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February 2014

The RAG in Motivation

People today talk of the Work-Life Balance, which is good, but not entirely accurate; it suggests a split between work and life, a choice between the two which can be remedied by information or techniques that will enable them to co-exist in harmony: you can have work and life! However, work is part of life and the split is not two ways, but three, and it is the invisible 'third' element that makes all the difference in the world to the other two.

As we think about it, for all our lives, there are three core elements: there is Achievement (normally designated work), in which we struggle to achieve something, or impose our signature on the external environment; there is Relationship or are relationships, in which we yearn to love and be loved by others, and gain their respect and co-operation; and finally, there is Growth (or self – our self, our real self) in which we seek to grow through self-awareness and self-development, and this imposes some sort of order on our internal environment.  Hence RAG.

These elements are dynamically interacting all the time. The most obvious example of this is when a colleague at work, known for their commitment and skills and quality output, suddenly loses interest in what they are doing, or becomes positively obstructive. Nobody can understand why this has happened, but upon investigation the root problem turns out to be nothing to do with work – turns out to be, for example, their partner has left them, or a parent has suddenly died. Thus, relationships outside work affect the work.

If this is true, as most obviously it is, it stands to reason that the self, too, will also affect both work and relationships, as they affect the self. The problem is: very few people seem to understand that they have a 'self' and that therefore they need to tend it! Tend it as you would a garden. The exception to this general stricture would the physical self and physical health. Because they can see and feel their physical bodies, people will take action to promote its well being – join the gym, do yoga, eat well and so on. Far fewer pay attention to their mental self, their emotional self, and their spiritual self. This is a tragedy because it is the self that primarily fuels work and relationships as we shall see.

However, before we discuss this in more detail, let's briefly look at how the three life elements express themselves in our lives. If we were to sum up their content in one question, then it would be:

Work (Achievement) asks: what do I do?

Relationship asks: how do I get strokes?

Self (Growth) asks: what does this mean?

All three questions are vital to us as human beings, but it should be clear that if we consider anybody, including ourself, then we all have predilections. Some people regard the question, ‘What do I do?’ as far more important than the other two. And what we see is how this manifests itself in the world: in fact this question is particularly pertinent to men and can lead to the often observed work-life imbalance that is so characteristic of them. A form of workaholic-ism emerges, whereby work becomes the be all and end all of their existence – and of some women's too.

Again, some people, and probably more women than men here, regard, ‘How do I get strokes round here?’ as the core issue of their lives. Relationships are everything, and in a way they are right. There is a familiar adage, 'all for love', and another which says that nobody on their deathbed wishes they had spent more time in the office. No, they wish they'd spent more time with the people they allegedly loved. But for all the power of love, the need for 'strokes' can have a dangerous sting in its tail: it can lead to compliance, co-dependence, and a loss of personal identity in the mad desire to have strokes come whatever may.

Finally, then, the third question, which seems cerebral and academic, but upon which so much depends: ‘What does this mean?’ In his book Man's Search for Meaning the noted psychologist, Vicktor Frankel, concluded that the meaning question was at the core of our existence. Man simply could not live without it, but with it could endure almost anything. This is fine and philosophical, but so many are too busy to pay any attention to the question, and so to themselves, until it is too late. They mistake the customs, habits and values of civilisation as a given font of meaning, and then do not have the internal equipment to deal with pressure when the cracks appear, as they always do to a greater or lesser extent.

So, to return to an earlier point, it is knowing the self, it is allowing for personal growth, that is the key to both success at work and in relationships; further, it is the fuel that provides 'energy', motivation if you will, to these other two elements. Ultimately, the person who is either so busy working or so busy in a relationship – say, caring for a child – or both burns out because there is no 'time for myself'. Time for the self, or Growth, is critical, but using it wisely is a different matter for it is in those spaces between the work and the relationships that many find being on their own, with their self, unbearable and we need narcotics and stimulants of one sort of another to cope. As Pascal, perhaps rhetorically, put it, 'All man’s evil comes from a single cause, his inability to sit still in a room.'

Psychometric Flowers

Sometimes things occur which are so typical and so representative of a problem that one has to comment on it. I am referring to the Paul Flowers case in the UK. For my international readers not familiar with this, the basic facts of the case are that a man called Paul Flowers was appointed to become chairman of the Co-operative Bank in the UK. Mr Flowers attracted attention in two ways last year. The Co-operative Bank is a well-known ‘ethical’ bank in the UK and was led (by Mr Flowers and the Board) to require a £1.5B bailout (and so become a minority stakeholder in itself, only owning 30%) when it dramatically and financially over-extended itself. Further, Mr Flowers was then caught in a newspaper ‘sting’ and found to be extensively using illegal drugs.

If this weren’t enough, two more things: when Parliament came to investigate what happened via its Treasury committee, it found that Mr Flowers had no qualifications or experience to be a banker and when asked directly what he estimated the size of the Bank’s assets to be, Flowers replied £3B when in fact it turned out to be £47B – a pretty incredible discrepancy for somebody at the top. But worse, we learn from Rodney Baker-Bates, the bank’s former deputy chairman, who voted against and then resigned over the bank’s disastrous efforts to overreach itself (the acquisition of 630 Lloyd’s Banking Group branches), that the appointment of Mr Flowers was on the basis of he "did well in psychometric tests"! As the Treasury committee chairman Andrew Tyrie observed: Flowers proved to be "psychologically unbalanced but psychometrically brilliant".

Think about that: be "psychologically unbalanced but psychometrically brilliant" and consider how corporates rely on this tool, and indeed how HR rabbits on about its – or their (since there are many flavours) validity. Next time you hear an HR or other director go on about the validity of psychometric, do remember to point out: so if I understand what you are saying about validity, then who we are looking to appoint may be somebody who is be "psychologically unbalanced but psychometrically brilliant"? Look out for the withering scorn with which that is greeted. But why not?

The thing is: this is not likely to be an isolated case. The banks are famous for using psychometrics and spending a fortune on them, and to what end? We know from the financial crisis all about ‘Fred the Shred’ and the other less, or lesser known psychopaths and ego maniacs who captained their ships – dreadfully – over that turbulent period. And doubtless, they were appointed on the same basis. Indeed Sir David Walker,  now chairman of Barclays, recommends that institutions use just such ‘objective’ methods of analysing candidates. Frankly, if that’s what objectivity achieves, might not subjectivity be better?

Of course the psychometric industry has already gone into overdrive to limit the damage of this most damaging revelation. Dr Mark Parkinson, a business psychologist who works on senior level recruitment in the City, told the Financial Times that "responsible employers would never use the psychometric tests in isolation … one would expect due diligence". Well, I guess he would say that, wouldn’t he? Common sense perhaps might precede even due diligence! What we have with these psychometrics is fundamentally a lazy form of stereotyping. We pigeon-hole people and then imagine we know all there is to know about them. The tests produce a static sort of result. As long as we realise that the result is a model, is a map (and not the territory, not the ‘thing’ or the ‘person’) then all is well. But that, is almost beyond human capability; the capability of busy people with jobs to do, reputations to establish, and easy knowledge – like psychometric knowledge - to demonstrate.

It is for this reason too I have an axe to grind. Namely, it would be far more difficult to appoint Mr Flowers following his completion of a Motivational Map, a self-perception inventory, than a psychometric. Built into the Map is the notion of change, that motivators change, and so there is not a stereotypical profile of anybody, only a profile valid at one point in time, and its relevance is always contextual. We have to think about the role, the candidate and the profile if we are going to make an informed and effective choice.

The good news is that Psychometric Flowers points to the need for a new dawn in tools we need to evaluate candidates, and Motivational Maps is waiting in the wings, its time rapidly about to dawn.