When Jurgen Appelo was chief information officer of a tech company, he began to apply modern management ideas, developing self-managed teams. It seemed to be working effectively, except for one hitch: He wasn't quite sure what he should be doing as a manager when the employees were organizing themselves.
Thinking about that dilemma has led him to write books and speak to companies, offering ideas, games and tools – like kudos reward systems and delegation poker – to motivate teams. His latest effort, Managing for Happiness, might be a provocative one for some managers who don't see their role as creating happiness in the work force but instead getting things done. He remains steadfast. "Happy people are more productive in organizations. Happy and engaged employees are valuable," he said in an interview.
Rewards can be central. People love to be appreciated. But you need to tackle rewards right, following six rules:
Don't promise rewards in advance: Give rewards at unexpected times so people don't change their intentions and focus on getting the reward. You don't want to promote cheating or other dysfunctional behaviour.
Keep rewards small: A small reward – a pat on the back, a dinner at a restaurant – will show appreciation without creating office tensions. Interestingly, research shows that big rewards can decrease performance.
Reward continuously: Don't look to celebrate successes once or twice a year. Bonuses typically encourage extra effort in November as people figure the bosses are making those decisions. Aim for rewards every day.
Reward publicly, not privately: The rewards indicate the kind of behaviour you prefer from team members. Acknowledging those actions privately means only those honoured know. Let everyone know.
Reward behaviour, not outcomes: If you reward outcomes, you can send a message that it doesn't matter what behaviour lead to the award. But it's the kinds of behaviour that are crucial.
Reward peers, not just subordinates: Rewards should not just come from bosses. Create an environment in which people reward colleagues, as they often know best what's worth honouring.
Giving employees kudos is one idea consistent with those rules. Originally shared with him by Paul Klipp, former president of Lunar Logic Polska in Poland, such a system allows employees to give a colleague a small gift when deserved. The reward is called a kudo and is cited in an e-mail or note.
Mr. Klipp would then bring the individual a handwritten kudo note and a tray of gifts from which the person being thanked could pick – things like movie tickets or a box of chocolates. He viewed it as his personal spy system, since everyone was sharing with him positive actions by colleagues. The winners were celebrated on Facebook, so everybody knew, and no abuse was evident such as employees using kudos to send gifts to pals.
Other companies have similar systems. If you worry the costs could spiral out of control because there are no limits on the number of gifts, increase the reward but award it through a weekly draw from the names of all those awarded kudos.
Delegation is essential in the modern work force but he feels managers see only two options: "I make the decision or they make a decision." In fact, it's much broader and he outlines seven possibilities: Tell (you make the decision and inform others, perhaps explaining your motivation); sell (you make the decision and try to convince others why it's right, to help them feel involved); consult (you ask for input, which you take into consideration making a decision that respects others' opinions); agree (you enter into a discussion with others and come to a consensus); advise (you offer others your opinion and hope they consider your wise words but it's their decision); inquire (you leave it to others to decide but ask them to convince you of the wisdom of their choice); delegate (you leave the decision to them and don't want to know the details).
Develop a delegation board – perhaps a chart on a wall or a spreadsheet accessible to others – in which you list common decisions and which of those seven paths is preferred. Add to the board when new situations arise. Perhaps play delegation poker, taking a decision such as how vacations should be allocated and letting everyone choose from one of seven cards depicting the options. Then discuss the different responses everyone gave.
Kudos. Delegation boards. Delegation poker. In each case, you are abiding by his belief you must "manage the system, not the process. As a manager, you don't make people's decisions. Let them self-organize."
Harvey Schachter is a Kingston, Ont.-based writer specializing in management issues. He writes Monday Morning Manager and management book reviews for the print edition of Report on Business and an online column, Power Points. E-mail Harvey Schachter