The key to innovation may be better employee hygiene

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Today’s drive for continual innovation, as it is taught, as it is written about, as it is sought, and as it is crowd sourced has a lot to do with early pioneers in management theory.  For example why is hygiene important to innovation?  Innovation needs motivation and motivation needs hygiene to succeed.

The humanistic  management school emphasizes, however strange it may sound, the human aspects of organizations.  The humanistic school stands in direct contrast to the mechanistic views of people, jobs, and organizations.  A distinct management theory split from mechanistic to the introduction of humanistic views is usually assigned to the mid-1940s, or just after World War II.

Who Punted My Cheese

We all know the saying, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”.  By blowing some of the dust off first edition humanist theorists we might highlight where we’ve come, what we’ve forgotten, and what we should learn, as well as incorporate their thinking more effectively into what we read when we peel back the latest Harvard Business Review, McKinsey Quarterly, or Who Moved My Cheese.  It is worth a stroll with the pioneers of modern management theory who include:

  • Abraham Maslow
  • Frederick Herzberg and his famous work Bernard Mausner and Barabara Bloch Snyderman
  • Douglas McGregor
  • Elton Mayo, and
  • Mary Parker Follett

These humanistic thinkers are in direct contrast to their mechanistic contemporaries:

  • Frederick Winslow Taylor,
  • Henry Ford, and
  • Alfred Sloan

Taylor, Ford, and Sloan were very engineer-focused towards the science of efficiency, less on the drivers of human performance.  Though it is true you can design an assembly line to produce more widgets through engineering and time studies, however, until you involve the humanistic view how does the cost of quality intersect with the people performing on the line?  How do the human interactions along that assembly line impact throughput?

The Power of the Self-Actualiztion Pyramid

The nexus of Maslow and Herzberg continually fascinate me.  We’ve all come across Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, first published in 1943.  In this, he argues an ascending scale of needs understood, if people are motivated.

Toby Elwin, Maslow, hierarchy of needs You will find my crude picture to the left.  Needs build upon each other and each need is satisfied before another need sought.

Some things to keep in mind when looking at Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs:

  • People will never land on a need and be satisfied, they will always move towards a higher aspiration or need
  • When people’s self-actualization is achieved they’ve reached their potential
  • People always want more, but if they are stuck trying to meet safety and belonging needs, can they really ever deliver innovation?
  • In today’s environment of little loyalty, layoffs, and job reductions, where is your workforce getting their needs for safety and belonging?

So, if our employees don’t feel safe in their job, don’t feel safe they’ll have a job, or don’t feel like they belong to your organization’s future, how can we expect innovation or better, faster, cheaper, smarter, processes and harder-working employees?

Frederick Herzberg, along with Bernard Mausner and Barabara Bloch Snyderman, published The Motivation to Work in 1959.  The focus on hygiene factors, not oral hygiene as the American Dental Association has conditioned us to think, but hygiene as basic needs at work.  Work hygiene is not keeping the refrigerator clean, hygiene includes:  working conditions, supervision levels, company policies benefits, and, importantly, job security.

Motivation and Hygiene – Repeat and Rinse

If hygiene is poor or deteriorating then employee’s develop poor attitudes and dissatisfaction.  Poor hygiene factors are a barrier to good work environments.  Hygiene improvement reduces barriers to “true job satisfaction”.

Hygiene enables job satisfaction.  Only after hygiene concerns are mitigated can someone than look at job satisfaction.  And just a quick peek at Herzberg’s motivation theories reveals achievement and recognition as the 2 most important motivations for workers.

Hygiene factors are the enabler or foundation’s strength that motivation is then built upon.  Harvard Business School psychologist Teresa Amabile observed, “Intrinsic motivation is conducive to creativity, but extrinsic motivation is detrimental.”

Toby Elwin, satisfaction, dissatisfaction, Frederick Herzberg, motivation Source: Justin Gerber

Herzberg’s research indicated that motivation takes 2 forms:  to avoid pain and to grow psychologically.  Improvement in hygiene factors alone is not sufficient to provide satisfaction.  But without hygiene there can be no hope for satisfaction.  Just as he found recognition without achievement a hollow motivator.

Growth or Pain

We have a long way for any effective changes and innovation drives from our current employment environment if we are to gain the elemental needs for safety and hygiene required for the innovations demands we put on our workforce.  The environment of loyalty is under assault by more than a decade’s worth of the following:

  • Outsourcing
  • Offshoring
  • Layoffs
  • Downsizing
  • Pay freezes
  • Mergers
  • Buy outs
  • Reduced benefits
  • Furloughs
  • Discrimination (age, employment status, or other)
  • Reduced benefits
  • Hiring freezes
  • Shutdowns

Before focusing on innovation and creativity, take a look at where your organization stands through Maslow’s safety and belonging and Herzberg’s hygiene factors.  If those are lacking, you certainly can not expected a motivated workforce.

Look beyond their respective Amazon book sales rank and if in the 1950s is was good enough for Herzberg to ask, “How do you motivate employees?”  I think it is equally relevant 60 years later.  Plus most of what you are reading relies on both Maslow and Herzberg’s pioneering thoughts.

Where Ideas May Come

Just to try this new set of glasses on for size, check out the link to an October Wired Magazine interview with Kevin Kelly and Steven Johnson on Where Ideas Come From and give it a read through with a safety and hygiene lens prescription.

I continue to see many managers and leaders with a mechanistic view.  Let’s put World War II management and leadership styles behind us for good.  If you want innovation, it’s time for some lessons in hygiene.

No doubt I got some things wrong, or left out some important ideas.  Please let me know what you think and suggestions you have for me to add value.

Bonus:  Seminal Harvard Business Review Article by Frederick Herzberg One More Time:  How Do You Motivate Employees? open as .pdf

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