What people want (at work).

Posted by jlubans on July 14, 2010  •  Leave comment (0)

I mentioned Fred Emery in my July 8 ABC CLIO blog entry.
In hopes that I piqued your curiosity, you can read more about Fred, to whom much is owed by the entire organizational development (OD) field, in Nancy Cebula and Robert Rehm’s People In Charge: Creating Self Managing Workplaces – to which I contributed a chapter.
Published by Hawthorn Press in 1999, chapter 2 (DOING PRODUCTIVE WORK—SIX CRITERIA FOR PRODUCTIVE WORK)

The un-hierarchy.

Posted by jlubans on July 01, 2014  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: Why you may hate your job.

Decades ago, Fred Emery summarized what people want from work:
Adequate elbowroom for decision-making
Opportunity to learn at work
Variety in work
Mutual support and respect
A desirable future

Pretty straight forward and I’ve had no reason to question his conclusions. These elements, when present, make for a great place to work, whether in a hierarchy or not. However, in my research, I’ve found these elements most often present in un-hierarchical structures. I think in Emery’s day he was a proponent of team-based organizations.
On June 1, the New York Times published research on why people hate working.
The researchers concluded that there were four needs, when met, which make employees feel better and work better: Renewal, Value, Focus, and Purpose.
Renewal refers to taking breaks, short and long. The fewer breaks taken and the more people work beyond 40 hours, the worse they feel and become less engaged. (Engagement is a measure of effectiveness – of doing a good job or not.) A supervisor’s encouraging the worker to take breaks doubles the employee’s sense of health and well-being and they are more likely to stay with the company.
Value is about supportive supervisors who care about the employee’s well being. As a result the worker feels better about his work and wants to stay at the job.
Focus relates to the ability to work on one thing at a time rather than experiencing an Internet-fueled burnout. Probably more so than in the good old BI days, (before the net) the worker is pulled in multiple directions at all hours and days of the week. Multi-tasking detracts from focus. The more “focus” the more the worker feels engaged and does a good job.
And, just like Emery found, staff work best when they regard their work as meaningful, that what they do is for a good purpose.

A good friend asked me to comment – in absentia - on an upcoming discussion at the Las Vegas meeting of the American Library Association (ALA) this week. A sub, sub, sub-group of the 60,000 member ALA will take on the question of what library organizational structure (management model) is best for 21st century libraries?

One could ask, why bother? Isn’t it a given that the boxed in hierarchy is the one and only way to run your business? If you agree, then let me ask you, “Why?”
“Well, It’s obvious, it’s all around us, it works!”
But, even if that were true – which I doubt - where’s it written that the best way to organize is the way we’ve got it now? Here are just a few of the inherent assumptions about the hierarchy: People want and have to be led; workers do best when their work is structured and controlled. Supervisors add value by making sure work gets done; the supervisor shepherds the largely unthinking worker. Left to his or her own devices, the worker will dither.

What assumptions can we make about the un-hierarchy. Well, for starters rewrite, as opposites, the stated assumptions for the hierarchy.
How do those opposites sound, how would they play out in the real work world? What organizational structure best serves those opposites?
Here are the discussion questions I sent to my friend:

1. Does your current organizational arrangement get in the way of what you want to do?
2. Do you need freedom to do a good job? How much?
3. Would genuine empowerment make a difference in how well you do your job?
4. Would you prefer less freedom, more being told what to do?

I look forward to what my friend discovers in Las Vegas.
What are your answers to my four questions?

@Copyright John Lubans 2014

The Big Stay

Posted by jlubans on July 13, 2023  •  Leave comment (0)


There’s the Big Easy (NOLA), there’s the Big Sleep (Raymond Chandler), and there’s the “Big Guy”.
Now, after all these Bigs, there’s the Big Stay.
What’s the Big Stay(BS)? The Long Linger?
No, it’s the contention that “More Workers Are Hunkering Down And Staying In Their Current Jobs” instead of quietly quitting or resigning, as in the “Great Resignation” or the “Big Quit”, for greener pastures (better pay and benefits, work flexibility, an enhanced work-life balance and career advancement).
In 2021 we were told as many as 4 million workers quit each month.
Well, good enough; today’s labor force numbers suggest that there’s less employee turnover caused by a variety of economic and social factors including the astonishing - for some - personal epiphany that most of us have to work in order to live.
We may not live to work, but we work to live, to coin a phrase.
The Big Stay will no doubt assuage one of a manager’s numerous bugbears: retention.
But, motivating those staying will be an ongoing challenge because those staying in place include your star workers (engaged), as well as the deadwood and superfluous (not engaged) workers.
The latter, in a permanent state of disengagement, may be doing only enough to get by.
How do we keep the effective, engaged worker who likes his job? At the same time, the manager needs to keep in mind their engaged stars may only be staying until job openings pick up. And, what about the deadwood, the disengaged? Isn’t it time to address what’s not driving them?
So, HR types will be reminding you with their HR panacea that you need to continuously work on improving the employee experience; better “delivering great employee experiences”
so that your stars don’t wander off.
HRs underlying assumption is that an employee’s motivation is largely due to external factors. It harks back to the notion of KITA (Kick In The Ass) as a motivation strategy. There’s little evidence that KITA type encouragement has any sort of long-term effect. Likely, in some cases, your engaged employee (self-directed) may decide to leave because of your efforts to provide that great employee experience!
HR says that managers should pursue initiatives that foster engagement, belonging, and loyalty.
Like what?
Well, besides pay/bonus, benefits, flexible work there’s the employee/manager relationship, there’s the workplace culture, and finally the employee’s sense of belonging.
Decades ago, Fred Emery found six positive factors for employee engagement:
Adequate elbowroom for decision-making
Opportunity to learn at work
Variety in work
Mutual support and respect
Desirable future
Like Emery, Herzberg conclusively showed what it takes for people to thrive in the workplace
and what triggers internal motivators, that inner pride and satisfaction in a job well done. There’s:
recognition for achievement,
the work itself,
responsibility, and
growth or advancement.
All too often HR and management consultants make a major mistake by ignoring that some workers arrive fully motivated – instead HR focuses on external factors, KITAs, to retain employees. Ignoring the motivation the employee brings to the job, can result in employee dissatisfaction.
There’s a better way. Consider, as a leader, how to apply Emery and Hertzberg’s thinking to enable your stars and to attempt to lift up the disengaged.
That’s, per Herzberg - the “unique human characteristic, the ability to achieve and, through achievement, to experience psychological growth”- what will lead to employee retention and each worker’s doing a better job each day.

ONLY a click away:

And, my book on democratic workplaces, which incorporates much of what Emery and Herzberg professLeading from the Middle, is available at Amazon.

© Copyright all text John Lubans 2023

Motivation; An Eternal Question

Posted by jlubans on March 28, 2017  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: One way to fire up a staffer.

Early in March, I revisited Economist Dan Ariely’s research on what motivates workers. In an , he reveals four ways to get your employees to do more than just minimal effort:
Make work rewarding
Trust your employees
Challenge them
Rethink bonuses

Mr. Ariely’s conclusions are based on psychological experiments.
Australia’s Fred Emery found that workers want:
Adequate elbowroom for decision-making
Opportunity to learn at work
Variety in work
Mutual support and respect
Desirable future

How different are these two lists?
While similar, I would suggest that Mr. Emery spots more genuine motivators than does Mr. Ariely, but that may be a matter of interpretation. Emery developed his own list; Ariely’s is something put together by a journalist from an interview.
In another story,
SHELF LIFE, the Wegmans grocery chain is cited as one of Fortune Magazine's best places to work. This year Wegman’s came in second, behind Google.
“It’s not immediately obvious why Wegmans fare(s) so well. Salaries are not high: … cashiers average $9.44 an hour, while department managers make about $60,000 a year. The work is not particularly exciting or challenging, and while helping customers feed their families can be rewarding, it’s not exactly curing cancer.”
Simple things seem to make the difference: “Wegmans stands out by offering schedule flexibility, opportunities for advancement and thoughtful gestures, like cakes on birthdays and hot chocolate for employees working outside in the cold.”
I first heard of Wegmans from Saul Zabar, the boss at the eponymous NYC deli at 80th and Broadway. He emulates the Wegmans philosophy and gets similar results in employee effort, quality of product and customer care. (See the Zabar's chapter in my book, Leading from the Middle.)
Like Wegmans, Zabar’s offers employees tuition benefits and even goes as far as making cash loans to help low income workers avoid pay day lenders. (Last year Wegmans put up $5 million in college scholarships.)
Any regular customer at Zabar’s soon notes the low turnover among the store’s staff; the same faces behind the bakery counter, the fish counter, the cheese counter, and all through the store! People like working there; but it should be noted that Zabar’s does offer competitive wages: “You can make a living here” is how one Zabar’s supervisor put it to me.
Lists of motivators aside, I believe there are ineffable reasons why some places appeal to workers more than others. Leadership’s attitudes toward workers matter a great deal. Genuine interest in and concern for people, humane attitudes, respect for the individual – those qualities may make more difference than other external motivators like company policy, medical insurance, salaries, or free parking.
Unless there is a genuine warmth and meaning behind kind gestures like “cakes on birthdays” employees quickly figure out that this kind gesture is just another gentle kick in the rear end, the classic external motivator.

N.B. My new book, Fables for Leaders, Ezis Press, comes out in June 2017 as an e-book ($15.00) and a soft cover print-on-demand book, ($25.00). The print book will feature original illustrations by the renowned, Béatrice Coron.

© Copyright John Lubans 2017

Millennial Effects.

Posted by jlubans on March 07, 2016  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: Pierre: Early Millennial. Maurice Sendak, 1991.

A February 2016 article from the BBC, “The millennial generation shaking up the workplace rules,” took me to a Homer Simpson quote: “Just because I don’t care, doesn’t mean I don’t understand.” That quote evoked a tintinnabulation leading me back to Sendak’s Pierre book published circa 1990. The date may be significant – if I were a psychological researcher, I would say that it was conclusive and provide a gangbuster of a coefficient of variation – since millennials are defined as humans born between 1980 and 1999. Well, there you have it: Pierre, Early Millennial.
In the BBC article much is made of how businesses are adjusting or being forced to adjust to this generation of workers. I daresay a millennial would not want to be called a worker, but let’s leave that alone.
According to the BBC article millennials are “purpose driven” and are demanding “more flexibility” in how, where and when they work. Some, not all, companies are indeed adjusting expectations about communication and work schedules. Also, millennials are said to require greater trustworthiness of employers. I have to ask, without any snarkiness, When were employees OK about mistrust in the workplace?
One business responded to its millennials with a “corporate day” requiring them to dress up in suits, to address each other by Mr. or Ms., to meet in interminable meetings and be droned at, without let up, by the CEO, the CFO, the COO, etc., (well, they did not do that but they should have) and, in general to act as if they were back in the grey flannel suit era of the corporate 50s.
The boss of this “corporate day” says (somewhat sinisterly) it was to give his employees "a taste of what a lot of the world is still run like."
I’ll take the now decades-old party atmosphere of the Southwest Air corporate get-togethers to which employees fly in from all over to party and to have frank and open discussions with upper management, including the boss. And, at SWA, to dress on the job pretty much as if Casual Friday were everyday, not a special day sanctioned by the corporate chief.
But, I digress. (See much more about how Southwest Airlines was and is miles ahead in living its values in chapters of my book, Leading from the Middle.)
Frankly, I do not know if there is such a thing as a millennial-type. I like to play with the idea in hopes of getting some democratic workplace ideas across. For example, maybe, just maybe, young workers are helping organizations find their tentative ways to a better workplace for everyone. Nor are labor market forces to be ignored as motivators to make firms do nice things. In the software industry there’s keen competition (a seller’s market) to get and retain workers; it is no coincidence that perks of all kinds are laid on for IT workers. Do these perks matter? Does free dry cleaning (pick up and delivery included) really motivate a worker? It’s nice, but unlikely to spur one to come up with the next great app. But, the notion of giving a “guru” designation and elevated salary to someone outside of the corporate suite just might be a very good idea for retaining a worker who loves what she does and has no interest in being promoted to department head or other management position.
Fred Emery (1925 – 1997), the OD pioneer, pretty much said it all when he set out – based on decades of research - what people want from work, what gets them going:
Adequate elbowroom for decision-making
Opportunity to learn at work
Variety in work
Mutual support and respect
Desirable future

These are significant and substantive motivators for any and all workers. Not a one of these could be termed a Herzbergian “hygiene factor” – those items or perks that motivate not.
Absent even one of Emery’s “wants”, the worker finds himself or herself plodding along, not exactly satisfied and not really working at an aspirational level. Fulfill these “wants” and you will have a dynamic workforce. Possibly this is what can be observed in the startup phenom the world over. One worker in a Latvian startup of about 50 or so millennial FTEs – in the software field – responded most insightfully to me. (I’ve edited her quote slightly to smooth out the grammar.)
“In startups there (is) not so much of traditional corporate hierarchy as things are happening and changing fast, so there must be more of proactive approach and personal interest in what is happening (in the) company from every team member. Those values are characteristic not only inside startup companies, but also in (the) startup community in whole. Actually it would be hard to find such an openness and transparency as well as accessibility of ideas, information and mentoring (other than in the) startup community.”
The last line of this quote from the start up culture suggests those of us slaving away in non-start up work cultures still have much to do. Are there takeaways from the corporate response to the millennial culture? I suggest that we take a good look at the things (real motivators) that seem to work for the start-ups. How can we become more flexible? How can we develop “more of proactive approach and personal interest in what is happening (in the) company from every team member”?
If you hark back to Fred Emery, I think you will see how that can be done.

© Copyright John Lubans 2016

Freedom at Work: Saying No to “Gamification”, Slogans, Mottos, Mantras and Maxims, including Performance Appraisal.

Posted by jlubans on July 16, 2013  •  Leave comment (1)

(This continues my series on what it means to be free at work, what the democratic workplace looks like.)

You’ve seen them, those glossy posters of an iced-over climber staking a flag on a mountaintop or a kayaker soloing a raging river; they’re all about excellence and what it takes (for you!) to be the best. Pretty good photography but is it effective in doing what it is meant to do: goosing the lackadaisical, the disinterested, the fatigued and tired to new levels of production?
Caption: Tom Sawyer’s Fence.
With the internet comes a new term: gamification*. It’s a way to get people to do things they normally would not do – e. g. write long reviews for free, for Amazon and TripAdvisor. In return, we get e-badges, congratulatory e-mails for achieving or aspiring to new levels of contribution. We may even be designated “top contributors!” If this reminds you of Tom Sawyer getting his friends to pay him so they can paint his fence, then you understand gamification. Indeed, gamification concepts have long been applied to work. If you achieve a certain level, you are rewarded along the way, maybe with a gold star, a badge, a medal Now, the computer tracks your progress and e-rewards you to keep you on task and tricks you (willingly), ala Tom Sawyer, to work harder. You are having fun. Right?

Well not really. Gamification – while automated - is not much different than any other external motivator, like the high-flying eagle on the wall poster. You might like the picture, but if you do not personally aspire to soar metaphorically alongside that eagle, then it is not likely you will. Anytime you are exhorted, reminded externally to do better, to give more, to pick up the slack, the assumption is that you are holding back and that you are not giving it your all.

I would go so far as to suggest that Performance Appraisal (PA) is a pre-internet example of gamification. PA is different from much of the new gamification in its explicit “carrot and stick” (rewards and punishment) approach. Most gamification suppresses punishment – Amazon does not upbraid me for failing to review a book I’ve purchased nor does TripAdvisor reproach me for too few reviews. LinkedIn does not admonish me - yet - for failing to post my CV. No, gamification does not at the moment use electrodes to buzz me with gentle reminders that I am, yet again, falling down on the(ir) job, that I have not clicked the SUBMIT button often enough.

Nowadays, most everyone in the library workplace goes through an annual ceremony of boss sitting down with an employee and assigning one of five levels (badges?) to that employee, from Exceptional to Unsatisfactory. Much of this process is tacit, highly ritualized, and pleasing only to HR officers who think – without any quantifiable evidence - that PA makes a positive difference. You disagree? Totally? Well, please show me a study or two concluding that performance appraisal makes a difference instead of stealing hours away from service desks and other real work. The notion that PA forces the boss to talk to the employee tells me that the boss needs to be replaced. Or, there's the other heralded result of PA; an official document that protects the employee from a mean-spirited supervisor. Again, why are we employing such cretinous bosses? PA has little, if anything, to do with the frequent coaching and disciplining, guiding, mentoring, and conversing - all essential components - in the daily relationship between leader and follower. The more independent and accomplished the follower the less frequent the interaction.

“OK, OK”, you exclaim! “You’ve convinced me to tear down (sob!) my inspirational posters, to stop with the Vince Lombardi wannabe exhorting my team to excellence, and to limit PA to an annual conversation about ambitions and goals! Now, what can I do to help my staff be more creative, more industrious, more willing to think about what they do?” “Gamify reference and cataloging?”
Nyet! No easy task or solution. I quote or allude to Fred Emery’s research more than once in my book. His research helps clarify what an organization must provide each worker to augment, perhaps waken, internal motivation:

Adequate elbowroom for decision-making
Opportunity to learn at work
Variety in work
Mutual support and respect
Desirable future

Work towards these ends, then you’ll have a motivated library staff. Some workers will excel regardless, but if you do not provide what Emery concludes most workers want, they won’t be around for long.

*I ran into “gamification” in the Times Literary Supplement: Michael Saler, "How the internet is using us all”. Published: 22 May 2013.

No Bean Bags Here

Posted by jlubans on May 29, 2017  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: SWA’s Ramp Team RDU on a cold and rainy day. Photo by J. Lubans

Two articles, the BBCs “Why ‘cool’ offices don’t always make for a happier workforce” and the Wall Street Journal’s “” stirred up a couple memories. The first was my friend Don Riggs’ strong opinion that his beautiful new library building provide for closed spaces for professional staff. I quote from my 2016 blog entry:
“… Don Riggs at Nova Southeastern University, insist(ed) - over the architect’s objections – that all professional staff have private spaces - with doors - in his new building. He intuited, correctly, no one really wanted to be always on display (and never alone) when working.
Supposedly, the Open Office was to lead to better collaboration.
Stop and think. Was there a factual basis for this idea or was it something imagined by an architect based solely on his nostalgia for the sweet camaraderie he experienced with his project team on all-nighters, (most likely barefoot), in architecture school?”
Another memory was that of my first encounter with the perked office: free lunch and free child care and free dry-cleaning and free onsite fitness workouts, etc. This glimpse came during the DotCom boom when I was invited to visit a start-up NYC software company office pitching for Web business.
While all the perks, including a barista!, were there, I was left wondering if they were not masking a particularly grueling and uncertain business. And, based on the DotCom crash, it appears many of these companies were burning through their start-up money at mach speed. The free gourmet lunch (along with an ever lengthening list of Herzberg’s hygiene - non-motivating – factors) was paid for by investor’s money not by real revenue.
My 2016 “Play at Work” essay cited Fred Emery’s solid-as-a-rock guidance on what people want from work:
Adequate elbow room for decision-making
Opportunity to learn at work
Variety in work
Mutual support and respect
A desirable future.
The BBC article is among the first to penetrate past the gimmick aspect of the fun office.
The author asks the serious "So, What?" Question. What does this type of office get you? He concludes: “It’s a false narrative. Happy workplaces don’t need beanbags, barbecue stations and ball pits.”
While nice, like pleasing and comfortable furniture and decor, what people really want is what Emery put forth decades ago.
It is of course easier to put in a ball pit then to assure your organization provides meaningful work and a desirable future for employees. That takes real leadership – thinking and compassion - but then orgs have all too often gone with the superficial, the hygiene factors, like performance appraisal.
I recall a behind the scenes visit with a ramp team at SouthWest Airlines (See my chapters on SWA in Leading from the Middle). No bean bags here.
Yes, there was a Weber grill, on the tarmac, just outside the operations room, but hardly anything to compare with the haute cuisine at the NY software company.
Heck, the ramp team provided the meat and buns and the camaraderie was real. These folks worked together on every incoming plane, often more than one, unloading luggage, provisioning, and then reloading luggage, all as quickly and safely as possible. All the while helping each other.
They were, and I continue to believe are, the best in the business. Take a look at SWA corporate values; the corporate commitment to those values is what makes this company click.

N.B. My next book, Fables for Leaders, Ezis Press, comes out in September 2017 as an e-book ($9.99) and a soft cover print-on-demand book, ($25.99). The print book, pictured, will feature original illustrations by the renowned Béatrice Coron.

Cover: "Fables for Leaders" PRE-PRINT, 203pp. 2017.

© Copyright John Lubans 2017

Play at Work

Posted by jlubans on November 15, 2016  •  Leave comment (1)

Caption: All smiles. The playful office. Photo by Jonathan Pow.

The title of a recent article, “Nerf guns, beds and beanbag areas: what makes a productive office?” begs a response.
Zombie-like, the notion that external motivators somehow are equal to internal motivators just won’t go away. Software firms in particular – perhaps because of the young workforce - appear particularly unable to separate the two.
BrightHR, the firm in this story, offers up not only nerf guns (don’t like your cubicle neighbor’s slurping his Ramden? Well, blast him!) but also, “space hoppers, scooters, games consoles and a ping pong table,” along with “football nets for impromptu penalty shoot outs and a 60-foot lawn in the middle of the oval shaped office with bean bags and tents for staff to crash in.”
I get the idea. You don’t want people freaking out from a boom or bust workload, so you divert them; more importantly, you give them places – while on the premises for those infamous 80-hour weeks – to go hide and sleep. There’s even a “double bed where exhausted team members can recharge with a power nap.” Maybe that’s what TVs jolly David Letterman had in mind with his dressing room boudoir for young female interns.
BrightHR is a British software firm that offers up HR tools to manage a workforce: “Lateness, sickness and long-term absence from work is challenging so our hr management system notifies managers instantly, enabling you to quickly organise relief staff and view absence patterns.”
So, they’ve designed tracking software, by which the over-extended middle manager can track her people, or as it is often termed, “human resources.” (Let's run this out a bit further. If the system can track the people in the organization, then why not install the data into robots who would counsel the "problem employee". So, here comes this hulking mass of silicone parts right out of R.U.R., wheels up to your cubicle and wants to talk. I imagine some workers might change their mis-behavin' ways. Far fetched? Maybe not. If the only thing left to middle managers is to manage the workforce - to impose discipline, to enforce it, to keep track of deviations - then a robot could do it and maybe even better at a much lower economic cost. That is, if it needs to be done at all. A good organization needs none of this oversight since there is abundant mutual respect and caring for individuals.)

Coding work is intense, no question, so recess into a playground environment may contribute to productivity.
Or, are the toys and tents merely masking a particularly grueling job?
From decades-ago-research we know what people want from work. Fred Emery found six motivators:
“Adequate elbow room for decision-making; Opportunity to learn at work; Variety in work; Mutual support and respect; Meaningfulness; and, A desirable future”
If the nerf guns help with any of these, I am all for them. Or, as one commenter put it: “If your job’s so massively shit you need a nerf gun and children's toys to make it tolerable you should be doing something else.”
The nerf article also looks at the open office space concept, aka, “cubicle land” or in some cases,
“A 2014 survey of 10,500 workers across 14 countries, … found that 69% of people were not satisfied with their working environment, in part due to a lack of privacy.”
I recall my colleague Don Riggs at Nova Southeastern University, insisting - over the architect’s objections – that all professional staff have private spaces with doors in a new building. He intuited, correctly, no one really wanted to be always on display (and never alone) when working.
Supposedly, the Open Office was to lead to better collaboration.
Stop and think. Was there a factual basis for this idea or was it something imagined by an architect based solely on his nostalgia for the sweet camaraderie he experienced with his project team on all-nighters in architecture school?
I’d guess, much like the evidence-less annual ritual of performance appraisal, it was someone’s persuasive but untested idea.
No, I am not indiscriminately finding fault; I’ve got more than a few personal examples of going off on unproductive tangents with zero evidence of an idea’s validity.
But, I did learn from those mistakes so am less likely to repeat them. So, question those latest, hottest ideas and ask to see the supportive data. Ask if productivity is being measured. Is there a before and after analysis? I am not talking about a happiness measure, I am referring instead to some measures, even anecdotal, that confirm better ideas are forthcoming from the playful office vs. the traditional office.
If not, maybe it is time to revisit and seek to implement Fred Emery’s findings on what workers really want.

© Copyright John Lubans 2016

"Fireflies in the Dark*

Posted by jlubans on July 19, 2023  •  Leave comment (0)

Out and about, as is my wont, (see the blog Urban Wanderer) I happened across a new Riga monument, one installed in 2021.
Caption: Gunārs Astra in prison stripes.
According to its sculptor Gleb Panteleev, it’s an “awkward” tribute to the Latvian dissident Gunārs Astra (1931-1988) because Mr. Astra was himself an awkward, difficult, stubborn, and implacable human unwilling to accommodate the Soviet's Orwellian imposition on personal freedom such as the daily indignity of prohibiting the use of his native language, Latvian.
Opposed to communism and Russia’s occupation of Latvia, he was under constant surveillance by the secret police and twice sent to Siberia’s labor camps.
At his second sentencing (seven years of hard labor) in 1983 for anti-Soviet behavior, he risibly confessed that he had indeed photographed some pornographic images and shared them with friends.
But, he denied the trumped up charges of anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda.
His words to the Supreme (kangaroo) Soviet court live on:
"I believe that this time will fade away like an evil nightmare. It gives me the strength to stand here and breathe."
Given amnesty in 1988 as the USSR was falling apart, he died under mysterious circumstances soon after his release – likely, Putinesque poisoning.
Mr. Astra’s unshakeable resolve for freedom, reminds me of the fictional character from the 1967 TV show, The Prisoner. Imprisoned, he has no name, just a number, 6.
Like Mr. Astra he resolutely asserts, “I will not be pushed, filed, stamped, indexed, briefed, debriefed or numbered. My life is my own.
No doubt Riga’s new monument was not appreciated by the Kremlin who for decades was avoided by its neighbors as a bear not to be poked, even after its illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014.
Then came Russia’s full out war on Ukraine on 24 February 2022
Astra’s prophesy of the "evil nightmare" fading away is slowly happening. But, it is now 40 years later and Latvia and other former Soviet captives are finally and decisively ridding themselves of the many lingering physical and psychological reminders of Soviet times.
The so-called Victory (more aptly, Occupation) tower crashed down in a cloud of dust and much chagrin amidst Latvia’s post-1944 Russian population some of whom stubbornly, to this day, resist speaking Latvian and a few (one only hopes!) still yearn for “the invasion”.
Well, the invasion has come but it’s 600 miles away in Ukraine.
Caption: Only the dirt base remains.
More pointed and apolitical is the removal of the Pushkin statue in Kronvalda Park this summer.
Placed there in 2009 by an administrative fiat by Riga’s pro-Russian mayor, Nils Ušakovs, it took the war on Ukraine for Latvia to reach its limits for humoring Russia's explicit smuggery and thuggery.
Obviously, Pushkin, the famed Russian writer, was put there to insinuate to Latvians the superiority of Russian literature.
Instead it was just another Russification attempt, even 18 years after Latvia became a free republic again in 1991!

*Fireflies hint that there is light in the dark. If there is darkness and there is no light, then there is no idea about it." Gunārs Astra.

ONLY a click away:

And, my book on democratic workplaces, which incorporates much of what Emery and Herzberg professLeading from the Middle, is available at Amazon.

© Copyright all text and photographs by John Lubans 2023

Moos and Mozart: Music and Other “Motivators”

Posted by jlubans on May 30, 2020  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: The Ingénues band serenading cows at the UW-Madison's dairy barn (1930).

You have no doubt heard the decades-old claim that music improves milk production. In a 2001 study at the University of Leicester researchers found that milk production went up by as much as 3 percent when cows listened to slow tunes like R.E.M.'s "Everybody Hurts" and
Simon & Garfunkel's "Bridge over Troubled Water."
The cows preferred their milking moods enhanced by slow songs rather than lively ones like “Great Balls of Fire” by piano thumping Jerry Lee Lewis.
Not long ago the BBC reported psychological studies about retail store’s music’s influence on listener buying patterns, “What is shop music doing to your brain?”
Almost all the studies of music and productivity suggest a single digit percentage improvement attributable to music, be it more milk, diners spending more in restaurants, or better reasoning and cognition (“the Mozart effect”).
So, that brings me to Muzak in the office. Does music help or hinder workers’ mindsets and how workers go about doing their work?
First a caution.
Many of these studies are by psychologists. There are few disciplines with a worse reputation for reaching irreproducible conclusions.
Moreover, psychology has recently had some core studies faulted for being staged, coached, and otherwise prejudiced by researchers.
And, then, there’s the infamous Dutch psychologist who skipped the R&D part; like Baron Munchausen he made up a vast number of studies to suit his (always liberal) hypotheses. Until exposed, those who agreed with the fraudulent outcomes made him into an international celebrity.
In any case, does music enhance how well workers work?
Muzak, back in the 1940s, first laid claim to the notion that music could alter, for the better, a worker’s mood. An improved mood meant a happier worker (like the cows). The implication being a contented worker would produce more of a product.
Obviously, all of us would prefer milk from contented cows not from disgruntled ones. Imagine Bossie, chewing on her cud, muttering Karl Marx: “The last capitalist we hang shall be the one who sold us the rope!”
It’s why I spend more to buy eggs laid by free-range chickens – vs. those locked up in egg factories with their copies of Das Kapital.
I think that free range eggs are likely more natural than hens and eggs hurried along a 24/7 production line.
At one place I worked, some workers wanted music.
The boss said, let’s give it a try and see what happens. The result, as you would expect around any workplace amenity, were objections to hearing an office mate’s music (sound level and selection) played over his or her radio or boom box.
Like air conditioning, it was too cold for some, too warm for others and just right for a few.
We thought the problem solved once the Walkman showed up. Now, each person could have his or her own listening device. Alas, the headphones were leaky and as annoying as sitting next to someone having a one-sided phone conversation.
Now, with open office design – people crammed together like hens in an egg factory - we probably need noise suppression more than music.
Indeed, a study at the University of Sydney found that sound privacy was the leading cause of an ailment knows as “cubicle frustration”.
It’s time for a fundamental question, one I have asked multiple times in the ten years of this blog.
What do workers want? Presumably, we want to know an answer to this question so that workers will be content and by extension give their best to any task at hand.
Tech companies have probably offered more free motivational amenities than anyone in the history of workplaces: yoga classes, bring-your-pet-to-work everyday, coffee/wine/beer bars, chair massage, hammocks and sand boxes, etc., including Happiness Officers☺
Do these initiatives (work conditions) motivate? Are they somehow better than any other external motivator? F. Herzberg termed efforts like these as no more than positive Kicks In The Ass (KITA) and while slightly better than negative KITAs (fear) none result in genuine motivation, a motivation that raises productivity and innovation.
Not one of the listed perks addresses what workers really want. Years ago, Fred Emery listed out the real internal motivators:
Adequate elbowroom for decision-making
Opportunity to learn at work
Variety in work
Mutual support and respect
Desirable future
If these factors are in an organization’s DNA and practice, you can expect positive results.

© Copyright John Lubans 2020

Lost Your Mojo*?

Posted by jlubans on August 18, 2020  •  Leave comment (0)


Who’s to blame? Is it you or is it corporate culture, the environment in which you work?
A study from 2015 suggests that it’s more the culture than the individual. It’s understood, it seems, that given the right corporate culture an employee will align herself and make the most of a good job.
I am not so sure; you could be the wrong fit for a great job.
But, there’s no question that a star employee under a freedom-granting administration may well become less luminous under a new boss jealous of an empowered employee.
I have worked in both settings and excelled under the former and far less so under the latter.
Also, I have seen up close and personal with one organization often cited for its good mojo: Southwest Airlines.
The many SWA people I interviewed loved their work and that love carried over into great service and successful returns on investment.
Sure, there may have been a few that did not buy into the SWA way of working, but they may have been having a bad day, or, more likely, had personal problems not related to the workplace.
I often refer to SWA in my blog. For just one reference out of many, go to this link.
Unlike some in the business press who regard SWA as a management cliché (sort of like the decades ancient allusion to 3Ms coming up with – out of nowhere – its Post-It notes).
I keep referring to SWA because it continues to hold true to its values over the decades.
According to the study there are 6 or more influences on workplace motivation. The authors term this as “Total Motivation” or ToMo: play, purpose, potential, emotional pressure, economic pressure, and inertia.
The first three influences are positive and direct motivators and the bottom three are indirect and tend to de-motivate.
As many previous researchers (e.g. Fred Emery)
on why people work have shown, the more external or indirect a “force” the less positive in motivating anyone.
For example, if you have no clue why you are doing the job (inertia), that condition will require more than coffee to get you “pumped” for the daily grind.
Ditto for going to work solely for economic gain or because you are trying to please someone other than yourself.
If you enjoy your work (it’s almost like play) and the greater the future potential (gaining experience and an explicit career ladder) and a positive, meaningful purpose for the job it’s likely to trigger your internal motivation to do a very good job.
The 2015 article is not an opinion piece but a delineation of quantitative ways to gauge how an organization’s culture sways individual motivation; the researchers calculate a total motivation (ToMo) score for each variable. They conclude that leaders can indeed successfully change corporate culture for the better by pursuing a higher ToMo score.
Why is this important?
To quote the authors: “… cultures that inspired more play, purpose, and potential, and less emotional pressure, economic pressure, and inertia, produced better customer outcomes.”
And, getting to the bottom line, they conclude that those corporations with the most positive ToMo scores perform better than industry peers with lower ToMo scores.

Lost you workplace mojo?
Take this quiz and rank your response as high, low or medium.
If you get “Highs” for Question 3, 4, and 5 that suggests you have a high ToMo and probably a pretty effective personal Mojo going on.
And, if you get “Highs” for Questions 1, 2 and 6 you probably lack personal motivation hence your mojo may be AWOL as well.
QUIZ. I work because:
1. Without this job I would be worried I couldn't reach my financial objectives.
2. There is no good reason for doing so.
3. The work itself is fun – I derive pleasure – from the work.
4. This type of work will help me reach my personal goals.
5. I believe the work has an important purpose.
6. If I didn't work, I would disappoint people or myself I care about.

*For those readers who only know the word MOJO from ,
mojo also refers to an almost magical personal power, an infectious enthusiasm, and a palpable motivation.
While we (most of us) laughed at Austin’s raunchy bedroom mojo, there’s much more to it.

ONLY a click away, now 40% off all summer long only at this link:

And, my book on democratic workplaces, Leading from the Middle, while not discounted, is available at Amazon.

© Copyright John Lubans 2020

Deadwood, Quiet Quitters, Lifers, Goldbrickers, Shirkers, Slackers, et al.

Posted by jlubans on October 10, 2023  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: "Well, I finally managed to talk the boss into cleaning out a lot of the deadwood around the office, never dreaming, of course, that that would include me." Cartoon by Stan Hunt, September 14, 1957, Saturday Evening Post.

How to deal with deadwood in the workplace? Several years ago, that's the question I was during a teambuilding workshop.
The question was not unusual, since in settled organizations - like the ones I worked in - new hires often land amidst a large number of incumbents who?ve been on the job for decades. And, some incumbents are more "set in their ways" than others!
What is a new manager to do?
I forget my answer at that workshop, but I asked Google's Bard - an AI experiment.
I wanted to test how it (Bard) works and whether it would have a sensible-sounding answer.
Bottom line, it did!
In a better-than-expected version of a freshman term paper, Bard listed out steps leaders can take along with quite a good grasp of the topic and its difficulties:
"In the past, goldbricking and deadwood were more easily identified. Employees who were not working hard would often be seen goofing off, socializing, or simply wasting time. However, in today's modern workplace, it can be more difficult to spot these employees.
One reason for this is that many companies now have more flexible work arrangements. Employees may be working remotely, from home, or on a hybrid schedule.
This makes it harder for managers to track their employees' productivity and engagement.
Another reason is that many companies now have a more diverse workforce.
Employees come from different backgrounds and cultures, and they have different expectations of work.
This can make it more difficult for managers to create a work environment that is motivating and engaging for everyone."

Well, OK. How would Bard fix it?
"Set clear expectations. Make sure the employee knows exactly what is expected of them in terms of their job duties, performance goals, and deadlines.
Provide regular feedback. Let the employee know how they are doing and where they need to improve. Be specific and constructive in your feedback.
Offer training and development opportunities. If the employee is struggling with their job, offer them training and development opportunities to help them improve their skills.
Create a supportive work environment. Make sure the employee feels valued and respected at work. Encourage them to ask for help when they need it.
Give the employee opportunities to contribute. Find ways for the employee to use their skills and talents to make a positive contribution to the team

All sensible ideas and quite in keeping with the current thinking on the topic!
But, there was little of anything of a breakthrough in Bard's prescription and that is, of course, one of AI's limits, since its job, is it not?, is to reformat the published record in response to a particular query.
Yet, Bard's 1200 word essay - produced in under a few seconds - would get a pretty good grade as a freshman writing assignment! So, there's plenty there for my faculty friends to worry about.
While Bard offered pro-active suggestions - with which we all can concur - it did not mention how a manager's behavior toward workers can inhibit or accelerate quiet quitting. Or, even better, to encourage workers to "go the extra mile" in the workplace.
That extra mile was on display on a recent trip:
Early one morning, my wife and I had breakfast in a Boston airport hotel lobby.
My wife was trying to get the last bit of coffee out of the urn on the coffee bar and a man, passing by and observing my wife's efforts, said he?d take care of it, took the urn into the kitchen and returned with a fresh one.
It turns out he was our morning shuttle driver. I doubt that replenishing coffee urns is in his job description!
He was going the extra mile. Why did he do that? Was caring for others in his DNA or had he been given permission and encouragement by the hotel to make that extra effort?
An Harvard Business Review article, "Quiet Quitting Is About Bad Bosses, Not Bad Employees", explores the influence a manager can have on quiet quitters.
The study concludes that "managers who "balance getting results with a concern for others? needs" were more often perceived as effective managers. Those unable to provide that balance were seen as ineffective managers.
According to the HBR study, "(T)he top behavior that helps effective leaders balance results with their concern for team members was trust. When direct reports trusted their leader, they also assumed that the manager cared about them and was concerned about their wellbeing."
And that mutual trust led to a dramatic difference between effective and ineffective managers in the number of quiet quitters in the surveyed organizations: "the least effective managers have three to four times" as many quiet quitters.

ONLY a click away, some shirker and slacker fables for the workplace:

And, my book on democratic workplaces has much to say about trust building and effective leadership: Leading from the Middle, is available at Amazon.

Copyright text by John Lubans 2023