short term, that happiness tends not to last. That’s because we’re born with a brain that’s designed to habituate to our circumstances. If things are not going very well, we learn to live with it. If things are going extremely well, we want more − we can’t help it. I think what really needs to happen is for more people to become familiar with the science. I think the appetite for that is growing. With the advent of books like Moneyball, there’s more and more of an interest in data-driven recommendations.
Pam Harper: In your book, you also talk about the fact that the world of work is changing as why we would be more interested in, say, the psychology behind all this which I thought really it rings true to me.
Ron Friedman: Yeah, that’s right. We’re creating products with our minds now. It used to be the case where you would come into a factory and your productivity was direct function of your labor and the amount of hours you put in at the factory. That is no longer the case and productivity today is a function of the quality of your thinking, the level of energy you bring to your work and even your mood. If you think about the type of work that we do, much of it involves creativity and much of it involves collaboration. The psychology of getting people in a good mood, getting them thinking bigger ideas is critical to performing at a high level and that’s why it’s so important that we look at the research and figure out ways of making it actionable.
Pam Harper: Absolutely. I am so pleased that you’re doing this, because for years I’ve seen it. I’ve known about these things really more intuitively. I’m not a psychologist; I have a background in organizational development. The studies that backed this up are incredibly important. There’s real research. Can you talk a little bit about what that science is?
Ron Friedman: Well, it turns out what people want from their workplace is ultimately the same thing they want in every other domain in life, and that’s to have psychologically fulfilling experiences. We have decades of research that showed that regardless of your age or culture, where you were born, you have the same basic human psychological needs as everyone else.
It comes down to three main factors. The first is the need for competence so feeling like you’re good at what you do, but also having the ability to grow that competence on a regular basis. It’s not enough to feel like you’re good at your job. You need to feel like you’re growing. The second need is the need for relatedness so feeling like you’re connecting to the people around you in a meaningful way, feeling appreciated, valued, respected, all the great things that come from strong human connections. The final need is the need for autonomy so feeling like you have a sense of choice and you endorse the behaviors that you’re doing. You’re not just doing it because the manager is telling you to do it. You’re doing it because you believe this is how you want to invest your time and energy.
When we have our psychological needs met, we tend to be happier, healthier, and more productive, and more engaged. Unfortunately, most organizations do a dreadful job of creating psychologically fulfilling experiences, and it’s largely because of the fact that managers don’t have time to read academic journal articles. Even if they did, they’re not written for managers. They’re written for other academics so it becomes really difficult for them to figure out how do I make people like one another? How do I make people feel more competent? That’s what The Best Place to Work is about.
Scott Harper: If people have these needs met, they are less stressed. We all know that if you are less stressed, your brain − the part that thinks, and creates, and innovates − is going to be more in the loop, so you’ll just do better altogether.
Ron Friedman: You have happier customers because of a process that psychologists refer to as mood contagion. If your customers are around employees who are happy, those customers are going to have better experiences, which translates into loyalty and greater earnings for the company.
Pam Harper: There are a lot of compelling reasons to do this.
Well, we’re going to take a quick break now. When we come back, we’ll speak more with Ron Friedman, author of The Best Place to Work, about the art and science of creating an extraordinary workplace. Stay with us.
Scott Harper: We’re so happy you’re listening to Growth Igniters Radio with Pam Harper and Scott Harper. We’re brought to you by Business Advancement Incorporated − on the web at businessadvance.com. We enable successful leaders and their companies to accelerate to their next level of growth and success. If you like what you’re hearing, spread the good word. Go to growthignitersradio.com, select episode 85 and use the share links for Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter at the top right of the page. Tell your social media communities all about us. And while you’re there, sign up for a weekly alert of upcoming episodes so you’ll always be up to date.
Pam Harper: Welcome back to Growth Igniters Radio with Pam Harper − that’s me − and Scott Harper. Scott and I are speaking with Ron Friedman, the award-winning social psychologist who’s the author of The Best Place to Work, about the secrets behind creating an extraordinary work environment. Ron, how can people find out more about you and your book?
Ron Friedman: Well, they can go to a couple of places. They can go to Amazon to look for The Best Place to Work or they can go to ignite80.com. The reason my company is called ignite80 is because, as we will soon discuss, over 80% of employees are not fully engaged at work. The mission of ignite80 is to reverse that trend by applying the latest science and teaching leaders how they can create better workplaces.
Pam Harper: You can find links and other information by going to growthignitersradio.com, episode 85, and scroll down under resources as well.
Let’s get back to our conversation. Now, Ron, in the first segment, we discussed how creating an extraordinary workplace is both an art and a science. One of the things that we’ve seen in our work is that employee engagement and commitment are essential for igniting and sustaining the momentum that it takes to create and achieve the game-changing results. In your book, you talked about studies of video games that can be applied to building an extraordinary workplace. Tell us a little bit about that.
Ron Friedman: If you think about why people play video games, first of all, what are they doing when they’re playing video games? They’re climbing imaginary mountains. They’re organizing all of these different shapes into different places, and they invest a ridiculous amount of time, often sacrificing their evenings and weekends, in playing things that don’t really have a real substance or reward. The reason that video games are as addicting as they are, the reason we feel compelled and drawn to them is because they provide many of the experiences we desperately seek in our work. If you think about that psychological need we talked about for competence, feeling like you’re getting better at the work that you do, if you write a memo at work, you don’t get feedback on that memo often, ever. Occasionally, you will get some feedback from your manager every six months, but video games provide instantaneous feedback, and so that’s part of the reason why we find them so interesting.
The other component is that they provide progressive difficulty. What I mean by that is that they get harder and harder as you play. If you think about a game like Angry Birds, the first board, if you start downloading Angry Birds and start playing it, you’re going to dominate that first board within a matter of seconds. Immediately, you get a win under your belt. Then as you keep going, the boards get more and more difficult. At work, our jobs tend to take the opposite trajectory where when you first enter a new job, it’s about as difficult as it is ever going to be within that first week. You need to figure out what’s really expected-
Pam Harper: The learning curve.
Ron Friedman: Yeah. You need to figure out what’s really expected of you. You need to determine who the real players are. You’re trying to figure out the organizational culture. Then after a year or two, you get it and that’s when your job becomes predictable. When a job becomes predictable, it becomes boring, and so we need to create organizations where they take the opposite trajectory and really mimic the video game where they start off at a moderate level of difficulty, but then grow with us as we gain more skills.
Scott Harper: You’re constantly getting more and more reward.
Ron Friedman: That, too. You get recognition from a video game. You’re getting rewarded when you do something well. If we look at the principles that make video games successful, there’s a lot we can learn about making better jobs.
Pam Harper: That’s interesting. I want to just clarify real quick − everything you’re talking about applies around the world, because we have listeners in Australia, in the UK, and everywhere else. These principles that we’re talking about would apply to anyone in any country, correct?
Ron Friedman: Yeah. What we’re talking about is the principles that underlie the experience of competence. Competence has been demonstrated over and over again as a basic human need. One of the reasons why people get disengaged at work is for one of two reasons. One is that they feel like their manager doesn’t appreciate the work that they’re doing and that they are not necessarily doing a good job because they don’t have that feedback. Not having feedback is damaging to the experience of competence. The other part of it is that they feel like they’re doing their job too well and that’s a problem, too. If you feel like you are absolutely acing it day in and day out, chances are that’s not going to be enough for you.
Scott Harper: Now, let’s talk a little bit more about leaders and the leaders’ role in creating this better workplace. One of the things that you’ve written about is the leadership paradox. Forceful leaders, you say actually may be less successful in developing groups that do the work well.
Ron Friedman: Well, the reason that’s the case is, again, going back to the psychological needs − so we have a psychological need for autonomy, feeling like the work that we’re doing is our choice. When you have a manager who is stifling and who’s micromanaging, it’s very difficult to feel like the work you’re doing is your choice. What I say in the book is that micromanagement is the motivational equivalent of buying on credit. You get an immediate product in the short-term but you end up paying a very high price for it later on. This is what often happens at organizations is somebody will find a new job and hand in their resignation. Often times the manager is left wondering why the person left. What they don’t realize is that the basis for that decision was made not in the last two weeks but six months ago, and in many cases, it’s because they did not feel like their need for autonomy was fulfilled.
Pam Harper: They didn’t want to say anything. I’ve seen that so many times. People would say, “I didn’t feel comfortable telling them what they’ve even done.” That’s hard.
Ron Friedman: The time delay between the action and the feedback is problematic because the learning doesn’t happen.
Scott Harper: Here’s part of the paradox is, say, I’m a leader in an organization and I have pressures on me and things have to happen. I don’t necessarily know what’s happening. You say, “Give people autonomy.” Well, I’m giving people autonomy. How can I reassure myself and the people above me who wants results that things are going right?
Ron Friedman: I appreciate you asking that, Scott. I think it’s a very important question. Let me first clarify that when I say autonomy, I’m not suggesting let people do whatever they want. I’m not saying if we just give everybody space, then things will happen because we all know that’s not the case. What it does come down to, however, is understanding how the experience of autonomy comes about. There are some very concrete things that you can do as a manager to support people’s autonomy while still communicating the expectations. For example, when you’re introducing a new project to the people on your team, start off by explaining the value the project is going to have for the organization, for the department and for the people involved.
Scott Harper: The why of it.
Ron Friedman: The why, exactly. We spend so much time talking about the how. Here’s how you should go do these things. We don’t spend enough time focusing on the why and we assume as leaders that the people who are on our team share our understanding about the value of every activity, and they’re just not privy to the same information as we are. They’re not on the same memos. They’re not on the same offsites. They don’t have that understanding. Introducing a new project by talking about the why is critical.
Another thing you can do is you can focus on the outcome. Say, “This is what we’re looking to achieve,” and invite the people on your team to suggest the process. You want to avoid mapping out every detail because, at that point, that becomes stifling and undermines people’s experience of autonomy.
Scott Harper: This is what we need to have happen and these are the things that will define success. Now go make it happen.
Ron Friedman: “What do you see?” are some possible solutions. Do it in the form of asking a question and then steer the conversation.
Pam Harper: A very important thing. In fact, we’re big fans of having people develop a process. That’s a big thing, not clunky, but just enough to guide people so that they can get done what needs to be done.
Scott Harper: If they co-created them, they own it.
Ron Friedman: Precisely. To the extent that they feel like they have ownership over the process, they’re much more likely to be engaged.
Pam Harper: Okay. Switching gears a little bit, we talk about the satisfaction of the job itself and all of that. One of the things that I’ve seen is how big a difference it makes when people feel part of the community. This is a big deal. You write about how friendships with our colleagues make us more productive. How does that happen?
Ron Friedman: It’s a very interesting question. If you ask managers, “Should people be close at work?” you get a mixed response. Some people see the value immediately, but others have this idea that, “I don’t want my people being too close with one another because then they’re going to start gossiping or they’ll start showing favoritism or they’ll start fooling around at work,” but, in fact, if you look at the data on this, we have research out of Wharton that shows that, in fact, if you’re putting together a team, that team is much more likely to be successful if it’s comprised of people who know and like one another than if it’s comprised of strangers who are specialists.
It’s because if people know and like one another, they’re better able to focus on doing their work and not worry about their w whether or not they’re fitting in. We forget about how much time and mental energy is spent worrying about, “Do people like me? Do they respect me?” That’s a waste of time from a productivity perspective.
The other thing that happens is that they’re more open with their feedback. Pam, if you and I know and like one another, if I feel like you’re making a mistake, I’ll come over to you and tell you that, but if we don’t know one another, I’m going to stay quiet, I’m going to let you make your mistake. The third thing is I’m personally more likely to come to you and ask for help because now I’m not as concerned about how that reflects on me.
Pam Harper: The trust is higher.
Ron Friedman: The trust is higher. For all of those reasons, you get people being more productive when they feel they like they’re part of a community, but they also like their job more. They are less likely to quit, and that means you are spending less time and energy trying to fill empty spots and you’re retaining your top performers.
Pam Harper: In your book, I really like the way that you brought out how leaders could use some principles from the research to enable this kind of friendship to blossom. The studies were fascinating.
Scott Harper: Building on that, the question is how to get people to do more of what they need to do. You say you can’t micromanage, or it’s less effective to do that. There’s this image and idea of mimicry or emulation that you talk about. How does that work out, and what’s the science behind that?
Ron Friedman: We have research showing that leadership behaviors ripple through an organization. If a leader is someone who’s very composed, the organization tends to operate in a similar fashion. When a leader is narcissistic, the organization tends to be a little bit more aggressive and try to take on hostile takeovers and things like that. I talked about using mimicry to your advantage as a leader by modeling the behaviors you’d like to see in others.
Scott Harper: If I want people to come to me with information that’s important to the company, I can model by giving them information and by listening, yes?
Ron Friedman: Demonstrating transparency is another wonderful way. If you are interested in getting people to learn from mistakes and come forward when a mistake happens, you can model that yourself by talking about mistakes you’ve made in the past. Exactly.
Pam Harper: This would be very important in the companies where they are going through a very high rate of growth which is a lot of where our listeners live. There’s so much uncertainty. This ability to be willing to make mistakes, learn from the failure, everybody has to be open to it. This mimicry you’re talking about would be very powerful there.
Scott Harper: Modeling, right.
Pam Harper: Modeling.
Ron Friedman: I think it’s essential because what ends up happening in a lot of organizations where a manager says, “We have no room for failure,” you might think by saying that that you’re raising the bar for people’s performance, but what you’re really doing is you’re essentially rewarding them for covering up when mistakes happen. That’s a really dangerous problem to have as a manager. If mistakes are happening and you’re not aware of it, you can’t repair the process that is creating that. Other people are likely to repeat that same mistake again and again. Talking about mistakes that have happened and making improvement the goal for your team is ultimately the best thing you can do. Don’t make perfection the goal, make improvement the goal.
Pam Harper: Absolutely. We’re going to take another quick break. When we come back, Scott and I will talk more with Ron Friedman, author of The Best Place to Work, about more immediately actionable ideas that you can use to create an extraordinary workplace. Stay with us.
Scott Harper: This is Growth Igniters Radio with Pam Harper and Scott Harper, brought to you by Business Advancement Incorporated − on the web at BusinessAdvance.com.
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Pam Harper: Welcome back to Growth Igniters Radio with Pam Harper and Scott Harper. Over the last two segments, Scott and I’ve been talking about the secrets behind creating an extraordinary work environment with Ron Friedman, the award-winning social psychologist who is author of The Best Place to Work. Ron, can you tell people again how they can find out more about you and your book?
Ron Friedman: They can check on Amazon for The Best Place to Work, or they can actually go … I’m going to give you a different website now just to keep things interesting, thebestplacetoworkbook.com where you can download the opening chapter for free.
Pam Harper: That’s great. Again, you can find links and other information by going to growthignitersradio.com, episode 85, and scroll down under resources.
Now, we’re back to the immediately useful idea section of this podcast. Let’s start out with something that is a sacred thing to many folks. It’s the employee of the month award. You say that this one not usually so good for motivation. Can you talk about why? Even more importantly, what should leaders be doing instead?
Ron Friedman: It’s interesting because it is a very well-intentioned idea. It’s the notion that we’re going to take an employee who’s done an exceptional job and we’re going to reward that person. What it does is it creates a competition between employees for recognition. If I’m interested in winning the award, I may be less likely now to recognize someone else on the team or someone else on another part of the organization because I want to win the award myself. Recognition becomes a zero-sum game. That’s problematic. Another thing that happens is that if you have an organization with a hundred people, you’re going to have one winner and 99 people walking away feeling like this month’s efforts weren’t recognized. There are lots of reasons why we should question the value of the employee of the month award.
What we should do instead is stop trying to make recognition something that happens from the top-down. What you want to do is create an organization where employees are recognizing one another, and it just becomes part of the culture of the company, and if you are interested in trying to get the ball rolling on that. One thing you can try to do is every once in a while during a meeting, make it a common practice where you try to recognize someone for their efforts over the last week or over the last month. As a leader, again, if you model that behavior, because you’re someone who’s looked at more carefully because you’re someone with higher standing, that behavior is likely to be mimicked by other people on your team.
Pam Harper: Immediately as soon as people are done listening and they go into a meeting, they should be thinking about who in their team they could recognize. Is that right?
Ron Friedman: It is right. I think you want to do it authentically. If you’re not someone who has typically recognized other people in the past, start slow. Figure out someone whose efforts you really are appreciative of and then be specific. Don’t just say, “Great job.” Say, “I really appreciate it, the depth of research you brought to the presentation. It was so valued.”
Pam Harper: The behavior…
Ron Friedman: The behavior, exactly. Then explain the impact on you. It really made it easier for me to do my job and others on the team to be successful because of your work. That makes it personal to the individual and it helps them identify exactly the behavior that they need to repeat in the future.
Scott Harper: It’s immediate. It’s specific. It’s tied to a meaningful outcome. Going back to that “why” again.
Ron Friedman: Precisely.
Scott Harper: That makes sense. Now, you also write about something else that can help people feel more engaged and committed, and that’s giving them a budget for customizing their workspace. That’s not intuitively obvious. Why is that helpful?
Ron Friedman: Well, the reason it’s helpful is because when we have the freedom to shape our environment, we experience a sense of control. That sense of control gives us more confidence that our work is controllable because it spreads to our full experience, but it also allows us to direct our mental energy towards doing our work and not worrying about our environment. When you customize a space, you have a sense of control over it and that spreads to your experience at work.
In fact, we have research showing that if you bring people into an office and you allow one group to customize it and for the other group you say, “Here’s the test. Go take the test.” The group that had the ability to customize their space will perform at a 32% higher level as a function of having customized their space before they began.
There are a number of organizations that have started utilizing this insight. Companies like Etsy and companies like DreamWorks where they provide new employees with a very, very small budget. It could be as low as a hundred dollars − that allows the individual to customize their desk and thereby allows them to feel more comfortable doing the work that they do.
The other thing that’s interesting here is that there’s related research showing that if you are working in organization and you’re interested in figuring out who’s engaged in their job and who isn’t, simply look around at their desk. If a person has personalized their space either by putting pictures up of their family or by taking a picture that they feel connected to and putting it up on the wall, that’s a good indication that they consider their desk home.
Pam Harper: It really is. It’s like a little home. What do you do in situations that we’re seeing more of, where people are sitting in one room. For example, we went in to one company, where it was a large room and all the managers, high-level managers, were all sitting around a table. They all had phones, but there was no desk per se. How could they customize under a situation like that?
Ron Friedman: Are they working like that full time? They’re all sitting around at the same desk?
Scott Harper: Yeah. Open office, it’s called.
Pam Harper: Literally one large conference table.
Ron Friedman: Here’s what I would say about that − and this is something I tackle in the book − is the second chapter is about design and how you can leverage the science of place to improve performance at work.
It is really critical to have a space where you feel comfortable and not feeling observed, where you have some distance both in terms of space, but also in terms of sound. Just having the freedom to think is so critical. What happens in a lot of organizations with open offices is that people feel like they have to come in early or stay late or work over the weekend because it’s the only time where they can actually think straight.
It’s something that we have to consider when we think about what makes for top performance. A lot of times we assume that it’s the extroverts who are better at their job because they’re more confident when they’re speaking, they’re more boisterous at meetings, but half the workplace is comprised of introverts. Introverts don’t function in precisely the same way. For them, it’s essential to have an opportunity to think.
I talk in the book about modeling organizations after college campuses, where you provide people with a range of different spaces that they can use to match up their environment to their task. You provide people with the space they can customize, you provide them with a quiet library, or a quiet conference room they can take for whenever they need to think away from others.
You provide them with those social spaces, like cafeteria spaces or spaces that are modeled after places like Starbucks, where they can connect with others without feeling like they’re necessarily in a meeting. Having a range of options can be very beneficial to all aspects of work.
Pam Harper: That really gets to that second point, which is no matter what kind of office configuration you have, you can decorate a desk or a cube area, or you can go out for a walk, or you can do something, sit in the cafeteria if you have one. There’s always something today that you can do to customize your space.
Ron Friedman: Even if hanging a picture up on the wall isn’t something that is available to people, still providing them with that budget to say, “Here’s a little bit of money that we want you to be comfortable with the work that you do,” so that they can buy some type of light that makes their desk easier to work on, or they can buy a cushion for the back of their chairs so that they’re comfortable, because comfort isn’t an extravagance. It’s essential to working at a high level.
Pam Harper: All this really goes to addressing, in some respects, the limits of the mind and the body, which you also talked about. We have to be thinking about the fact that we’re all unique beings.
What else can you tell us, something else that we could look at that honors this limit of the mind and body?
Ron Friedman: Well, I spend a good portion of the book talking about the importance of disconnecting. In the past, if you wanted to work in the evenings or on the weekends, you had to plan ahead. We remember this period where you had to take a file, you had to put it in your bag, you had to take it home. Now, if you don’t want to work on the evenings or the weekends, you have to plan ahead. We have evidence showing that the people who work around the clock, overnight and work over the weekends, they’re the ones who end up taking a hit to their engagement a year down the road and it’s because they get burnt out. We have to be very vigilant about the extent to which we’re working because how we work is no longer just a function of what happens between the hours of nine to five. There are all these great examples of organizations that are actively paying people to stop working.
One of my favorite examples is Daimler, which is an auto manufacturer in Germany, and they have a policy where if someone is away on vacation, they have a practice where their emails get auto-responded to. For example, if Scott is away and Pam is at work – hopefully that doesn’t happen too often, hopefully you guys go on vacation together – whoever is emailing Scott will get a message that says, “Scott is away for the next week. You can email Pam if you need immediate assistance. By the way, if you are interested in reaching Scott, you should email him again next week which is when he gets back because this email is going to be deleted.”
What that does is it enables Scott to enjoy his vacation without the temptation of checking the server. If he does go check his email, there’s nothing there. More importantly, it prevents him from having to dig himself out of email when he gets back to work. He can use that time he has spent re-energizing proactively rather than just responding to other people’s request. That’s just one example of ways that we need to think about: how do we position people to perform at a high level? Part of that process requires that we allow them to get the rest that they need.
Pam Harper: People out there, set your auto-responders.
Ron, do you have any final thoughts about creating an extraordinary workplace? What will the workplace look like 10 years from now?
Ron Friedman: Well, I think we’re going to get a lot better at figuring out how to disconnect. As I mentioned before, the phone is something … We forget about this. The iPhone has only been around for eight years. It’s a baby technology. We have just started to figure out how to work with this device that allows us to be in our office 24/7, that is built to make everything feel urgent with all of its alerts, and popups, and buzzings. I think we’re going to get better at that. I also think that we’re going to be better at applying some of the science and the analytics to figuring out how to create better workplaces. I give the example in the book about Moneyball, about how we completely transitioned the way that organizations now think about how to create a great team within sports.
Let me just tell the story of Moneyball for those who aren’t familiar. Moneyball is about how for generations baseball teams assumed they needed home run hitters in order to be successful. Then they brought in a team of Harvard statisticians and those statisticians uncovered a very interesting finding, which is that it’s not home run hitters that lead to wins. It’s on base percentage. It’s those players who are doing the uncharismatic things like taking walks or hitting singles. You want more of those in your team because the more people you have on base, the more runs you’re going to score. That insight completely transformed the sport of baseball. Now, every sporting team has their own analytics person on staff to figure out what are we doing wrong and how do we fix it by looking at the data? I think workplaces are going in that direction, where every organization is going to have their fingers on the pulse of their organizational engagement and figure out what are some tweaks we need to make immediately.
Just the final thing I’ll say about where I think work is headed is I think we’re going to get a lot smarter about calibrating the tasks that we do to our energy levels. We have research showing that if you’re looking to make good decisions, if you’re looking to do some careful planning, you want to do that while your energy levels are high. For most people, that’s early in the morning. If you’re trying to be creative, you don’t want to do that first thing in the morning because that mental edge that’s essential for planning is actually counterproductive when it comes to creativity. When you’re trying to be creative, you actually don’t want to be too sharp because that prevents you from considering ideas that might not be particularly relevant. Creativity comes from combining ideas. Some of which don’t, on the surface, appear to be particularly relevant to one another.
Scott Harper: You want to be a little unhinged.
Ron Friedman: Exactly. “Unhinged” is strong, but − okay.
Scott Harper: Just slightly.
Ron Friedman: This is why having an alcoholic beverage can make you more creative, makes you better at problem solving. There’s some serious evidence showing that you should go drink a beer. In fact, there’s a beer that’s being marketed in Europe as “the problem solver.” On the back of the beer, it’ll help you calculate how much alcohol you should buy to reach your peak creativity by using this research.
Scott Harper: Wow
Ron Friedman: I think we’re going to get smarter about that. It’s not just about showing up at work and trying hard. Now, we have to get smarter about matching our tasks to the way our brains and bodies operate.
Pam Harper: Well, Ron, this has been a great conversation. Thanks so much for joining us today.
Ron Friedman: Truly my pleasure. Thank you for having me.
Scott Harper: Thanks, Ron, and thanks to you out there for listening to Growth Igniters Radio with Pam Harper and Scott Harper. To get show notes and resource links for this week’s episode, go to growthignitersradio.com. Select episode 85.
Pam Harper: Until next time. This is Pam Harper.
Scott Harper: And Scott Harper.
Pam Harper: Wishing you continued success and leaving you with this question to discuss with your team.
Scott Harper: What’s one thing we can do starting today to use scientific thinking to create an extraordinary workplace?