Last week I alluded to plans for the business to one day become stakeholder owned (by staff, customers, or perhaps both) and why I felt that was important. In the meantime I have challenged our management team to make Riverford a truly exceptional place to work; if we achieve that, all else will follow.
In our last round of quarterly staff workshops we broke into groups to discuss what it would take to be exceptional, but also to talk about how we are doing right now. There was mention of the lack of hierarchy, of Riverford being a friendly and beautiful place to work, of a shared sense of purpose and common values, diversity and respect, opportunities for development, shared meals in our canteen, great parties, interaction with customers, loads of free veg to take home, a few gripes about poor communication, but almost no mention of money. There is a wealth of research to suggest that money is a very poor motivator, especially for complex tasks; my early experience of piece-work is that it is pretty lousy even for simple ones too. No-one makes the point more convincingly than Dan Pink. Don’t bother with the book, but if you have ten minutes, listen to the fast talking guru of motivation here.
Most management is diabolically cynical and short term. Instead of relying on the ignoble assumption that we all behave like a bunch of donkeys following carrots, the world would be so much better if we could harness the powerful and ennobling desires for purpose (contributing to something worthwhile), mastery (getting better at stuff) and autonomy (shaping your own world), as Dan Pink says. Building the fulfillment of these needs into daily working life is the key to happy, high performing organisations. One might ask why most management in the last 30 years (particularly in the public sector) focuses on monetary carrots for quantifiable results, when these so obviously don’t work well. The answer is that it’s easy, a bit macho and appeals to the cynical and lazy. Those shaping our NHS might ask themselves why 700 of their staff have volunteered to travel to west Africa to fight Ebola. Great management relies on a willingness to believe in people, and to keep on believing even when things don’t work out first time.