This is the third blog article in my series on employee engagement. In blog 1 we concluded that employee engagement is here to stay because companies that score high on engagement surveys also perform better. In blog 2 I defined employee engagement as “an emotional connection between employees and their employers.” I also introduced the Harvard 4-drive model to explain what the “emotional connection” consists of. Now let’s explore the Harvard model more closely because it is extremely important to the success of your organization.
The Employee Engagement “needle” has been stuck for the past two decades at around “30% engaged.” This means that only 30% of employees, on average, have their heads is the game. If this were a college exam, a 30% would earn the business community a solid “F” in employee motivation. What’s up with this profound failure to engage and motivate the workforce?
Here are my thoughts. The Conference Board’s research, mentioned in Blog 2, concluded that engaged employees have an emotional connection to their employers. The low engagement scores therefore imply that the business community does not understand this connection. This is partly because the word “emotion” has a tainted brand image inside most organizations. It brings to mind negative feelings like anger, fear, rage, and jealousy that we DON’T WANT in the workplace. Business leaders are therefore taught to be cool, analytical and to suppress their emotions—like the mythical Mr. Spock. This is the fundamental error, in my opinion, that is driving the epidemic of disengaged employees.
We cannot move the engagement needle until we first rehabilitate the brand image of the word, “emotion.” I will use the Harvard 4-drive model to explain the powerful role that feelings and emotions play in the workplace. They reside at the core of human survival and the vital core of the capitalist system. Our emotional guidance system tells us what we need to survive, and the rational mind attempts to satisfy these core needs. There is nothing soft or irrational about this! If we lacked this elegant survival system, humans would go extinct!! Let’s have a little respect for the motivational heritage that made our lives possible.
The business community has effectively thrown the baby out with the bathwater by demonizing emotions in the workplace. Using an iceberg analogy, explosive emotions are just the visible tip of the proverbial iceberg. They are part of the Harvard model’s “drive to defend.”
The more-important part of the motivational iceberg lies uncharted below the waterline. This is where the other three Harvard drives reside. These drives are the source of desirable, productive emotions that induce employees to innovate, achieve mastery, work hard, and collaborate as a team. If we activate all three of these drives, employee engagement, the employee experience, and profits will soar because employees will feel much more rewarded and connected.
You might be wondering, “Why there are just four drives in the Harvard model? Why not eight or ten drives?” The answer is simple—there are four drives because there are four behaviors that are SO WILDLY IMPORTANT to human survival that nature had no choice but to incentivize them with motivating feelings of pleasure and pain. Maybe we should use the term “regulatory feelings” instead of “emotions”for these natural incentives. This term is scientifically accurate and avoids the negative baggage associated with the word“emotions.”
The best way to understand the regulatory feelings associated with the Harvard model is to start with something familiar—like the drives to eat, drink, breathe, and sleep. Let’s begin with the “drive to breathe.” Try holding your breath for a minute. The “drive to breathe” starts out with a mild warning, analogous to a tap on the shoulder. Then it gets more insistent, “Hey, buddy, it’s time to breathe.” If we persist in our life-threatening behavior, the pain quickly escalates into the “unbearable zone” and we capitulate and start breathing again. When we start breathing, it feels good, which is the drive rewarding us for a sensible choice.
Hunger works the same way. If we eat too much, it hurts and we feel bloated, which is the signal designed to inhibit excessive eating. If we eat too little, it hurts and we feel hungry. This regulatory feeling says, “Hey, it’s time to refuel.” When we have the optimal amount of nutrition, we feel good—satiated. This means that we ARE SUPPOSED TO FEEL GOOD WHEN WE ARE BEHAVING OPTIMALLY.
These two, simple examples point to a general design theme: “For every behavior that is absolutely vital for human survival there WILL BE A SYSTEM IN THE BRAIN, based on PLEASURE AND PAIN, to regulate it. The Harvard team simply extended this rule (Rule 1) to the realm of creative, productive and cooperative behaviors in the workplace that are equally vital for survival.
I will introduce the Harvard drives in a specific order so they flow logically from one to the next.
Are you convinced that we are built to be productive and to enjoy our work? Do you accept the central role of “regulatory feelings” in driving business success and human survival? Dan Goleman, the author of the 1995 blockbuster, EmotionalIntelligence, recognized the importance of regulatory feelings when he wrote,“ The fundamental task of leaders is to prime good feelings in those they lead.” The “good feelings” that Goleman mentioned are precisely the regulatory feelings emanating from the Harvard drives. Good feelings, as Goleman suggested, go hand-in-hand with high performance because they inform us when we are operating at our best.
The rewarding and painful feelings emanating from the five drives (four original drives plus the achievement drive add-on) are the “NUCLEAR FUEL” of human motivation. They are WHAT MOTIVATION IS MADE OF. When the drives are satisfied, we are operating at our rated capacity and therefore feel good. When the drives are frustrated or starved, we malfunction, and feel bad.
If we get it right, and activate the four productive drives (five drives minus the drive to defend), our employees arrive at work with smiles on their faces. They work harder and smarter because they actually care. Customers are happier because they get faster, better service from people with a good attitude. Employees spread the word through their social networks that your company is an awesome place to work, which boosts your employer brand and helps you attract and retain top talent. Paying attention to the core needs/drives of your people starts a virtuous cycle whereby everybody wins! Who wouldn’t want this?
In blog 4 I will describe a strategy for combining the best of extrinsic and intrinsic rewards to create a powerful hybrid that combines the best of both.