I recently presented a workshop on passion and productivity where I explored what happens to employees’ purpose when businesses scale headcount but not “heart count”.
In my previous post, I challenged business leaders to rethink how they approach human performance by creating a synergy between business objectives and productivity – and I argued that purpose should be the core driver of both. But what happens to this sense of purpose in larger and highly regulated companies?
Background: Transactional Analysis
To understand how employees respond in the workplace, one can apply Eric Berne’s theory of Transactional Analysis to the employee experience.
Dr Berne theorised that in any human interaction there are three main ego states at play in each participant: the parent, the adult, and the child. Each individual has the capacity to access any of these three states during an interaction and their choice dictates how the other person(s) will respond. So for example if someone felt they were being scolded they would respond from the child ego state. Or, if they felt they were not being listened to they would respond like a frustrated parent. For a more detailed understanding of the theory watch this video.
But what does this mean for us as in business?
Dynamic in larger companies
The responses of these ego states can explain why employees respond in different ways. When we position messages in a way that takes away people’s freedom to perform; when we take away their power and their purpose and leave them with the ‘thou shalts’ we are treating them like children. It is then that we elicit behaviour that reflects that of a rebellious child.
Imagine for a moment that you work at a company where suddenly one day, without too much notice, you are told that it is mandatory to wear a uniform. You never wore one before and the nature of your work doesn’t require you to do so. What would happen? Research suggests people will slowly start to come up with creative ways to break the rule and get out of wearing a uniform.
This parent vs child pattern is often seen in large companies which are highly regulated and where employee’s individual freedoms are curtailed without much consideration of the individuals. Normally the pattern of communication is top-down, and reminiscent of “parental”. Passion and purpose is sacrificed in the process as employees move to child mode.
The ego states and small business
In contrast, when we look at a small business, we see a lot of the spontaneous child and adult at play. In a small business, you can do what you are good at; you can focus on your strengths and your natural talents. That’s why small businesses work so well – people are in love with what they are doing and free to perform according to their strengths. And because they are left to do what they’re good at, they automatically take responsibility for themselves and they don’t need supervision.
Now, I am not saying that there should be neither rules nor structure in business. I am saying though that if we could understand how we as individuals relate to each other and drive the behaviour of others, we can learn how to get the best out of every communication. We can learn to bring about adult-to-adult conversations. Once you understand how and why people respond to the same communication in different ways, you can start to play with your modes of communication to get the most out of your workforce. Understanding behaviour is of the utmost importance when it comes to building a company based on passion and purpose.