Reprinted from the book, Why Motivating People Doesn't Work…And What Does, by Susan Fowler with the permission of Berrett-Koheler Publishers 2014.
Relatedness is our need to care about and be cared about by others. It is our need to feel connected to others without concerns about ulterior motives. It is our need to feel that we are contributing to something greater than ourselves.
Notice the range of needs that relatedness covers. It is personal, interpersonal, and social. We thrive on connection.
Several years ago, a worldwide electronics giant hired me to deliver a keynote in London to one hundred of its top global leaders. As I was about to go on stage, my host gave me a heads-up. I was the only thing standing between these one hundred leaders and their trip home after a weeklong conference. She explained that they were spent and might be restless during my ninety-minute speech. My host also apologized for their multitasking culture. She told me that speakers had complained all week about the lack of attention and the constant texting and e-mailing.
My host's warnings sparked my competitive nature–I would show them! I would be so compelling that they would forget about going home, cease their multitasking, and sit with rapt attention. About three minutes into my presentation, I was humbled. I did not have one person's eye contact. I could have been talking to a wall. I was talking to a wall–and it made me sad. Spontaneously, I made a decision to do something I had heard tales of from fellow speakers but, given my extraverted nature, had never dared to do. I shut up and just stood there–waiting, waiting, waiting–until the silence captured the audience's attention and I had every eye in the room staring at me curiously.
After what felt like an eternity, I slowly and quietly asked, "What is going on here? For some reason, your organization thought it was worth thousands of dollars to fly me thousands of miles to talk to you about these ideas that might make a difference in the way you lead. Obviously you don't agree. I'll make you a deal. Give me fifteen minutes. That is all I ask–fifteen minutes. If I cannot say something of value to you in fifteen minutes, I do not deserve your attention and you can go back to your cell phones, tablets, and computers."
They were now staring in disbelief. I had them–except for one young man who promptly returned to his keyboard and in a loud voice exclaimed, "Well, I can multitask, can't I?" I moved as close as I could before responding, fully tongue-in-cheek. "You could if you were a woman." The group broke out in laughter. Evidently, I had chosen the right guy to pick on. He looked up, smiled, and said, "Okay, hit me with your best stuff."
But instead of throwing my "stuff" at them, I abandoned the speech I had planned and led the group in a heartfelt discussion about what had just happened. It turned into one of those magical moments where we all learned something. I shared how I felt trying to do a good job and convey the ideas I was passionate about without their attention or any visible signs of appreciation from them. They talked about their fear of letting go of their electronic devices and not being in constant contact with people. It was interesting to explore how none of us had been getting our basic psychological need for relatedness satisfied.
One of their big aha moments was realizing how few of them–or the people they lead–were getting their relatedness needs met through work. Their employees' desire to be in constant contact with friends outside of work was due to their lack of relatedness at work–especially those in the Gen X or millennial generations.
I ask you to consider the question I asked that group of global leaders: What percentage of your waking hours is spent connected to your work? Considering the time it takes getting ready for work, getting to work, working, getting home from work, and decompressing, you probably average 75 per cent of your waking hours connected to your work. If your need for relatedness is not met at work and over 75 per cent of your time is connected to work, then where is it being met? There is no such thing as compensatory need satisfaction. As leading researcher Dr. Jacques Forest told me, need satisfaction is important for everyone, all the time and everywhere. If you are not getting your needs for relatedness satisfied through your work, you are not likely to compensate for it in the limited amount of time you have outside of work.
One of the great opportunities you have as a leader is to help your people find meaning, contribute to a social purpose, and experience healthy interpersonal relationships at work. The challenge is that exploring healthy interpersonal relationships in the workplace has been discouraged or even forbidden. Regrettably, beliefs such as "It's not personal; it's just business" diminish an aspect of work that is essential to our healthy functioning as human beings–the quality of our relationships.
When managers apply pressure to perform without regard to how it makes people feel, people interpret the managers' actions as self-serving. These too-common approaches to motivation undermine relatedness at work and people's performance.
The role you play as a leader is helping people experience relatedness at work: caring about and feeling cared about, feeling connected without ulterior motives, and contributing to something greater than oneself.
Dr. Brandon Irwin's study described in the section on autonomy showed that silent coaches garnered higher productivity from exercisers than verbally encouraging coaches did. It is important to note that having a coach mattered. People performed better with an exercise coach than without one. But you cannot deny the impact the type of coaching had. Brandon believes that relatedness also played a big part in the results.
The exercisers thought the verbal coaches were not acting in their best interest but were self-serving. In some cases, the exercisers interpreted the verbal pushing as the coach's need to win. In other cases, if exercisers perceived that the coach's ability to perform the goals he gave them was inferior to their own ability, they interpreted the verbal encouragement as being more for the sake of the coach's own motivation than for the motivation of the people he was coaching.
This finding is essential when it comes to interpersonal relationships at work. Your people will feel the opposite of relatedness if they think they're being used by you or the organization, sense that your attention is not genuine, or suspect they are simply a means to someone else's ends.
Motivating people doesn't work because you cannot force someone to feel a sense of relatedness. But as a leader, you can encourage relatedness by challenging beliefs and practices that undermine people's relatedness at work. That means paying attention to how your people feel. That means gaining the skill to deal with their emotions. That means getting personal.