Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Heart of the Matter

When I was growing up, one of the phrases my mother frequently said was “the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.” This phrase probably dates me; I cannot imagine current day mothers stating this same phrase to their daughters.

I began pondering “what is the way to an employee’s heart?” In workplaces today, managers and corporations are interested in motivating their employees—to higher levels of performance and productivity and innovation, so that higher goals can be met with potentially fewer resources. A frequent challenge managers face is how to inspire their team members, so that they are fully engaged.

The answer I arrived at was this: “The way to an employee’s heart is through his/her heart!” Bodies of research have shown that people don’t tend to change behaviors unless they have an emotional connection to the change. Thinking alone just doesn’t do the trick.

Let’s explore this. If you are like me, you probably ponder New Year’s resolutions and feebly come up with 1 – 3 that you proclaim you will focus on as you spring out of bed on January 1st. And, if you are like me, you abandon most of those resolutions before the month ends. Why? Because we arrived at the decision by thinking alone. We think we need to lose that 10 pounds or resume a regular exercise regime or establish a meditation practice. However, our hearts aren’t connected to the decision. We have neither felt the agony and disappointment of staying the same, nor the exhilaration and joy of achieving the desired future state.

In order to make new decisions, and choose differently, we must go through the landscape of emotions. How does it feel to be overweight or out of shape or crabby? How would it feel if you could imagine being healthy or peaceful? Instead of thinking about how you might feel, can you truly get in touch with the feelings? Slow yourself down, close your eyes, and place yourself in that experience and state of feeling.

What happens in the workplace? Leaders hope to inspire and motivate employees, and yet most of their persuasive elements come from the thinking domain. To convince employees to reach for higher goals and achieve brilliant results, leaders employ:

  • solid rationale
  • best practice strategies and tactics
  • supporting data elements
  • concise PowerPoint presentations
  • reward and recognition systems

All of these tactics make sense to our intellectual sides. We may accept and agree with the new directions and follow, because the data make sense. On a continuum from compliance to commitment, we are likely closer to the compliance end.

However, to really inspire people and engender full commitment and engagement, leaders need to do better. They must connect to the hearts of employees. How? By:

  • connecting to their values
  • creating a vision of what’s possible
  • asking employees to imagine what it would feel like to be in that vision
  • discovering what employees most care about
  • finding a way to connect those passions to the work that needs to be done

Leaders must make an emotional connection.

When I train leaders how to be better coaches, one of the questions that I invite them to ask their employees is, “how do you feel about this?” or “How would you feel if you could make that happen?” I am frequently surprised at how much resistance there is regarding that word: “feel”. However, passion is completely connected to feelings. You cannot be passionate about something without feeling strongly about it.

So, when you think about the next change you want your employees to commit to, consider how you ignite their passion and connect to their values. Don’t be afraid to talk about feelings. Use more than just intellectual persuasion. Remember, the way to our employees’ hearts is through their hearts!