An Intrinsic Reality

A lot can happen in a year.  I say that knowing it’s completely cliché, but it also seems eerily timely at this moment.  It was about a year ago that I sat working at my consulting job and the meeting reminder for a monthly Senior Consultant meeting popped up on my computer.  It was a Friday just like today.  Unlike today, I was sitting at my desk already frustrated with what the meeting topic would be over.

You see, after one very long project and many man hours worked, people were starting to feel the burnout.  We had thought for years that after Go Live we would see the reward of our labor and finally get some much needed rest.  Unfortunately the long hours didn’t stop, rewards were fewer and harder to come by, and ultimately we were all feeling let down and led astray by our management.  In January of 2010 we began to see turnover.  It started with a handful here and there, but it became a trend.  After several months more than 50 people had left from our project alone.  Even our offshore team experienced a high turnover.

On this particular Friday, the Atlanta VP had called a meeting to speak with all of the Atlanta Senior Consultants.  It was an open forum for us to ask him questions and to give him our honest feedback.  Or so we were told.  As I got up from my chair to go to the session I was frustrated and anxious for the dog and pony show to be over.

The meeting actually started out pretty slow.  That was even more frustrating.  Not one person would ask the two questions we all wanted to know, “Why are people leaving and what are you doing to stop it?”  We spent nearly 30 minutes dancing around the topic.  I sat in the back of the room, growing increasingly more annoyed, and I suppose it showed in my expression.

I was actually rubbing my neck because I was sore from a workout, but I suppose the VP saw that and thought I wanted to ask a question.  “Jordan, you look like you have something you want to say.”, he asked me pointedly.

“Well, actually, yes I do.”, and I took a deep breath and asked, “Given our recent turnover problems, how do you think our new rating system will factor into retention?”  It was indirect, but started a dialogue.  Only a few weeks earlier the company had announced that our ratings would be measured against new goals.  The goals were largely unattainable and left most of us feeling like we were once again doomed to be held back.

The VP gave a somewhat canned speech about how he thought it would help because people would be measured on all the different ways they contributed and that would lead to better pay increases, which he ultimately felt was the reason people were leaving.  Then he gave a follow-up to put the ball back in my court, “Why do you think they are leaving?  What do you think we could do to get them to stay?”

Rarely in life do you have such a blatant opportunity to confront a problem head on and speak your mind, but I also knew, this was not the time for complaining.  I suppose I would have been taken off guard had I not thought back to a management class in undergrad, “Well, I remember in college we learned that often what people are motivated by is not the monetary rewards, but rather they want to be valued for their contribution and find value in the work they’re given.  If they have those two things then the monetary reward is secondary.”

He seemed excited, like I had just thrown him an easy ball.  “Yes, exactly and that reflects in better ratings so they can get their bonus.  If you don’t get your bonus then you don’t feel like you’ve been recognized.”  It was at that precise moment I realized this VP didn’t get it.

The floor was opened up at that point.  Person after person stood up and talked about things that they would like to see done that would motivate them.  Better work life balance, new and various assignments to challenge them, the opportunity to travel or not travel, receiving positive feedback from their managers, having visibility of their work, making it easier to take leave, and the list went on and on and on.  Intrinsic, intrinsic, intrinsic.

A year later, I sit having reviewed my Duke CCMBA lecture on Extrinsic and Intrinsic motivation.  It seems funny looking back at it now that with some perspective, that was probably one of the best lessons I could have learned about how to manage people.  Here was this VP, who I give a lot of credit to, is one of the youngest most successful men I’ve ever met, but he was missing something so blatantly obvious to everyone else in that room.  It wasn’t about the money.  We were motivated by all of these other factors.  This VP didn’t understand what all of us now understand after Dr. Cummings lecture.

So a year has passed, and looking back on it, I see that meeting as one of the rare times in life where theory becomes reality.

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