Employee engagement

I was reading Jerry Shih’s article in Quality Management Forum from this past fall and found it thought provoking but incomplete. I agree with the spirit pointing to a bigger understanding of what motivates people and therefore leads to larger bottom line success. People in the US are no longer motivated by a shared sense of duty to job or country. As Shih alludes to, command-and-control leadership and their associated structures are not as useful today.

The ordering of individual’s value is not representative of an entire population.

I would like to expand upon Shih’s ideas and offer a more complete treatment of motivation within employees leading to improved bottom line success for the organization – a whole bottom line. Mr. Shih laid the foundation of his ideas in the framework of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. While this model is useful it suffers from an ecological fallacy as defined by Dr. Geert Hofstede, e.g. confusing within-group variation and between-group variation. Hofstede rightly shows that using Maslow’s Hierarchy has limited applicability, and is narrowly valid for a US mindset. The ordering of individual’s value is not representative of an entire population. Therefore, using this framework for a US population has some significant drawbacks when talking about individuals. Still, the arguments he makes in general points to a real condition: Employees and employers do not value the same things with the same weight or priority.

Modeling individual behaviors

Shih puts forth a simple model to get the conversation going as a three factor function: Price, Quality & Service. For individuals this model is highly incomplete as people are, well, individuals. We are all highly nuanced. Even when aggregated into a collective group, such as an organization, this model is not sufficiently inclusive to be of use to practitioners or serious managers. Using Integral lenses fill in a much richer view of an organization to actually work on the problem of differing values and priorities between employees (individually or collectively) and the organization (as a whole or as a reflection of management).

Quadrant lens

Let’s briefly look at this situation using the quadrant lens. The fundamental issue at hand is a difference between individual’s UL reality and the organization’s LL norms. Both are subjective and hidden from direct observation. The interplay is subtle and likely not reducable beyond this point as organizations differ widely in this regard, just as much as individuals do. Let’s not confuse the way money is made (LR) nor the measurement system of the bottom line (UR) quite yet.

Using Integral Coaching Canada’s concept of quadrant orientation yields even more information. Most businesses that I have encountered seem to orient either LR (rule based, command-and control) or UR (action based, results oriented). For those individuals built the same way, organizational life is probably easier because they think the same way. Individuals may have different priorities than the organization so knowing where people are coming from when disoriented or thinking about change helps guide a more successful course.

This also poses a challenge in that this is a subjective problem in an objective context. Practitioners and leaders working on such a change will benefit greatly from realizing the gap between subjective reality and objective reality. Gaining alignment in a group where this value and priority disconnect is a problem, such as in lower than desired employee engagement, will have to work to access all of the quadrants but in specific amounts and ways.

Integral theory in practice

So practitioners are better suited thinking in terms of how accessible is UL to individuals and how open is the culture to discussing their LL norms. The interplay between UL and LL will be unique from here. Dialog will only bring about awareness (UL). But moving too quickly to a roll out plan or initiative, the usual fashion organizations deal with ALL changes, will not have efficacy since it is all UR. Working in the collective realm, LL and LR, is unfamiliar to most managers but these too need to be included in any meaningful change. Resolving the gap in values and priorities for greater alignment is something we’ll develop over the next few posts.

Russell Lindquist

Author Russell Lindquist

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