In the world of communications consultancy at least, you just can’t find good staff any more.
When I’m recruiting, I’m usually trying to hire into roles where people are tasked with creating intellectual value (producers, creatives, planners, consultants). The ones that really get it? They’re few and far between. Even when there’s a recession raging, the fight for talent is raging along too.
Then, once they’re on board, they might perform beautifully for a while, but it can be patchy. And clients expect flawless service – that’s the so-called hygiene level. Nothing less will do.
But you can’t compel people to deliver consistently at that level. Even financial incentives don’t appear to work (Dan Ariely and others bear that one out). They have to want to perform at their top of their ability.
In past lives, I’ve tried emulating Zappos’ recruitment ethos in order to find people who genuinely want to deliver the requisite consistently high standards. Zappos has a strict policy to only hire candidates whose values match the organisation’s.
But, it still didn’t work for us. Maybe the notion of values is getting a little tired. After all, especially at interview stage, who wouldn’t want to espouse ambition, passion, professionalism etc.
So I’m on a quest to find out the essence of what really makes us want to do stuff – hence this series of four blogs on motivation – this is the last.
In my last blog I was a little cavalier with Michael Wu’s talk on gamification. I admit I over-simplified his analysis to suggest that all you need to do to change behaviour is pull a trigger. I was referring to Fogg’s behaviour model which talks about action taking place once motivation, ability and trigger coincide at a given point in time. This makes sense, but still doesn’t nail the motivation bit. Why do they want to do it?
Perhaps though, why is the wrong question. Perhaps the question is what makes them happy?
Wu introduced me to Csikszentmihalyi’s notion of flow, and a penny dropped.
Csikszentmihalyi argues that people are most happy when they are in a state of ‘flow’. This is a state of such concentration that people ignore all other factors – physical, environmental and temporal conditions. To achieve flow a balance must be achieved between challenge and ability. If the person is not skilled enough and the challenge is too hard, or if the person is more skilled than the task requires, flow will not occur. Strike the right balance and the task, to quote the man himself ‘becomes work that you are doing for its own sake’.
The implications for gamification here are clear – to keep a player interested: in the zone, the game architect needs to progressively adjust the balance between the level of challenge and the ability of the player.
But it occurred to me, this is how we can ensure we always hire the right people who will deliver excellence consistently.
It’s a simple three step process.
First we need to identify the core function of a given job.
Second we need to structure our interviews to discover those candidates who get into a flow state when they perform that task. Hire them. Assuming a base level of aptitude is there, values and technical skills are secondary.
Third, throughout the term of their employment we need to continue to create a flow environment. This involves progressively orchestrating the right conditions that will continue to produce flow. Adding just the right combination of complexity and challenge.
Admittedly this is not easy. We’re also going to need to find managers who get into a state of flow over this kind of attentive and proactive people and business management.
It will be tricky to manufacture but surely it’s just a more refined version of what we are supposed to do anyway to keep our staff happy and motivated. If we run the kind of company where we find ourselves repeating that old chestnut ‘people are our business’ perhaps it’s time to start nurturing those seedlings and creating the right environment for flow.
In practice, good recruiters, or people who hire well, have either cracked this and kept it to themselves, or do it instinctively. But in the main, in the agency world, we don’t even follow the basics of good recruitment practice. We don’t have clear job descriptions. We don’t have a clear set of hiring criteria. We don’t follow process to ensure consistency and we don’t interview effectively. We rely on pot luck and uneducated gut feel. And then let our staff fend for themselves once they’re in the door.
So there is an element of look first unto ourselves if our team isn’t working well.
Getting the basics right would make a massive difference in hiring the right staff. But if we’re already doing all of that, then I am convinced that a bloody minded adherence to only hiring people who get into flow performing the task we require is the way to go.
Flow is the silver bullet.