Our ideal world might be closer than we think…..
Imagine if everyone was inspired to achieve. To do their best work. To try to constantly improve and do a little bit better today than they did yesterday. What sort of world would that be? It might sound like a fantasy to many managers, but in reality, the science tells us that we live in that world right now. Ok, for most people it’s not ‘right now’ but it’s a heck of a lot closer than most people realise, if only we tap into the things that drive people toward greater performance.
Ask most managers what their job is and they’ll answer something along the lines of “to make sure people do the right things,” or “to keep people on track,” or I’ve even heard, “my job is to crack the whip!”
We manage people as if they would do the wrong thing, given half a chance. We manage people as if they would just slack off if we let them. We manage people as though they need to be kept on the straight and narrow. And for some staff this is true, but for the majority, it isn’t. In short, we manage for the lowest common denominator, as if everyone would do what the worst person would do if we took our foot of the gas. But, let’s look at the evidence.
Our inbuilt reward system
One thing that performance science tells us is that we have an inbuilt reward mechanism. When we achieve something, regardless what it is – from crossing off the last thing on your to-do-list to completing a marathon; from getting a client request pushed through just in the nick of time to signing up a multi-million dollar client – we get this reward response. The reward response, amongst other things, is represented physiologically by an increase in our levels of a chemical called dopamine. You may have heard of it before – it is also one of the endorphins or the ‘feel good’ chemicals. Dopamine signals that a reward or something important has inspired us and just about every human being on the planet gets this little reward when they achieve something.
Dopamine is also the chemical that gets out of balance when people are addicted to something – be it drugs or a member of the opposite sex. These addicted states are characterised by an oversupply of dopamine in the system – the dopamine stimulates the desire to keep chasing after the reward.
So, what you have is a system that is intrinsically rewarded by achieving something. You could say we are all, in our own way, addicted to achievement and, as leaders, we can capitalise on this pre-disposition to performance by leveraging some of the common motivators that cause people to do their best work.
A self-fulfilling prophecy?
The irony is that when we manage people as if they don’t want to do their best work, we actually sabotage their ability to perform. The science tells us that it almost becomes a self fulfilling prophecy. By contrast, when we believe that people actually want to do well and manage them accordingly, we get better results.