Wouldn’t it be great if management was as simple as assigning tasks and checking on progress? The reality is that many times managers are faced with employees who seem able to take on a new project, but never quite get started. Follow-up conversations identify a lot of reasons why action hasn’t occurred , but you still have a sense that you haven’t really surfaced the real issues.
If you find yourself with an employee who doesn’t seem enthused to take on a new project and you can’t quite figure out why, here are three areas to explore. First identified by Edward Deci and Richard Ryan in the 1970’s, these factors are being rediscovered as management theorists and practitioners look at the factors that create an engaging work environment.
- Autonomy. Everyone has a need to exercise some level of control over their environment. Is the new role or project that you are assigning promoting autonomy in your employee, or will working on it make them more dependent on you and your organization? Employees will move toward projects and roles that increase their sense of autonomy and will retreat from environments that they feel decrease it. What is your new role or project offering?
- Relatedness. People are social animals. It’s important to create opportunities for people to work in a way that allows them to feel cared for by others, and to be able to give back to others. Even for people who seemingly want to work in an isolated manner with little interaction, there is still a need to be seen, accepted, and validated by others. Will the new project you are proposing lead to an increased sense of connectedness, or promote isolation?
- Competence. Everyone needs to feel that they are growing. People will move toward assignments which provide growth opportunities, and they will avoid assignments which seem to be dead ends. While routine work is a part of most jobs, keep in mind that a properly constructed role or task will include opportunities to learn new skills and increased competencies. How does this new task rate on that scale?
People have good reasons why they act on certain tasks and why they delay taking action on others.
Even when managers set clear goals, provide day-to-day coaching, and follow-up with proper amounts of direction and support, employees can still be slow to take action if these sometimes hidden drivers of behavior are not taken into account.
Is someone you know dragging their feet on an assignment? Keep in mind their perceptions of Autonomy, Relatedness, and Competence. Though often unspoken, they are always a part of an employee’s decision process.
PS: Would you like to learn more about creating an engaging environment for employees?
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