#110 The Story Part 5: Connecting The Dots

(In parts one, two, three and four of this story, business owner Ted is trying to figure out how to run a business that’s heads above the crowd. Last time he latched onto the idea of pursing growth for each individual at TeddcoCorp. Today he’s finding out just how hard that might be.)


Committing to growth for each individual at TeddcoCorp sounded great.

But, Ted's head was swimming with questions.

What kind of growth was he talking about - personal or professional or both?
What would this growth initiative cost?
How would he measure it’s effectiveness / ROI?
Should financial payback / ROI even be a factor?
Was this growth thing about helping people, making more money, or just getting rid of his frustration?
Was he sure this path would bring back his old energy and excitement?

And there was one more biggie.

How was Ted going to make this “helping others grow” idea a reality?

BACK TO THE BOOKS

For answers, Ted dove back into the writings of psychologist Frederick Herzberg. He focused on an update that Herzberg had published back in 1987. And there Ted found a strong emphasis on Direct Feedback as a driver of growth and motivation.

And this feedback could come from yourself, your environment, other people, etc.  With a large chunk of it coming from your coworkers. Something as simple as a nod or a frown - all the way up to a formal review of your work.

But, as we know, all feedback isn’t consumed equally. It has the most impact when it comes from someone who cares about us and our work - a trusted connection.

So GROWTH comes from absorbed feedback.
And absorbed feedback comes from trusted CONNECTIONS.

This was good stuff.

And all this focus on connection reminded Ted of something - a gift he’d received from Joy.

ONE MORE PSYCHOLOGIST

Last Christmas, Joy had given Ted a book that he recalled had something to do with connection. In fact, it was sitting within eyesight on top of his office bookshelf.

He dusted it off and read the cover.

“Daring Greatly” by psychologist Brené Brown.

Joy had sweetly dog-eared and highlighted a few passages for Ted. And she’d jotted a few other quotes from Brown throughout the book. Gee, he chuckled to himself, maybe she was trying to tell him something.

This was one of the highlighted passages…

“Connection is why we’re here. We are hardwired to connect with others, it’s what gives purpose and meaning to our lives, and without it there is suffering.”

So Ted had already drawn the conclusion that connection, which leads to better feedback, was the key to growth. Now Brown was saying that connection goes much deeper than that. That it’s the key to a meaningful and purposeful life. And, even more compelling, if you suck at it - you’ll suffer.

Geez, this stuff was getting serious real fast. Now Ted wasn’t just trying to help people grow, he was saving them from a life of suffering. And, being an introvert by nature, Ted wasn't real sure he wanted to open this can of worms. He’d rather get some freaking work done and not have to worry about all this “soft stuff”.

BUT

His old way of doing things wasn’t working. He’d recently found himself sitting in his parking lot most mornings fantasizing about driving in the opposite direction.

MAKING CONNECTIONS VISIBLE

How big of a task would it be to create great connections and growth at TeddcoCorp? Ted decided to do a little math to answer that question.

Starting slowly, he wondered how many one-on-one connections existed on his five person marketing team? A quick search gave him the formula he needed to answer that question. N(N-1)/2 would tell him the total number of one-on-one connections - or potential sources of feedback - in a group of size N.

So the five person marketing team had 5(4)/2 = 10 one-on-one connections. And his 10 person sales group had 10(9)/2 = 45 one-on-one connections.

Wow, Ted thought, that number grows fast.

I wonder how many connections there are in the entire 100-person company?

The math was simple enough, 100(99)/2 = 4,950. Holy hell that was a lot of connections. No wonder it was so hard to keep everyone moving in the same direction.

Red connections.png

And since Ted was a visual person by nature, he started doodling what these connections looked like in his 10 person sales department. He arranged 10 small circles around a circular perimeter. Then he wrote the name of a sales employee across each one of them. Next he drew the 45 lines that connected them. He drew green lines between people that he thought had a healthy supportive connection. He drew red lines between pairs that he thought had a poor connection - i.e. were not sources of trusted feedback for each other.

When he finished, he counted 30 green lines and 15 red lines. That meant 30 of 45 or 2/3 of the connections within the sales department offered trusted feedback. Ted figured it was correct enough to say that they were running at 2/3 or 66% efficiency.

So even if they were all working on the exact right stuff, they were “wasting” 1/3 of their growth potential. Then he thought about what this picture would look like if he included all 100 employees - which would mean adding cross department relationships to the mix.

Hmmm. If he did that he guessed the percentage of green lines - supportive connections - would go down even further. For instance, there was lingering bad blood between sales and accounting. Nothing terrible, just a lot of bickering back and forth over invoicing errors and timely collection. Enough friction that the lines between the individuals in those groups would likely include plenty of red.

So Ted assumed that 2/3 efficient was an absolute best case scenario across the entire company. Which meant all he had to do was clean up 1/3 times the 4,950 total connections in the company, or 1,650 connections.

Holy shit, that was impossible. There was no way he could personally intervene in that many red connections and long term keep them green.

GROWING WORSE

As if the challenge wasn’t big enough already, as TeddcoCorp continued to add employees, things we’re probably going to get worse. Ted felt this way because he’d watched several of his business-owning friends grow more disenchanted as their companies had grown.

It was a frustrating reality.

You finally get what you thought you wanted - a growing business - but it doesn’t bring the joy you thought it would. Instead it feels like a car veering down the road without power steering. And it’s dark out with heavy fog.

At times it makes you wonder if you really belong in the driver’s seat.

As this helpless thought rolled over and over in Ted’s mind, his phone rang. It was Joy.

“It finally happened. It all came together!”

“What happened? What came together?”

“The band. They sounded fantastic this morning.”

Joy was a music teacher at the local high school. And she’d been stressing out trying to get her musicians ready for an upcoming concert.

“It was the drummers. They finally got the beat right and everyone else just fell into place. The rhythm came together and it was amazing!”

Ted was happy for Joy as she buzzed with excitement, but he was also lost in thought.

The answer to her problem had been the beat, the rhythm. Maybe this was also the answer to Ted’s problem…

#109 The Story Part 4: What Do You NEED

(In parts one, two and three of this story, business owner Ted is trying to figure out how to run a business that’s heads above the crowd. It’s been a frustrating search, but in today’s episode he locks in on something he badly needs.)

Ted couldn't get this question out of his head...

What do you NEED?

He’d given up on chasing his “wants”. They’re fleeting, and he had no idea if getting what he thought he wanted would actually be good for him anyway.

So his new focus was NEEDs. The cravings that human beings must satisfy to thrive.

It seemed to Ted that this was more of a psychology question than a business question. But he hadn’t paid much attention back in high school psychology. The single thing he remembered was a triangle that some guy had drawn. And he knew it had something to do with basic human needs. So he jumped on "the google" and started digging.

maslow hierarchy.jpg

Turns out the guys name was Maslow and the triangle was called Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. It showed basic needs at the bottom - like food, water, security. Then, as you moved upward, you got into higher level needs like friendship and respect. And at the very top was Self-Actualization - the need to reach our full potential.

This was interesting stuff to revisit, but there weren’t any light-bulb moments for Ted. And it was almost 10AM on Saturday morning. Time for Ted and Joy to head over to the local shopping center. They’d start with coffee at the place with beans from some country Ted had never heard of. Then, while Joy was raking in cash making returns, Ted was going to visit the bookstore. At noon they’d get back together for lunch.

THE BOOKSTORE

Ted scanned the endless racks of books.

"What I need is the old enthusiasm I had for the business. I busted my ass, and every day wasn’t a party, but I was jacked up. I need some of that old energy back."

And there were plenty of books that seemed to get to the topic of energy. They talked about GRIT and DRIVE and RESILIENCE. And it dawned on Ted that these topics were all related to motivation. He needed to feel motivated like he’d felt in the good old days.

As he walked past the sale table, he recognized one of the authors names - Clayton Christensen. He’d read a book by this guy many years ago called “The Innovator’s Dilemma” and he’d loved it. So he gave this newer book a once over. It was titled “How Will You Measure Your Life”.

As Ted scanned the pages, he lucked upon a quote on motivation…

“Motivation factors include challenging work, recognition, responsibility, and personal growth. Feelings that you are making a meaningful contribution to work arise from intrinsic conditions of the work itself. Motivation is much less about external prodding or stimulation, and much more about what’s inside of you, and inside of your work.”

These weren’t Christensen’s own original thoughts. He was summarizing the work of a psychologist by the name of Frederick Herzberg. And Christensen referred to Herzberg as “probably one of the most incisive writers on the topic of motivation theory”.

Ted was a pretty practical guy, not a big fan of theory. But he was also desperate. So he decided to give theory a chance. He took a picture of Herzberg’s name so he could do a little research on him when he got home.

And he continued to scan the book, until he felt a jab in his ribcage.

“Are you ignoring me? I texted you three times and called you twice.”

Joy had snuck up behind Ted and was ribbing him for his amazing ability to mentally disappear when he was concentrating.

“Sorry, but I found this book and it’s right in line with that hierarchy of needs stuff I told you about. And there’s this guy Herzberg…”

Ted kept on yakking as he, and ever-supportive Joy, headed off to lunch.

WHO IS FREDERICK HERZBERG

Back home, Ted bee-lined it to his computer and typed “Frederick Herzberg” into the search bar.

The first thing he learned was that Herzberg was long dead - since January of 2000. And that his best known research on motivation had started back in the 1950’s. There was a book that described his early findings called “The Motivation to Work”. So Ted zipped over to Amazon, and with a couple clicks a poor condition 1950’s original copy was on it’s way.

The day that dog-eared book arrived Ted tore into it like a kid on Christmas morning.

He quickly found that Herzberg’s big focus was figuring out what drives us to hop out of bed and want to get to work each day. And while the psychologist found several factors that led to motivation - challenging work, recognition, responsibility, and personal growth - there was something else that caught Ted’s eye. Herzberg always closed his questioning by asking “What did these events mean to you?”.  In other words, how did you interpret this recognition or increase in responsibility or whatever led you to feel motivated?

And there was a clear favorite among the answers. It felt like a sign that the person had a “possibility of growth”.  That they were progressing and moving forward.

In Herzberg’s own words “a sense of personal growth and of self-actualization is the key to an understanding of positive feelings about the job”

Bingo, that’s exactly how Ted had felt when he started TeddcoCorp. He was solving a real problem for customers and he was hellbent on doing it as best he could. And even though the work was frustrating at times, it was a good frustrating. If that makes any sense.

It was the frustration that always rides along with work that makes a difference - work that leads to personal growth. And he remembered how much energy he had each morning when he showed up to take on that challenge again and again.

He compared that “energy-infused good frustration” to his current frustration. A sinking feeling that came from fighting fires that felt repetitive and meaningless. And left him sitting in his parking lot wanting to drive in the opposite direction.

These thoughts also reinforced why he’d previously given up on the idea of chasing happiness. He'd rather be frustrated as hell chasing something he cared about than sitting around with a useless grin on his face counting his money. And he’d even found a study that suggested growth-based stress was good for him.

It seems that bad stress comes from not having any control over your day. While good stress came from working on challenging problems and having some control over how you attack them.

Amen. He’d give anything to feel that “good stress” again. And he wanted his employees to feel it too - the focus and the energy. And yes, it would help the business, but it was also the right thing to do for fellow human beings.

So Ted latched onto the idea of achieving growth for each individual at TeddcoCorp.

It was a huge challenge.
He felt it was the best possible use of his time.
As the business owner he would have some control over the plan of attack.

A perfect recipe for motivation and growth.

For the first time in a long time, Ted was excited about the future of TeddcoCorp.