Too much legal control? Featured

8:00pm EDT August 26, 2008

Research shows that 43 percent of employers use technology to block the popular social networking Web site called Facebook. Other organizations go further, limiting or banning additional sites, including the online career boards.

While removing these distractions may be a not-so-subtle strategy to increase productivity and retain key employees, it begs a serious question: If your employees were more engaged, passionate and proud of the work they did, would you need to enact such restrictions?

“An organization that controls too tightly the manner in which its professionals think will come up short on innovation and will stagnate,” says Michael Tuchman, partner, Levenfeld Pearlstein, LLC. “It’s the objective-driven employees who drive the highest value outcomes.”

Smart Business asked Tuchman how to read covert symptoms that indicate unfulfilled potential and how to create an environment where motivation is organic and filters are minimized.

How can companies create an environment to intensify employees?

The best management and professional employees operate within organizations that have an identifiable culture and embrace it. Culture is not how the organization projects itself externally. Culture is about how the organization views itself. Effort should be devoted to articulating your culture and promoting it within the company. Shared pride in company culture ties directly to motivation. A culture that embraces change and looks for ways to challenge and educate its people, without trying to measure only by the bottom line, will increase the bottom line. Think of continuing education not as a perk but as part of a culture of learning and betterment for staff. Think of challenges not in terms of higher objectives for an employee, but in terms of how much stronger that employee will be for having met the challenge. By connecting organizational objectives to culture, motivation will be organic rather than externally imposed, and your people will be stronger for it.

Should leaders place an emphasis on objectives or processes?

The emphasis should be around instructing employees on objectives, not processes. The organization will, of course, have its processes, but good employees know what those are. Respect for intellect and initiative is evident when you articulate the desired objective and let the employee think through the paths to getting it done. If you look at what creates value in professional organizations or what are the attributes of the best management, it is the ability to think creatively and adapt to changes. Processes are useful for refining efficiency and are a necessary part of an organization educating itself. But only objectives-driven employees will have the motivation to realize the highest value outcomes.

What is the most productive role for feedback?

Feedback — it can be constructive yet perfunctory and thus pointless. Or it can be part of a culture of teaching and learning.

Feedback is not so much about what someone did right or wrong on the last undertaking but about how to better tackle the next one. It is about making the employee a better professional, not merely about preventing mistakes. An employer who reminds himself of this before providing feedback will tone the message in a powerful way.

It is a common refrain that we too often forget to say, ‘Thank you; good work.’ But the frequency of positive feedback is not a substitute for meaningful substantive feedback. At an individual level, substantive feedback motivates because it evidences the organization’s commitment to and respect for the employee. Finally, at an organizational level, celebrate wins. This takes feedback to the next level and emphasizes the team and challenge aspects of company culture.

What are the benefits to minimizing filters?

Productivity is enhanced when employees interact with outsiders on behalf of the company or outside of their group and do not merely push things to someone else in the group. Here I can draw parallels to my own professional experience as a lawyer. In my early years of practice, I would research and write memos on points of law. The work was interesting and challenging, to be sure. I recall the first time I was told I would present my findings and recommendations directly to a client. My work, myself and my firm as a whole now were to be judged by this client. As a result, the way I saw my firm, myself and my motivation to perform changed markedly as my role was externalized. The best employees thrive when representing their company or group. The intensity of an employee’s commitment and the quality of his or her work is at its highest when the employee is exposed to the organization’s constituents and filters are minimized.

MICHAEL TUCHMAN is a partner in the Corporate Practice Group with Levenfeld Pearlstein, LLC in Chicago. Reach him at (312) 476-7550 or mtuchman@lplegal.com.