Thrive by Design: The Neuroscience that Drives High-Performance Cultures (Forbes Books, 2017), by Don Rheem, reviewed by Steve Gladis, June 2018.
Overview: As a species, humans are compelled to work together on teams. Survival as a species has always depended on teams; for example, early hunter-gatherers were only able to survive by taking down large animals or farming large areas with teams of people. In today’s high-pressure, competitive workplace, we require that same kind of connection and teamwork to survive and compete. As herd animals, we need to feel connected. The author concludes that a great job in the future will be more about how it feels than how much it pays. So, creating conditions that sustain motivation, provide meaning and instill trusted relationships will produce high-performance cultures. Thus valid, regular feedback and recognition of people on the team makes individuals and the team stronger and more high-performing.
1. The Evolving Workplace. We’ve moved from the Age of Compliance to the Age of Choice when it comes to talent. People now have many more options and control over their employment. As a result, many people seek not only career opportunities but meaning and purpose in their professions. My-way-or-the-highway leaders will suffer epic talent losses in the coming decades. Attachment theory indicates that we’re wired to connect as humans, and when attachment is absent, we feel isolated, fearful, and vulnerable. Having reliable, trusted resources at work supports a thriving culture. Leaders who provide a relational culture (values, mission, vision), not simply a “cool” culture, develop high-performance. Our limbic, early warning system provides survival instincts and overrides our conscious brain—control precedence. When employees are immersed in a toxic environment, their brains divert important resources from problem solving and innovation to here-and-now survival. Thus, they become worn down, are exhausted and burned out. Our brains ask two questions, especially at work: What’s next? And, How am I doing? Leaders who provide regular, positive, honest feedback develop high-performance cultures.
2. Employee Engagement. Leaders who deliver predictable, consistent, and fair behavior; provide clear mission, vision and values; and, offer regular feedback and recognition to employees will attract and retain key talent. And, employees who feel like they’re in a safe environment will thrive. Leaders may be of three types: 1) Traditional—top down, hierarchical; 2) Motivational and Charismatic; and, 3) Transformational, team focused and relational. Isolation diminishes the capacity of people. They need connections to colleagues to free up their mental resources to become more innovative. Disengaged employees pull down strong performers, not the other way around. Don’t let negative employees hijack the culture. Leaders must model the behavior they want. Positive leadership strategically moves cultures using a positive bias that supports employee well-being, productivity and engagement. High-performance teams have a 5:1 (positive to negative) ratio of interactions. Effective leaders offer 3 intentional gifts: Validation—recognizing worth of another; Recognition—praising performance, behavior, attitude; Feedback—monthly meetings to give each employee clarity, focus and offer two-way communication.
3. The Accountable Leader. Without accountability, high-performers get discouraged and progress stalls. Both individual and organizational obstacles lead to such stalls. Individual obstacles to accountability: Learned helplessness, victim mentality, and holding grudges. To thwart these obstacles, leaders need to listen, be vulnerable and invite employees to be part of the solution. Organizational obstacles to accountability: Poor priorities, silos, avoiding conflict. To counter such organizational obstacles, leaders who offer inclusive decision making as a group and have open and honest communication create high-performance organizations. The old accounting saying—what don’t get measured, don’t get done—holds true. Metrics make a difference. Measuring engagement is important and must be done well to ensure you’re measuring engagement, not satisfaction; it’s of sufficient length without being either superficial or taxing; and the metrics correlate to engagement principles.
4. Culture of Engagement. There are 4 types of engagements at any company or organization. 1) Actively Engaged—these are your highest performers, who are in a calling. 2) Engaged—they have a positive mindset. 3) Somewhat Disengaged—these folks are ambivalent and have a wishy-washy commitment. 4) Actively Disengaged—these folks are checked out and toxic. Leaders need to give employees a sense of safety, clear focus, and training to create better engagement. Determine the level of engagement by using a valid and reliable engagement instrument. Leadership needs to get the results and issue several key themes to employees to show they’ve been heard.