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Autonomy Mastery Purpose Triangle

Engaging direct service workers on a limited budget – Part 1

I have heard it time and again. “The reason that people leave our agency or don’t do their job well is that our wages and benefits are just too low.  If we had better pay and better benefits, our staffing situation would be so much better.”

This is only partially true.  It’s true that pay and benefits must be at an acceptable threshold, in the ball park, so to speak, for comparable work the person could be doing elsewhere.  Beyond that, however, other things are much more important to the vast majority of people.

Studies show that people will willingly choose to work at a particular workplace for less money than they could make elsewhere if certain conditions are met.  That’s right; people are willing to work for less given the right conditions.  As leaders, we need to become intimately familiar with these conditions. My thoughts on this topic are based on the book Drive, by Daniel Pink.  If you want to quickly get a new perspective on what truly motivates people watch this TED talk by Pink.

In his book, Pink explores the science behind motivation.  His conclusions helped me make sense of some of my observations about people and have given me some extra personal motivation to be a better leader.  He offers up some exiting new ideas, put in terms that I had never considered.

Pink says that there are three things that all people crave and value more than money:

  • Autonomy
  • Mastery
  • Purpose

In this first post I am going to focus on autonomy.  In future posts I will talk about the other two.

Some real choices for direct service workers are:

  • working for you, or working in a restaurant for more (with tips)
  • working in a day program versus working in retail for about the same
  • moving to another agency or related field for 7% more per hour

How do you tip the scales in your favour?  One way is autonomy, giving people choice in how they go about getting things done.

Autonomy Mastery Purpose TriangleWe all crave autonomy and choice – being able to do things our own way gives us ownership and pride and makes a job well done feel even better.

But how can this work in an agency with tight schedules and many rules to follow?

At Inclusion by IBEX, we have a customer support team of five awesome people.  We affectionately refer to them as Alpine Crew or just “Alpine”.  In Alpine, calls are not timed and every Alpine crew member is empowered to do what they think is right in any customer service situation.  This is a far cry from a typical “call centre”.  Like at most agencies each Alpine member has to show up when they are scheduled, our customers depend on them, but they work out amongst themselves who goes for lunch when and it changes often depending on everyone’s needs.  The ladies work out a “ladies lunch” every few weeks and the guys back them up in return for an occasional Friday afternoon golfing (or other goof off) session.  No one from “management” keeps track of how long the ladies lunch takes or how many times the goofing off happens.  The team all back each other up and as long as the customer’s needs are met, these things are totally encouraged and are non-issues.

It makes sense to me that we all want to be players, not pawns.   Each and every person that works with us wants to be an individual and feel the success of their own actions.  Understanding this and finding ways to support it and encourage it instead of “managing people” is a challenge I am laying down for myself.

I think the IBEX example is only scratching the surface on how to offer autonomy to people that have to be in a certain place at a certain time to do a certain thing.  If you have any more concrete examples in the developmental service field, I would love the hear them.  Email me or post a comment with your autonomy ideas and I will pass them on, and send you a free copy of Daniel Pink’s book!


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