For many years, I have been asking myself – and others around me – why some people (like Olympic athletes) are highly engaged in what they do every day without decent pay, while others hate their jobs despite their often sizeable paychecks.
I found some interesting answers to these questions in Marcus Buckinghams’ new book Love + Work’. A team leader at MIT who uses Goalscape recently recommended it to me; and it was nothing short of a revelation.
For over 25 years, Marcus Buckingham has been the world’s leading researcher on strengths and human performance. There is a wealth of wisdom in his new book; for me though, the two biggest takeaways are:
- Too many people have been trained out of appreciating their unique strengths and talents. We accept that there are 9 Billion unique fingerprints, faces, and DNA, but when it comes to our abilities, we try to force them into a small number of standardized molds. In most societies we tend to focus on compensating for weaknesses instead of evolving individual strengths. This starts at school and extends to the workplace. Unsurprisingly, when people are made to focus on what they are not good at, they stop loving and start loathing what they do. They feel insignificant and unhappy, and they fear being replaced. Study after study reveals an epidemic of underperformance and lack of engagement at work. Buckingham reminds us that it does not have to be this way – there can be 9 Billion ways to Love Work and thereby love Life.
- If our goal is to create a culture of highly engaged people, we must empower everyone to set their own goals. Research shows that just forcing goals on people does not foster higher engagement. A great leader supports his team, empowers them to dare to do what they love doing and what excites them. He should encourage them to set their own goals while helping to explore each goal’s viability. This approach naturally fosters the kind of motivation we see highly engaged people like Olympic Athletes.
These two realizations can lead to a complete paradigm shift from a strict Top-Down to a radical Bottom-Up approach to goal setting.
There is an old saying that you can only win the war with the army you have.
Why not start with letting the army choose the battles they want to fight? Why not harness everyone’s talents and interests, to begin with?
When people play to their strengths, they will be more competitive; and when they follow their interests, they will naturally develop the required skills to achieve their goals. This approach is far more effective and healthy than any artificial ‘motivational exercise’ or strategic skill development program. Why is this not practiced far and wide? Are we just afraid to let it rip because we are afraid that people make a mess?
Much of the confusion regarding this approach goes away when we differentiate VITAL goals from ASPIRATIONAL goals.
VITAL goals are goals that a team or company must reach to survive. VITAL goals are naturally motivating (as most of us prefer survival over bankruptcy). VITAL goals wake up the panic monster in us (credit to Tim Urban for giving it this great name). The panic monster may not be the noblest motivator, but according to the research, it is nonetheless a great way to overcome procrastination.
On the other hand, ASPIRATIONAL goals are about the fun in life. They are about flourishing when the basic needs are satisfied.
Confusing VITAL and ASPIRATIONAL goals leads to all sorts of trouble. Outstanding leadership and fostering Love at Work is mostly about differentiating the two.
A great leader helps the team understand what sacrifices they must make to secure the group’s survival. Once survival is assured though, they encourage everyone to introduce their own goals. At this point, love kicks in, evolution takes off, and the door to outstanding success opens.
Google’s famous ‘20% time’ is one example of people creating amazing things (like Google Maps – and what a boon that is!) because they were allowed and encouraged to do so. They were allowed to pursue their interest and do something that they loved. We all need more of that spirit.
Marcus Buckingham definitely seems to be on to something. Finding ways to empower more people to do what they love is the prime challenge of our time .
With Goalscape, we want to support this kind of fluid Bottom-Up and Top-Down approach to goal setting. There should be a straightforward cascade of VITAL goals that may be created primarily Top-Down, while ASPIRATIONAL goals should mostly flow from the bottom up. It has to be a dynamic, collaborative process, and Goalscape is the perfect tool to support this new way of “Getting Things Done” because it makes goals more visual and tangible.