Archive for the ‘Emotional Equations’ Category
I sip my lemongrass tea and watch with divine curiosity. Like hundreds of thousands of her fellow island people, the elderly Balinese woman places a series of daily morning offerings (known as Canang Sari) at strategic places around the home. The tropical scent of frangipani and incense wafts throughout the indoor/outdoor living room surrounded by verdant rice paddy fields. Even though no one other than me is watching, she bows with respect each time she places the palm leaf-based offering on the ground. These daily devotional gifts are a way of life in Bali and part of their Hindu/animist belief system dedicated to pleasing the gods and warding off demons with this ritual.
Whether we’re conscious of it or not, our work and personal lives are made up of daily rituals including when we eat our meals, how we shower or groom, or how we approach our daily descent into the digital world of email communication. Our habits comfort us much like the Balinese feel reassured by their morning offerings. But, have you ever taken an inventory of your daily rituals and how they’re serving you? And, have you ever imagined what daily rituals could make you a better leader or a happier person?
About a decade ago, I experimented with a daily offering at the worst of times for my company. As CEO, I could see that the dot-com bust was taking a huge toll on the psycho-hygiene of our hotel company. Knowing that creating a culture of recognition was one means of developing a ripple of positivity in an organization, I made it a practice of giving a minimum of two heartfelt expressions of recognition to two different people in the company each weekday. My rule was that it had to be unexpected by the recipient, it had to be specific in terms of what I was thanking them for, it needed to have a level of detail that was more like a paragraph than a sentence, and – if possible – it needed to be done in person. I tried this for a month and found that like a stone falling into a pond, the reverberating effect of people feeling significant by being caught doing something right helped change the mood and morale around the offices. My daily offering was the American workplace equivalent of a Balinese gift to the gods.
The Balinese could teach us a few things about how to create the conditions for a happy culture. One of my favorite Emotional Equations is the one about Happiness which is defined by Wanting What We Have divided by Having What We Want. The numerator of this equation is all about Practicing Gratitude, finding the time to really want we have rather than take it for granted. A daily offering is one means of doing that. The denominator – having what we want – is the act of Pursuing Gratification. When we jump on that never-ending treadmill of aspiring to have what we want in life, it can create a momentary adrenaline high but it also can distract us from all that we already have in our lives. Some dictionaries define “pursuit” as “to chase with hostility.” At work, do we chase happiness with an edge of hostility? I saw some of that at the mall this holiday season.
We can either be conscious or unconscious about our personal daily rituals as well as our organizational rituals. I just finished reading a groundbreaking book by Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer called “The Progress Principle.” Based upon giving a large sampling of employees in seven diverse companies a daily journal along with precise instructions about how to review their work experiences of the day, the authors were able to create one of the most authoritative studies of the inner emotional life of American workers. And, they were able to show that the most fruitful means of managing or leading a work group is to give them a meaningful sense that they were making progress and had the resources and encouragement to feel like they were living up to their potential. It’s a very instructive read that I highly recommend. But, one of the most interesting lessons of their study was just how much the employees got out of their daily ritual of reflecting on their work day. Here’s a quote from one manager who was disappointed that the daily journal study was ending: “I am sorry this is coming to an end. It forced me to sit back and reflect on the day’s happenings. This daily ritual was very helpful in making me more aware of how I should be motivating and interacting with the team.”
Starting tomorrow, what offering, ritual, or habit are you going to start practicing that is going to serve you in your personal or work life?
The psychology of confidence is just as important in the boardroom as the bedroom. As Wikipedia suggests, “Confidence can be a self-fulfilling prophecy as those without it fail or don’t try because they lack it and those with it may succeed because they have it rather than because of an innate ability.”
Harvard Business School Professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter wrote a book “Confidence” which could be distilled down to the following: Losing streaks are often created and then perpetuated when people lose confidence in their leaders and systems, while winning streaks are fueled by confident people who are secure in their own abilities and the ability of their leaders. Winning streaks are characterized by continuity and continued investment, while losing streaks are marked by disruption and a lack of investment that typically give way to a self-fulfilling prophecy of failure. Long-term winners often face the same problems as long-term losers, but they just respond differently. They know how to recover quickly and not let failure mess with their head.
We’ve all seen classic human behavior when our confidence is shaken. It could be the coach who throws out the game plan and tries the “Hail Mary” leading to further embarrassment of the team or the business group that starts blaming each other for petty issues. Or, at the high school dance, it could be the shy guy who feels smaller and smaller after two girls turn down his offer for a dance. And, of course, in the bedroom when performance anxiety strikes, one can feel like there are three Olympic judges propped on chairs above the bed ready to reveal their scores.
If “Disappointment equals Expectations minus Reality”, at some point after a few too many disappointments, we start expecting less. This is often the path to personal depression and it could be the same for an economy, which shares that same word – depression – to describe a similar valley. We end up with a “sulking economy.” And, that’s where we are today. For a leader, it’s not an easy thing to rebuild the expectations of one’s people after constant disappointment. The tried and true method of doing this is what I call the “momentum of victory,” creating a feasible goal in the short-term and achieving it. Once that’s accomplished, it means finding another small, concrete win on the horizon. Winning and losing are 90% mental.
Lyndon Johnson was the first White House occupant to have The Conference Board looking over his Presidential shoulder and rating “consumer confidence” as a monthly measurement of our collective psychological well-being. This strong man from Texas saw confidence plummet late in his time in office. True again four decades later when his fellow Texan George W. Bush saw nearly an 80 point drop in confidence, the worst since LBJ. Our most effective confidence-producers have been Reagan (41 point rise) and Clinton (40 point rise). Barack Obama is a man who inhabits his head. Yet, like any athlete – especially a basketball player – hopefully, he knows that over-thinking rarely enhances performance. It’s time for our shrink-in-chief to step it up and find his natural rhythm as a leader. When in doubt, find the goal that we can all believe in and achieve (maybe, today it’s re-establishing our credit rating of AAA) and start creating a micro-map of small victories that can re-establish our confidence as Americans who have a common goal.
I entered Stanford Business School twenty-nine years ago as a naive twenty-one year old, the youngest in my class. One of my classmates immediately sized me up, asking “So, what did you specialize in before coming to get your MBA?” I said, “Growing up.” Not satisfied with my answer, he continued, “No, seriously, what’s your expertise and why’d they let you in here?” I paused and sheepishly said something absolutely true, but somewhat blasphemous for the times, “I guess I understand people well. My boss this summer told me my expertise is how I use my emotions to my advantage.” My classmate couldn’t stop laughing and he was on to glad-handing the next person because, clearly, I was a loser.
A decade and a half later Daniel Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence (EI) theory was introduced to business schools around the world. But, this idea –still radioactive to some – that the dominant trait in effective leadership comes from EI (also called EQ), not IQ or the level of one’s experience or depth of their resume, took a while to become commonplace language amongst mainstream business folks. But, while there’s still no hard metric for EI , conventional wisdom now favors this fluid ability as compared to the fixed capacity of one’s brainpower. When I graduated from biz school, I thought I had to be superhuman if I were ever to be a successful CEO. But after two dozen years of being a CEO, I’ve come to learn that the best leaders aren’t comic strip heroes, they’re just super humans who have developed the four capacities that Goleman outlined for EI: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management. As Goleman recently told me, “EI includes a broad spectrum of competencies, and no leader is A+ across the board – even the best have room to improve.”
I’m often asked which business leaders are the ultimate examples of Emotional Intelligence, so I decided to do a little research. Limiting my search to only Fortune 500 CEO’s of American companies (so Oprah doesn’t qualify), I started asking everyone I knew who they most admired as a role model for EI and then I talked with employees in these CEO’s companies and did a deep dive into speeches they’d given and articles that had been written about them. And, of course, I took a look at the performance of their companies while they’ve been the “emotional thermostat” for their organization. So, drum roll please, here’s the first annual Top 10 Chief Emotions Officers in the U.S. (in alphabetical order):
- Jeff Bezos (Amazon): With his quirky laugh and self-deprecating style, Bezos doesn’t sound like a Fortune 500 CEO and that’s probably to his benefit. His obsession with the hearts and minds of his customers and his long-term perspective on relationships (and business strategy) are legendary, as was his YouTube announcement of Amazon’s Zappos acquisition in 2009.
- Warren Buffett (Berkshire Hathaway): “Success in investing doesn’t correlate with IQ once you’re above the level of 25. Once you have ordinary intelligence, what you need is the temperament to control the urges that get other people into trouble investing.” Intensely loyal and relationship-driven, he asks his CEO’s to run their companies as if they were to own them 100 years from now.
- Ursula Burns (Xerox): In tandem with Anne Mulcahy who moved up to Chair, Burns transitioned to CEO as the first woman-to-woman CEO leadership transition in a Fortune 500 company in what has become a pivotal case study in organizational development.. Direct, yet respectful, her assertiveness is matched by a sense of mission that inspires her employees.
- Jamie Dimon (JP Morgan Chase): At Harvard Business School, Dimon said: “You all know about IQ and EQ. Your IQ’s are all high enough for you to be very successful, but where people often fall short is on the EQ. It’s something you develop over time. A lot of management skills are EQ, because management is all about how people function.” Read “Last Man Standing” about him.
- John Donahoe (eBay): Donahoe inherited a difficult situation from Meg Whitman with the need to truly alter the company’s business strategy. As a role model for Jim Collins’ Level 5 (humility & ambition) and Bill George’s “True North” leaders, Donahoe’s disciplined self-awareness and his listening ability have created a deeply loyal team and a healthy, evolving culture.
- Larry Fink (BlackRock): Called “psychologically astute” in a Vanity Fair feature article, Fink created the largest money-management firm in the world based upon self-reflection, teamwork & direct communication. His senior leadership team embraces EI seminars to improve their skills.
- Alan Mulally (Ford): Walk around Ford’s corporate campus and you will see office cubes featuring handwritten notes that Mulally has sent to employees…praising their work. Great interpersonal skills and a “Clintonesque” ability to make you feel like you’re the only one in the room when you’re in a conversation with him.
- Indra Nooyi (Pepsi): Nooyi is a conscious capitalist whose “performance with purpose” agenda has helped move employees from having a job to living a calling. She is acutely aware that being a woman of color means she may receive more attention and scrutiny, but she still projects her personality without reservation – whether it’s singing in the hallways or walking barefoot in the office. She wrote the parents of 29 senior Pepsi execs to tell them what great kids they’d raised.
- Howard Schultz (Starbucks): He says that the main reason he came back was “love”: for the company and its people. Very dedicated to generous health care benefits – inspired by his father losing his health insurance when Schultz was a kid.
- Kent Thiry (DaVita): Leaders with high EI/EQ create culture-driven organizations that perform at their peak due to the power of mission and teamwork. Thiry took over a demoralized kidney dialysis center company that was almost out of business and, with a passionate spirit, created nearly 44% annual growth in earnings per share in the past decade, 6th highest of any Fortune 500 company.
There are many honorable mentions from Jim Sinegal at Costco to Gary Kelly at Southwest Airlines to Andrea Jung at Avon or John Mackey at Whole Foods Markets. As for the Top 10, there are some obvious choices as well as some more obscure CEO’s. But, before you start throwing stones at these business leaders, don’t forget Daniel Goleman’s premise that we’re all works-in-progress. What tends to set these people apart is a level of disciplined self-awareness that helps them develop as leaders faster than the average CEO, as well as knowing how to attract a complimentary team around them.
[Originally posted June 2, 2011 on The Huffington Post]
To B or not to B? Hamlet is not the only one asking that question as I’ve been queried many times by readers of my book PEAK about whether the self-actualizing business principles I espouse are just as relevant to B2B (business to business) as they are to B2C companies (business to consumer). The thought behind this is that PEAK speaks to the idea that great companies address the higher, transformative needs of their key stakeholders, like their employees, customers, and investors. So, companies like Apple, Whole Foods Markets, Southwest Airlines, Netflix, and the like are B2C companies effectively focusing on understanding the “unrecognized needs” of their core customers and delivering on those needs. If you do that well, you create customer evangelists who are feeling a little more self-actualized.
Somehow, when we imagine B2B organizations – IBM, Deloitte, Boeing – we assume that a business doesn’t have higher needs that you can address. Of course, this is a little more complicated because understanding the higher needs of an individual requires a little less mind reading than understanding the meta-needs of a whole organization. But, at the end of the day, most decisions in companies are made by humans. So, it’s fine to imagine how your company can meet a higher need of the organization you’re trying to sell to, but I highly recommend that you look at the key decision-maker, the human, and ask yourself three key questions about this person: (1) What’s the survival need of this decision-maker such that they will not look like a fool a year from now within their organization for having chosen to buy from us? (2) What would make this decision-maker look successful – giving them greater esteem within the organization – if they buy from us? (3) Is this decision-maker looking for a transformative product or service that will help elevate their company far above their competition and how are we communicating those “higher needs” benefits to this decision-maker and their colleagues?
Amidst the spreadsheets, org charts, and policy manuals, there is a heartbeat in our organizations and it comes from humans. Even in the silos of America’s biggest corporations, there is a man or woman, full of emotions and aspirations, wants and needs, who is making the buying decisions that can fuel your B2B company. The most neglected fact in business is that we’re all human. Don’t forget this fact when strategizing about how you can make a sale to that B2B company you’ve had your eye on.
Abraham Maslow and Viktor Frankl both suggested that the person who loses their job is best-suited to find another means of keeping themselves active while in the process of seeking new employment, whether this be volunteering for a cause they believe in or working for free in an industry about which they’re curious. Quite often, the opposite occurs. The shock of getting laid off leads to a negative spiral of other collateral damage and this newly unemployed person becomes sedentary while their esteem plummets.
John Scott emailed me out of the blue not long ago and asked if I would be his mentor as he wanted to tell me his story of loss and redemption (a particularly good tale around Easter time). John came to my office and gave me the honor of allowing me to read his story below which touched me deeply. Because I thought it might be meaningful to those you know and care about, John is permitting me to share it with you. Hope you enjoy it. Maybe you can be Mr. Syracuse in someone’s life.
A Year and a Day
On February 22, 2010, I lost my job.
My 34-year career was evaporated in a mere 18 seconds. His words were so few, devoid of even a shred of sympathy or compassion, that they are impossible to forget.
“We’re making a change. It is what it is.”
It was so stunningly to-the-point that even the HR director was a bit taken aback. At least in Up In The Air, George Clooney told the departed a quick story.
“Anybody who ever built an empire or changed the world sat where you are now. And it’s because they sat there that they were able to do it. There’s a packet in front of you. I want you to take some time and review it. All the answers you’re looking for are inside those pages. The sooner you trust the process, the sooner the next step of your life will unveil itself.”
On February 23, 2011, I was offered a new job, and this week, I accepted that offer.
Over the past 366 days I had to make a decision; try to remain in the industry I had devoted literally my entire life to, or take the road less traveled. I thought about my former employer and the industry as a whole. It was a bleak economic time, and many decent people were finding themselves unemployed. The future for this industry is uncertain at best, as it continues a contraction that is precedent-setting. The decision was made: Reinvent.
This is not a heroic tale of a man gallantly facing the world, taking it on full steam ahead, and achieving victory. It was nothing like that at all. Over the preceding 366 days:
I lost a job.
I lost my healthcare.
I lost my home to the real estate bust.
I was denied unemployment by the Republic of California because of a glitch on one piece of paper. I never received a penny.
I applied for 411 jobs online. Not one response.
My former employer withheld my severance for weeks, for no reason other than “they forgot”.
One afternoon, I was sitting in the Opera Plaza Cinema in San Francisco with Emily, watching A Single Man. A regrettable choice of film, as this powerful, amazing and completely depressing movie was not the spirit-lifter I probably should have watched. There was no one else but us in the theater. We kept our phones on. About halfway through the film, mine rang. It was a hiring manager for a winery. We set up a time to talk later. I knew I wasn’t going to get the position. I had no experience in the wine industry, and a zillion winery marketing people were unemployed. It was over before it started.
The movie ended, the credits rolled, and I leaned into Emily and unleashed a waterfall of agony. She held me and rocked me like a baby, this inconsolable, broken, lost man.
There was one day I had 6 cents in my checking account.
An insurance company denied my application because I had a hernia in 1974. I wish I was kidding.
I had the most vivid nightmare I could possibly imagine. I dreamed I had died in a plane crash.
It seemed that everything that could go wrong, did.
Here’s what else happened over this year and a day: I reinvented myself, top to bottom. I reinvented my career, I tackled personal issues. I shed people in my life that were not good for me. I patched up by shattered heart, and spackled my facade to not just look , but to be… more authentic. I questioned everything.
I decided to do it all at once.
I traveled, spent time with family and friends, kept on the move, doing my work. I wrote about it all.
There is a man who is a key player in this tale. I’ll call him Mr. Syracuse.
One day, sitting with him and another good friend at a bar, I moaned about my lot in life, telling him about the 411 jobs, zero callbacks. He said, “Be in my office Monday morning.”
Mr. Syracuse allowed me to do some work for him for a while, in a business that I had never worked in before. Something happened after that experience – good things started happening. This simple act of kindness this man had extended to me made some of the inertia disappear. After I left his company, I got a consulting job. I did some freelance work. I was doing things to learn that ultimately, that I should not do them. I experimented, ad-libbed, and performed extemporaneous jobs and tasks. Some were not glamorous or thrilling, but they were necessary to keep afloat and build the empire I thought I could. Mr.Syracuse had started the ball rolling, and I will never forget it.
I told him the other night, “You know, I blame you for all the good things that are happening!”
He said, “I might have started it. You finished it.”
In these past 366 days I started a company. I secured a monthly retainer for 2011 with a media group to vlog for them. My voice is now heard on one of the top radio stations in America.
And this week, I signed the contract to a full-time position with a local university. I get to learn, read, play with websites, write syllabi, interface with instructors on course outlines. I get to learn and get paid for it.
I took a hike up Mt. Diablo this morning to watch the sun rise. A cinematic moment, yes- I like to mark moments with something memorable. I watched the sun rise, and I sipped a coffee, and looked down on my beloved Bay Area- this hotbed of the creative class, this place so beautiful and yet so tough; you have to want to be here, “they” don’t make it easy.
You have to be relentless. You have to play the odds. 411 no’s, each moving you closer to the YES. You have to stay the course you’ve charted, with all of the potholes and roadblocks and you have to understand that it’s going to be a freaking mess.
You have to clean up your messes. Because it is difficult, that’s the reason you should do it. Because it scares you, that’s why you need to try.
On this day, nothing is as it was. Everything has changed.
I’ll be moving soon, to a new home. I’ll have room to breathe, a place to call mine again. I have a new career path, education. I have fun little projects and little jobs to keep me completely, totally, busy.
This day, I got my life back, but it’s a whole new version of it. It took a year and a day, and it was pure hell, but I made it to The Other Side.
This is the end of this particular story, but it’s really just the beginning. I made it to the starting line, with a little help from people who I will always be grateful to.
You can do this in your life. Believe that you can. Ask people to help you, for you cannot go it alone. Question everything. Look ahead, not in your rear view mirror. Trust your gut.
Reinvent yourself. I’m cheering you on.
I’m a guy who took no English or writing classes in college and only one psychology class and now I’m writing self-help books on emotions (Emotional Equations comes out in January 2012 and PEAK came out in 2007). So, my process of learning about emotions and psychology has been self-taught over the past few years plus I’ve been lucky enough to have a laboratory with a company of more than 3,000 employees and almost 60 different business units. So, I’ve been able to test things in one place and see whether that odd idea is a best or worst practice.
In preparation for writing Emotional Equations, I dove into the deep end of the academic pool reading hundreds of psychological studies and books on everything from anxiety to the difference between happiness and joy to Charles Darwin’s theory on the origin of emotions. Here’s a list of my top twenty book recommendations for anyone who wants to go “swimming” with me (I have put an asterisk * next to my favorite in each category and I haven’t included Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning since it’s not primarily about emotions):
- Born to be Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life (Dacher Keltner)
- Happiness: Unlocking the Mysteries of Psychological Wealth (Ed Diener and Robert Biswas-Diener)
- Positivity: Groundbreaking Research Reveals How to Embrace the Hidden Strengths of Positive Emotions, Overcome Negativity and Thrive (Barbara Fredrickson)
- Stumbling on Happiness (Daniel Gilbert)
- The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom (Jonathan Haidt)
- The How of Happiness: A New Approach to Getting the Life You Want (Sonja Lyubomirsky) *
- Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love & Wisdom (Rick Hanson with Richard Mendius)
- Descartes’ Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain (Antonio Damasio)
- Emotions and Life: Perspectives from Psychology, Biology, and Evolution (Robert Plutchik)
- The Emotional Brain: The Mysterious Underpinnings of Emotional Life (Joseph LeDoux) *
- What is Emotion? (Jerome Kagan)
UNCONVENTIONAL BRAIN/EMOTION SCIENCE
- Molecules of Emotion: The Science Behind Mind-Body Medicine (Candace Pert) *
- The Biology of Belief: Unleashing the Power of Consciousness, Matter & Miracles (Bruce Lipton)
- The Spiritual Anatomy of Emotion: How Feelings Link the Brain, the Body, and the Sixth Sense (Michael Jawer and Marc Micozzi)
- The Spontaneous Healing of Belief: Shattering the Paradigm of False Limits (Gregg Braden)
PRACTICAL APPLICATION OF EMOTION THEORY
- Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions (Dan Ariely)
- The Art of Choosing (Sheena Iyengar)
- The Emotional Hostage: Rescuing Your Emotional Life (Leslie Cameron-Bandler and Michael Lebeau)
- The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less (Barry Schwartz)
- The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement (David Brooks) *
[Originally posted April 27, 2011 on The Huffington Post]
Executives execute. We don’t execute people as in life and death matters (although, sadly, we do “terminate” people when they’re no longer needed), but we have traditionally thought of business leaders as being emotionless technicians who just keep the trains running on time. But, timely trains didn’t make Southern Pacific or Santa Fe railroads into 21st century mega-corporations. In fact, the train industry missed its chance to expand into automobiles and airplane travel by thinking of their business a little too myopically. Maybe these train executives were a little too focused on the simple execution of being on time.
While execution is still a fundamental skill of the best executives, we no longer are purely executing mechanistic, industrial organizations. In this knowledge era, execution is all about people: how to harness and inspire the potential of those we work with. And, at the heart of people are our emotions, the mysterious internal weather that either propels or penalizes us. After 24 years of being a CEO, I’ve come to realize that the best amongst us are truly Chief Emotions Officers as we are the “emotional thermostats” for our organizations with studies showing that a typical leader has 50-70% influence over the work climate of their team.
There are three great pieces of empirical evidence that amplify this reality about 21st century leadership. First, Daniel Goleman has shown for 15 years now that emotional intelligence (EQ) represents two-thirds of the success of business leaders as compared to only one-third coming from either IQ or the leader’s transferable experience. And, yet, in 2010, less than 10% of the training and development dollars spent by America’s corporations went toward emotional intelligence or literacy training (often called “soft skills”). We know it’s important and, yet, we seem to be reluctant in investing in the skills to help our executives become Chief Emotions Officers.
Secondly, Dr Matthew Lieberman at UCLA has proven that labeling our emotions reduces the intensity of these emotions in such a way that it maximizes our cognitive abilities just at the time when we most need to use the prefrontal cortex of our brain for better reasoning and judgment. By being emotionally literate about what we’re experiencing, executives can sidestep the 10-15 point drop in IQ that often occurs for those who are barraged by having to make decisions during times of emotional distress. So, maybe being a CEO is less about being able to predict the times of trains and more about being an internal weather forecaster.
Finally, Harvard’s Nicholas Christakis, as well as a few other academics, has shown that our emotions are contagious. When we have the flu, our colleagues feel comforted that we stay at home in order not to spread the misery. Yet, when so many of us have caught the “fear” at work – especially in economically turbulent times – there’s no sane corporate voice warning us of the risks of how our emotions can spread and threaten the well-being of those in our organizational petri dish. The ultimate inoculation for fear is a great corporate culture and companies with great cultures have healthy psycho-hygiene. In other words, their leaders are emotionally attuned to what’s going on around them and they cleanse the company through transparent communication or other tactical means to help employees feel recognized and engaged.
Any executive worth their weight understands the principle of accrued interest. If you have a loan and don’t pay the interest currently, it accrues and can compound and over period of time. The cost of the interest can become staggering. This is an apt metaphor for organizational emotions that are not properly addressed in the workplace. Most companies – led by CEO’s who aren’t nearly literate about their own emotions – are actively disengaged in addressing the individual and collective emotions that are invisible predators of passion and engagement. From my own experience, I have learned the hard way. When I most have bottled up my emotions for extended periods of time, they have leaked out in other subversive ways that didn’t serve my purposes as CEO. And, yet, when I was most vulnerable and authentic in my emotional communication with fellow co-workers, ironically, I was told by these colleagues that I was more admired and they felt most comfortable to be all they could be at work.
GETTING MORE MOJO FROM MASLOW: In Order to Survive the Struggles of the Economic Recession, We Need to Reframe Difficult Business Experiences as Opportunities to Find Meaning in Our WorkWednesday, November 24th, 2010
Viktor Frankl, the Austrian psychologist who was imprisoned in a Nazi death camp and wrote the influential tome Man’s Search for Meaning once lamented, “People have enough to live by, but nothing to live for; they have the means, but no meaning.” This is a predicament of modern man. Once we’ve addressed our basic needs in life, what do we strive for?
Modern man is a worker bee. To us, business means busy-ness. We work 25 percent more hours per week than we did a generation ago, not counting the time we spend e-mailing colleagues from home or while we’re on vacation. As we toil away to keep up with the cost of living, we often fail to recognize the high spiritual price we pay for being more focused on means than meaning. But why? Research shows that this approach can be counter-productive. Gurnek Bains, lead author of Meaning, Inc: The Blueprint for Business Success in the 21st Century, says that meaning directly drives employee commitment and engagement. Industry-leading companies like Google, Genentech, and Southwest Airlines—which regularly appear on lists of great places to work—have learned that the key to raising performance levels is to create a sense of real meaning for employees. “This has a tangible and demonstrable impact on business results. Now that other forms of competitive advantage have become commodities, creating a sense of meaning for people will be what makes the difference for most companies in the future.” It is critical, then, to transform the economic challenges of the recession into opportunities for us to understand and infuse meaning into our work.
When I started my company, Joie de Vivre Hospitality, nearly a quarter century ago, I decided that the name of the business should also be its mission statement. Joie de Vivre has since grown into America’s second-largest boutique hotelier, based on our commitment to “Creating Opportunities to Celebrate the Joy of Life.” We distilled our credo into a two-word mantra, “Create Joy” which is stamped into the blue rubber bracelets that all new employees receive during orientation and that many veteran staffers routinely wear.
But one learns the difference between a glorified mission statement and a belief system that guides behavior when a company faces a “once-in-a-lifetime” economic downturn— and, really, we’ve faced two of these in the San Francisco Bay Area in the past decade. In late 2001, I was struggling. I had 1,000 employees, and I didn’t know how I was going to make payroll. The combination of the dot-com crash, 9/11, and a worsening economy had put Joie de Vivre at risk. One afternoon, I walked into a local bookstore in search of a business book that would help ease my financial pains—or at least give me a clue about how to survive. I quickly realized that what I really needed was some serious personal guidance. So I moved from the Business section to the Self-Help section of the bookstore (conveniently located next to each other), where I reacquainted myself with Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs theory, one of the most famous psychological concepts to explain human motivation.
I suppose that a guy who names his company “Joie de Vivre” should naturally gravitate toward self-actualization. Maslow is known as an early leader in the human potential movement; he believed that psychology was too obsessed with our worst behaviors when a lot can be learned from our best practices. He first popularized the axiom, “If the only tool you have is a hammer, everything starts to look like a nail,” aptly describing his peers’ over-emphasis on neurosis in the mid-20th century. Re-reading Maslow helped me to see one of the most neglected facts in business: the fact that we’re all human. And, no matter what our role—CEO, line-level employee, customer, investor— in a particular business is, we each have a hierarchy of needs that determines what’s important to us. Late in his life, Maslow started applying his hierarchy of needs to organizations and businesses. Unfortunately, he died in 1970 at the age of 62 before he could closely examine how his theory might shift from the individual to the collective.
During that downturn nearly a decade ago, I started “channeling Abe” to see how I could apply his theory to my company. I figured the worst that could happen is we’d go bankrupt, so why not learn something along the way? I distilled the Hierarchy of Needs Pyramid from five to three levels, or key themes, which make up what I call the Transformation Pyramid: survive (safety and physiological); succeed (esteem and love/belonging); and transform (self-actualization). These themes aren’t just relevant in business; they’re fundamental in life. I looked at how to apply them to the three most important stakeholders in Joie de Vivre: employees, customers, and investors. For the purpose of this blog, I’ll focus on employees.
Maslow concluded that individuals’ deepest motivations sit at the top of the pyramid—and take on an inspirational quality. For example, in his research on people’s relationship with their work, he asked dozens of nurses, “Why did you go into nursing?” “What are the greatest moments of reward?” and “Tell me a moment so wonderful it made you weep or gave you cold shivers of ecstasy.” The nurses answered by describing peak experiences that were virtually life-altering. Nurses who were most able to express a peak experience seemed most “called” by their work.
In A Simpler Way, Margaret Wheatley and Myron Kellner-Rogers wrote, “People do not respond for long to small and self-centered purposes or to self-aggrandizing work. Too many organizations ask us to engage in hollow work, to be enthusiastic about small-minded visions, to commit ourselves to selfish purposes, to engage our energy in competitive drives. Those who offer us this petty work hope we won’t notice how lifeless it is … when we respond with disgust, when we withdraw our energy from such endeavors, it is a sign of our commitment to life and to each other.” Maslow helped me understand that my Employee Pyramid was defined by money (survive), recognition (succeed), and meaning (transform).
We all have basic needs that need to be met, and our work compensation package is the means to that end. But Gallup has shown in multiple surveys that money is not the primary reason that people leave a company (in fact, it usually comes in fourth place). People join a company, and they leave their boss. Recognition, which addresses people’s success needs and usually taps into one’s sense of social belonging or esteem needs, is what creates loyalty in the workplace. But money and recognition are external motivators for doing any job. Those who are engaged in something they’re passionate about—such as the nurses Maslow interviewed—have transcended the bartering relationship that defines most relationships between employer and employee. They have tapped into an internal motivation that fuels them. They are inspired by what they do. They have moved from just focusing on the tasks they do each day to imagining the impact of their work. As they become more aware of that intangible we call meaning, employees move to the transformational peak of the pyramid.
Most companies get a little lost in the ether at the top of the pyramid, because it’s easier for bosses to “manage what they can measure,” and it’s simpler to do a benchmark compensation survey than to try to gauge meaning. Someday we may have a “Corporate Meaning Index” just like we have a Dow Jones stock index, so that we can quickly scan who is playing at the top of the pyramid and who isn’t. In studying my own company and dozens of other meaning-driven businesses, I’ve come to realize that workplace meaning can be dissected into meaning at work and meaning in work. Meaning at work relates to how an employee feels about the company, their work environment, and the company’s mission. Meaning in work relates to how an employee feels about their specific job.
I believe that meaning at work is far more important than meaning in work. When employees believe in the work of the company, the whole Hierarchy of Needs is satisfied. Those employees clearly have their basic needs met because they have confidence in the financial stability of the company, which means they have job security. Believing in the company’s mission also typically creates deeper alliances among employees because the sense of being part of a connected crew and the pride that comes from group success satisfy our social or esteem needs. Finally, their self-actualization needs can be met by feeling that we are part of an organization making a difference in the world, plus there’s a halo effect that may render the work they do day-to-day even more meaningful.
One of the most profound decisions I made during the depth of that last downturn was to start managing the business based on meaning and to start measuring meaning in various ways, from asking questions on biannual work-climate surveys to querying line workers in monthly staff meetings, “What’s the best experience you’ve had in the past month here at work?” The question I really like to ask our employees goes something like this, “Most of us think of our job in terms of ‘What am I getting?’ What if you asked yourself daily, ‘What am I becoming as a result of this job?’” Helping our employees reframe their work, changing their tasks to make their jobs more meaningful, and creating a democratic culture in which employees help define our business strategy has helped Joie de Vivre’s turnover rate drop to one-third the industry average. We were recently crowned the “second best place to work” in the San Francisco Bay Area, a remarkable feat for a service company that’s full of people cleaning toilets in a region full of high-tech companies famous for plush corporate campuses.
I learned quite a bit about meaning in business during the last downturn, but this downturn has been full of lessons, too. During the dot-com bust, my desire to learn tended to be organizational, but the worldwide Great Recession has led to more personal lessons. I’ve found myself on an emotional roller coaster the past couple of years. I’ve had five friends or colleagues commit suicide, primarily due to stresses at work, and I’ve seen countless companies in the travel and design industries dissolve under the pressure of this relentless economy. My greatest epiphany resulted in a series of what I call “Emotional Equations” (also the title of my next book, due out in 2011) that help remind me how the world works. The most profound equation that I’ve used for myself and for the managers in my company has been despair = suffering–meaning. I learned this from reading Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning.
As teenagers, we learned algebra and found there were constants and variables in an equation. That’s true in life, too. The constant in a concentration camp, or in a recession, is suffering. There will always be suffering. Yet, the variable in life is meaning: How do we find a sense of meaning, even in the most difficult times? This is a question that I’ve asked my employees and myself, because if you can find meaning in the rubble, you will lessen your despair. That’s how this equation works: more meaning equals less despair. Yet, most of us in a difficult time put our attention on the suffering. Life and business are all about where you place your attention. If Frankl can live through a death camp by rediscovering the importance of meaning in our lives, we can live through a painful recession by reframing difficult economic experiences.
Why is it that many of us get our best ideas during the worst times? During the last economic downturn, against all odds, my company, Joie de Vivre, grew into the country’s second largest boutique hotelier when most observers were writing our obituary. After 15 years in business in 2001, we had grown into Northern California’s most prolific hotelier with twenty boutique hotels. Yet, over the next three years, we suffered through the effects of a dot-com crash, 9/11, SARS, two wars, and a recession on the local hotel economy. The Bay Area’s hotels experienced the largest percentage drop in revenues in the history of any U.S. metropolitan region since World War II.
With all of our hotels in the country’s most problematic region, one day I found myself in the local bookstore searching for some wisdom. Slightly disoriented, I ditched the business section of the store and stumbled on the self-help section. That’s where I became reacquainted with Abraham Maslow and his iconic Hierarchy of Needs pyramid, one of the world’s most famous psychological theories of human motivation. I started reinterpreting Maslow’s work and looking at how Joie de Vivre could apply this to the higher, self-actualizing needs of our three most important constituencies: our employees, customers, and investors.
Based upon our positive experience in applying Maslow, I started studying actualizing companies – like Apple, Southwest Airlines, and Whole Foods Markets – and found that many organizations were either consciously or unconsciously using the Hierarchy of Needs in their business model. As a result of this learning, I wrote PEAK: How Great Companies Get Their Mojo from Maslow a couple of years ago and my company tripled in size to almost a quarter billion in annual sales.
“Joie de Vivre” and “deju vu” are both French phrases. Our industry is feeling a lot of déjà vu these days as this financial collapse has led to a more than 20% decline in U.S. urban hotel revenues in the past year. It ain’t easy experiencing two “once in a lifetime downturns” within the same decade. But, once again, I’ve been turning to a little practical psychology to help our middle- and upper-level managers understand how they can use this painful experiencing to be their lesson of a lifetime.
Some of you may be familiar with Viktor Frankl’s legendary book, Man’s Search for Meaning, the real life story of his experience living in a concentration camp as an Austrian Jewish psychologist in World War II. Frankl found that those who died quickly had lost hope and a sense of meaning and they tended to focus their attention on their suffering, while those who survived tried to find the meaning or learning in this awful situation. If you were to distill this great book down to what I call an “emotional equation,” it would be Despair = Suffering – Meaning. Just like in algebra, life is full of constants and variables with suffering being the constant in a concentration camp and meaning being the variable. Life, and business, is all about where you place your attention. Focusing on the meaning can reduce your despair. Thankfully, the prison we experience is in our minds as there’s no barbed wire around our offices, but many of our company leaders have been freed from their silent suffering by remembering this emotional equation.
Seeing the profound effect this emotional equation had on our company’s psycho-hygiene, I started thinking about and teaching other philosophical and leadership wisdoms. Here’s a few of the other ones we’re using in this downturn:
(1) Happiness = Wanting what you have ÷ Having what you want
Or, in other words, Gratitude divided by Gratification. Sometimes, you have to appreciate what you have to create a little happiness instead of just focusing on what you want. Getting off the aspiration treadmill for a short time can be healthy for you.
(2) Disappointment = Expectations – Reality
This is rule #1 with our customers. Disappointment is the natural result of badly-managed expectations, so how are we marketing ourselves or delivering services in a fashion that allow reality to beat expectations?
(3) Workaholism = What are you running from ÷ What are you living for
Given the 24/7/365 nature of the hotel business, it’s easy for our managers to clock a huge number of hours in their work. So, we need to make sure our managers are being conscious about what’s driving them: fear of something else (like marital problems) or love of what they’re doing.
(4) Great Leadership = Humility x Ambition
Business author Jim Collins wrote about this in Good to Great, the idea that “Level 5 Leaders” are full of “hum-bition.” The best leaders are a mix of down-to-earth humanism and over-the-top will power.
(5) Calling = Pleasure ÷ Pain
The difference between a job and a calling is how you feel after 8-10 hours working. If it’s a job, you likely are a little depleted by it. If it’s a calling, you’re energized. Our goal as leaders is to find employees who are in their perfect habitat to live their calling.