Can Autonomy Mastery and Purpose Work in Today’s Business Environment?

Paul Hebert Compensation/Cash Money, Employee Communications, Employee Relations, Employment Branding and Culture, Engagement and Satisfaction, Influence, Organizational Development, Paul Hebert, Performance, Total Rewards

We’ve all been beat over the head for the last 18 months or so with the idea that incentives don’t work.  We’ve watched Wall Street bonuses become the “it girl” for bad incentives.  We’ve read and listened to Dan Pink talk about how incentives are not the best way to drive performance in an organization.  As HR people we get it.  We know a more holistic and enlightened approach is the best way forward.

But a thought struck me as I read yet another survey about employee engagement scores dropping and how companies must apply a longer-term focus on employee development and engagement.

Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose (AMP) – the Dan Pink solution – can only work if you have a long runway.

In other words… AMP cannot be implemented in a quarter or month or a day.  In order for a company to see any results from a strategy that uses these tools, they need time.

And time we don’t have.

We don’t have it as an organization.  And we don’t have it as employees.

We NEED (Want) It Now

The economy has taken a huge financial toll on our employees.  Raises have become scarce and if they are found at all they are in the very low single digits.  All the while, inflation has maintained its speed.  Even with raises, employees have less money for the lifestyle they’ve grown accustomed to.  An article on MarketWatch from August  says:

“Employees will get an average increase of about 2.8% in 2012 on average, up slightly from the 2.6% employers said they plan to shell out this year, according to a survey of 773 U.S. companies by Towers Watson, a consulting firm. Those figures include all types of workers, from executives to clerical workers, exempt and nonexempt, salaried and those paid by the hour.”

But the article goes on to say…

“The consumer price index for all urban consumers rose 3.6% in the 12 months ending July 2011.”

This creates a real problem.  Employees are looking for a better way… a better job… better pay, a better benefits package.  And they are looking to get that in the short term.  They need it in the short term.

Companies are looking for more engagement, innovation and commitment.  And they are looking for that in the short term.  They need it in the short term.

Unfortunately, what we all want – can’t be done quickly.

As good, moral corporate people we want to be more sophisticated and run the company based on autonomy, mastery and purpose. And as employees we want to work at a company that gives us those things.

But neither audience wants to wait for them.  The employee needs security and safety.  The company wants confidence the employees will stay long enough so that the AMP approach shows a return.  But it won’t happen.

It’s a push.

Everyone Blinks

When given the opportunity to jump ship to a new company (which always looks better – grass being greener and all) the employee will take that chance.  The devil you know is always scarier than the devil you don’t.  The companies, having little faith their employees will stick around and contribute once given autonomy, mastery and purpose – don’t invest in those elements and end up falling back on the tried and true – reward them now or get them out.

My read – in order for companies and employees to really reach their potential and get what they both want, both groups have to have faith in the future.

But no one does.

Employees don’t trust the company.  The company doesn’t trust the employee.  Result?  They both retreat and go with the less risky approach.  They hold back, they go for the quick win.  They go for the sure thing that is visible and tangible.

For employees, they look for the quick reward –typically the salary increase from a new employer.  For the company – it’s quick rewards and easy interventions– whether incentives for measurable short-term sales increases, cost cutting or impacting some other line item that can be measured in the quarterly reports.

Real engagement that drives real company results is a function of trust and time.  Both of which are in short supply for all interested parties.

For Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose to work, you need to trust your employees and they need to trust your company.

So… my questions:  As employees and organizations, are we in a negative feedback loop?  And if so, what is the way out?

I have some thoughts – but am more interested in yours. Can we actually create the trust needed on both sides in order to leverage the more sustainable motivation and engagement principles or are we doomed to continue short-termism?