Wednesday 13 May 2009

Instruct or inspire?

A couple of weeks ago some of our team were up at an event where they were fortunate enough to hear Will McInnes speak about social media. The people watching the speech had different backgrounds and roles but each one found the talk inspirational and were motivated to do something new as a result. This got me thinking about the process of management, and whether I had missed something important.

The bog standard management process is to get a task, assign it to an individual, train them on how to do it, and then monitor how they get on. I hope that my manifesto has encouraged a bit more dialogue in management than that, but essentially, the goals are the same. We try to ensure that the individual understands what they are doing, and I also try to ensure that they believe in what they are doing. This is quite an instructive method of management. It's about passing on knowledge (and motive) from the manager to the individual.

A draw back in using this management approach is that it doesn't have any method for getting tasks coming the other way. That is, it doesn't provide a framework within which we work to get the individual proposing new tasks and asking for new responsibilities. When I heard the reaction from Will's talk, it occurred to me that my manifesto was missing an important dimension; inspiration.

What is inspiration? I think that inspiration is like a pipe cleaner for the brain. I think our minds get blocked up sometimes and the blockages prevent us from achieving what we're capable of. The blockages can come from apathy, repetition, boredom or even just lack of interest. If we are inspired by something or someone, it's like the blockage is removed, and our energy and thoughts can flow again.

Inspiration is different from motivation. Motivation is the force that is applied to the individual to get them to do something. We often try to generate this force by using salaries, commission, bonuses, promotions, and other incentives. Some people even use punishments. Different motivations can have different levels of effect, or force. However, it's hard to keep this force applied. Hard to ensure that the force remains the same strength over time. For example, look at the motivational effects of a pay rise and how short that motivation lasts for.

The ideal situation is where the individual is producing this motivational force themselves. When this happens we see individuals not only reaching their goals, but going beyond them, pushing forward new ideas, thinking outside the immediate problem into new areas and solutions. When this happens, we get a little managerial magic, and our teams start making us look better than we are. It's no surprise that this would be popular, but the question is how to create this force, and I believe that inspiration is the ideal way of doing it.

The hard part in all of this of course is how to inspire people. I don't believe that it's essential to get inspiration from others in your field, I think we can all be inspired by many things. Imagine the incredible story of survival told in the film "Touching the void". That story is an inspiration to everyone about courage and determination, and I think it can have an effect on people in the work place too. The problem with this remote, detatched inspiration is that it can fade from our thoughts. If we can create inspiration within the work place, then it can provide a constant source for individuals to motivate themselves. Look around your office and ask yourselves whether you have people that could inspire. How could you harness that ability and then communicate it across your company? Why aren't you doing it already?

At our place, communication has been allowed to fall behind. We have an opportunity now to create a few inpirational speakers who can communicate our products, services and culture across the company and out to a wider audience. My primary focus when this happens will be to point this inwards and to re-kindle the fires of enthusiasm across the business. I've already been inspired by people at work and it's given me the boost I needed to progress. If we can generate the same effect in every person, then who knows what wonders we can achieve.

So instruct or inspire? Well, I doubt good management will ever move away from the need to instruct your teams. However, we can multiply the results if we also inspire our teams, and if we succeed in doing this at our place, then this will be a very good year. So, instruct and inspire.