Stephen Billing’s Blog

Stephen Billing photo

Job Security

Stephen Billing, April 29, 2009

Is job security a motivating factor?

Considering factors of motivation n a management development workshop recently, we were reflecting on the place of job security in motivating staff for good performance. Traditionally of course, Herzberg’s two factor theory suggests that job security is a hygiene factor, the absence of which is dissatisfying to the employee.

But the presence of job security is not a motivating factor to the employee according to this theory. Interesting work and opportunities for promotion and growth are more motivating for people.

The debate in the room was interesting as people wondered considered whether job security was now a more important consideration for everyone. Most managers seem to believe it is. One went so far as to say that she believed that it would be the number one concern for her people at the moment.

Of course, even if she’s right and job security is the most critical concern for front line staff at the moment, this doesn’t necessarily mean that having job security is a motivating factor (i.e. I think I’ll work hard because I’m less likely to lose my job here than if I were some other company). Also, it may not be here team’s biggest concern, but rather her biggest concern.

Nevertheless, job security is clearly an issue that is playing on people’s minds at the moment. People are experiencing their present moment based on their learnings from the past and their particularly uncertain expectations for the future. 

Witness the large numbers of applicants for jobs these days as contractors and temporary employees seek what they see as much more stable icome prospects as a permanent employee.

I still maintain, as a resolute corporate refugee, that our best security is in being excellent at our craft, whatever it may be, and developing enough marketing nouse to be able to connect with those who would find our services valuable.


Two Ideas For Your Efforts to Motivate Others

Stephen Billing, April 27, 2009

Motivation – a personal thing

In a workshop recently with front line managers, the topic of motivation arose. It is my contention that many managers don’t know enough about their staff and their aspirations to really be able to respond in ways that engender commitment, not just compliance – whether it’s presenting projects, delegating work or handing out tasks. 

You need to have a relationship with your people such that you know what they aspire to in the future – whether work or personal, and what they would like to learn. Then you have a better chance of being able to find something about the task you have in mind that will be interesting, motivating or inspiring for the other person. In other words, you’ll have a better chance of appealing to their rational or not-so-rational self interest.

In my workshops most managers can readily identify three personal things they know about their staff. For example, they know the name of their spouse, how many children and where they live. They also tend to know what the person was doing prior to their current role, especially if they recruited the person!

But managers don’t seem to know their people’s aspirations for the future – i.e what they’d like to be doing 5 or even 3 years from now. Or even if their people would like to be learning some new skills. Even thought their performance management systems require them to discuss this with their people.

Some managers even think it would be an imposition or prying to attempt to find this out. And yet future aspirations can be such an energising force to tap into. In response to this I often hear "My people just want to continue to do a good job in their current role." This is fine and gives you a cue as to what is important to them (doing a good job). By the way, I do wonder if these managers have checked this out with the person, or just assumed or stated it as a fact.

However, if you are feeling diffident about finding out what your people’s aspirations are, I have two suggestions.  The first is to ask in a casual conversational way "What would you like to be doing in 5 years’ time?" The second applies if you think your relationship with the person would not withstand this kind of question. Try disclosing to them what you would like to be doing in the future, and ask them in turn what they think. People will respond well to such a disclosure.


Anzac Day – Lessons From Nana

Stephen Billing, April 25, 2009

Remembrance of things past

Today is Anzac Day in New Zealand. A day in which we remember those who have fought in wars for our national pride. The main wars we remember are the two world wars, but there are also others since then that we have been involved in.

It gets me thinking about what it would be like to be born a male in a time when, at the time of becoming an adult, you are called to serve your country. You know, that could be a major inconvenience! I thank God that I am not in that position because I don’t know what I would do.

My grandmother (Nana), who I was very close to, died recently aged 97. She saw both those world wars. Her twin sister is still going strong. Nana taught me that we all face situations in which we do not know what the results of our actions will be, including our reducing faculties to hear, to see to move and even to taste food.

She always did as much she could with the abilities that she had, and she bore hardship uncomplainingly. After six bedridden months at age 95 she was determined to walk again, and she did. She taught me that all we can do is weigh up the information we have and make our decisions accordingly.

I am very proud that Nana is part of my identity. I hope that in all situations in my life I will be as courageous as her – both on a grand scale and on a micro scale as well.

Thanks Nana, I am thinking of you often.


Further Critique of Maslow

Stephen Billing, April 10, 2009

More critique of Maslow

In my previous post I wrote about Maslow’s individualist orientation. Another concern I have with Maslow’s hierarchy is related to this unacknowledged individualist perspective. It tends to lead us to put people into categories according to the hierarchy – i.e. am I self-actualising? Is that person self-actualising? Or are they operating at a lower level of needs such as security, worried about whether they will have a job tomorrow?

For example, on one consulting project I worked on, managers, prior to a move of building were concerned about whether they would have laptops and car parks. The HR people wanted the managers to talk about strategy and customer service and new ways of working. When managers talked about laptops and carparks, they were seen by the HR people as being self-absorbed, only concerned abou their own needs (what’s in it for me) and as being concerned about security.

This meant that they completed missed that the concerns about laptops and car parks were actually about status and power in the interdependent group of managers. And opportunities to address these were therefore missed.

It is by no means a proven fact that people have the needs Maslow identified, nor is it proven that they are satisfied in the order he gave. His hierarchy has become so dominant that it seems natural to see it that way and not to question it.

Maslow’s hierarchy is a lens through which to view human beings and human motivation. And we have to remember that like any lens, it allows us to see certain things, at the same time obscuring others.

Rather than thinking about how to stay self-actualising at the top of the pyramid, and how to allay people’s fears, I think it would be more fruitful to consider the interactions that you are part of, what is going on amongst you and others, and what is discussable and undiscussable. This kind of reflection is what will be better in helping you get through concerns about whether or not you or they will have a job tomorrow.


Discussion about Shared Values

Stephen Billing, April 9, 2009

An earlier thread on shared values has been updated over the last 2 days by a number of comments – view the comments to see the thread.


There is a bit of discussion going on in the comments to my post entitled Three Reasons not to Aim for Shared Values.

The argument centres around whether the alternative to shared values is the replacement of the organisation’s espoused shared values with other shared values about embracing diversity.

My point is that diverse organisational participants will lead to increased likelihood of novel outcomes, but that these could be destructive as much as they are creative. Conflict levels will also increase and there is no guarantee that those in the organisation will be able to tolerate the increased degree of conflict.

Yet, because we are humans, we cannot step outside of human relating and we therefore have no choice in our organisations but to continue to navigate this conflict and diversity as we seek ways to go on together doing our work.


Maslow’s Individualist Hierarchy of Needs

Stephen Billing, April 8, 2009

Further critique of Maslow

Over on Bernie White’s blog, The Moment, he has mentioned Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and wondered aloud how you can stay self-actualising at the top of the hierarchy when you are worried about security, safety and belonging needs. This has made me revisit my objections to Maslow’s hierarchy.

In an earlier post I pointed out the individualist perspective that is inherent, but unacknowledged, in Maslow. I want to say a little more about this here. According to this hierarchy, humans are bundles of needs, walking around seeking to fulfill these needs in a certain order. At the bottom of the hierarchy, in other words the first levels, people seek security and safety – a roof over their heads and food to eat. As these needs are met, people then seek to meet higher order needs including the jackpot, self-actualising. According to the hierarchy, people can not be worried about self-actualising if they have no food – they first seek to take care of the need to eat.

That probably sounds fair enough, and the fact that it does, to me shows how much we have come to take Maslow’s hierarchy for granted.

So, our human bundles are walking around seeking to have their needs met, some of which are emotional and social needs that require input from other people. This perspective does not, in my opinion, allow enough recognition of the interdependent nature of our society – we not only have needs that others meet, but in turn others need us and our society perpetuates as a web of interdependent people. Not as a population of self-contained units taking in and giving out needs.

So Maslow has, through its strong popularity, helped foster this view of the world that leads people to think of their own needs for self-actualisation but not their interdependence with others.


Process vs Content – A False Distinction in Today’s World

Stephen Billing, April 6, 2009

Irene Skovgaard Smith’s PhD thesis provokes a reflection on the popular process vs content distinction, which is found wanting. That’s Irene on the left.

It was Edgar Schein who made popular the distinction between consulting on process and consulting on expertise or content. In process consulting, the internal or external consultant is not an expert in the technical content of the work of the group, but gudies the group through aprocess in which the group solves its own technical content issues. Through the process consulting intervention, the client is better able to solve their problems in future perhaps without even needing the consultant.

Schein says that the consultant can’t possibly know the work of the group or organisation well enough to be able to prescribe what to do in a specific situation. The remedies have to be worked out jointly, with the group members providing the content and the consultant providing the process.

However, as a consultant, the process involves knowing when to stop a group, when to let something continue and when enough information has been gathered. And I think that as a consultant my judgement about these things is based not only on my knowledge of group process, but is also improved because of the management experience I have developed as a manager of, and as a member of similar groups accountable for achieving results in organisations.

It is very hard for the consultant to avoid the expert positioning anyway, because the clients define and position consultants that way.

The content and process components are not distinct and different from each other, but are rather components of the same expertise. Consultants are constantly negotiating a constant tension between insider and outsider status as well as process and content. Consultants are dealing with process and content at the same time. They are constantly negotiating their insider/outsider position. Furthermore, the consultant role is the product of the social potential that arises from that constant tension.

Irene points out that to come down on one side or the other is to attempt to do away with the ambiguity of this tension. Do away with this tension and you actually do away with the potential of consulting.


The Spice of the Consultant’s Outsider Knowledge

Stephen Billing, April 4, 2009


I have just been reading my friend Irene Skovgaard Smith’s PhD thesis on how consultants help in organisational change. She suggests that the consultant’s external knowledge is like a spice that when added to the internal people’s knowledge becomes a ’spiced version’ – knowledge that is new and yet still recognisable.

When I think of the projects I have done where I have worked with team leaders and other subject matter experts, the result has always been very much like this spiced version. It contains the information the experts have told me, and together we have reconstituted it, adding my knowledge of how to order things step by step in a useful way to make it clear for people. 

Doing this recently, the expert was surprised how accurate and comprehensive the material we have developed is. I reminded him "It should be, it’s what you told me." He was seeing what he already knew, but in a different way from what he was accustomed to seeing.

Spicy indeed.

I’ll be posting more in future inspired by Irene’s thesis. She is a prize-winning anthropologist who observed consultants implementing change over a long period of time. If you want to read her thesis for yourself (260 pages), click here.


Making Business Change Happen

Stephen Billing, April 3, 2009

This article was published in the Changing Organisations Newsletter ISSN 1174-5576 Num 3: April 2009.

As a manager, your business is important to you. You want to make change without your team flipping out. To be effective in making changes to your business, it is important to have effective ways of thinking about your business. No doubt you already consider your targets and goals, staff, budgets, important stakeholders such as customers and funders, and those you yourself report to.

Your business or organisation has certain legal rights like those of a person – the right to own property and other assets, and to enter into contractual commitments. In addition to this, your business is constantly changing. So it is tempting to think of the business as a thing that exists, perhaps a living being, with a heart (or soul) to express the essence of the business (that would be team spirit and cooperation), a brain that thinks for the business (no doubt that would be you, the manager) and hands to get things done (that would be your team).

While your business has these legal rights, it is actually composed of people who have to relate to each other in specific roles that are defined to a greater or lesser degree. And people are not like the heart or brain or hands of a person. Unlike your heart or your hands, people have their own choices, intentions and consciousness, all interacting with the others in your organisation and with customers and other important people like suppliers.

As you will be well aware, you cannot control the people and their interactions in the way that the brain of a person controls the hands, or the way the forces of mechanics control whether a building will stay upright or not. You cannot press a lever and manoeuvre all the people into place like a machine. In reality, it is not actually that helpful to think of your organisation as a thing, a mechanism or a living system. Instead, think of it as patterns of relationships –amongst your staff, customers, suppliers, shareholders, partners and yourself.

These myriad interactions cannot be controlled by any one person and yet they are not random – they have patterns. You cannot play god and design the future interactions that will take place in your organisation. As a human being, even as a powerful senior manager, you can only participate in conversations with others. With this in mind, what is the best way to foster the change you want? Here are three ideas which may seem counter-intuitive.


  • Be involved enough to have a great feel for your business so that you are influencing communication – with stakeholders such as customers, funders, suppliers and others. Make sure your managers are doing the same.
  • At the same time, be detached enough so that you can observe your situation in ways that are congruent with reality. If you are too involved you will miss vital aspects of the world around you. You must be involved and detached at the same time. Your goals and intentions for the future will always guide your participation with others.
  • Pay attention to how people are responding to you and how they are responding to each other. Discuss what you are noticing with your most trusted team members. It sounds simple, but this is powerful!

The key to change in your organisation is for you to develop your own changed perspectives and insights. The key to changing your own perspective and gaining new insights is listening to your people. And the key to listening is to notice how others are responding to you and how you in turn, are responding to them. Reflect on what you are noticing, and, when you have the opportunity, discuss this with your team and your own boss.  

Picture is Millbrook Resort in Queenstown in Autumn – the changing of the seasons 


Duffy Concert – A Bit of a Disappointment

Stephen Billing, April 2, 2009


We went to see Duffy last night. I love her album Rockferry and it has been on high rotate in the car and at home for a long time. So I was particularly looking forward to the concert. It’s a long time since I’ve been to a pop concert, so I guess I’m showing my age.

Duffy has a fantastic voice but somehow the performance didn’t really take off for me. She was great on the soft and slow numbers (showing my age again) but most of the time the sound quality was not good and she was drowned out by the loud instruments, and there seemed to be some glitches with the sound of the bass. I understand that the venue (Queens Wharf Events Centre in Wellington, New Zealand) is known for poor sound quality, and I would certainly think twice about going there again for a concert. Strictly average overall.

That being said, she did bring everyone to their feet with Mercy, which was her last song of the concert proper, and with her encore, Distant Dreamer.