Why are my people never in the lab? How do I motivate them to work harder?”.

Recently an anxious client approached me about helping him to develop his lab team.

These type of engagements can be challenging because the issues tend to lie in old mindsets. Most young managers and junior investigators seem to have old and out-dated concepts about human resource management and workforce development.

During the industrial revolution and WWII, management science was born out of a need to optimize military operations, and later company revenue, along with investment returns. This was a time where line-workers became a dominant part of The American (western workforce.)

These workers were paid and promoted based upon defined contributions toward goals set by senior leaders. This optimized worker performance and satisfied union worker rights, led by the fair labor standards act of 1938 (FLSA). This gave way to the forty-hour work week that we’re familiar with today. Therefore, employee job and roles were carefully defined and scripted into predictable standard operating procedures.

Many companies today abide by these rules and regulation set forth by the FLSA, which still guides many academic and governmental entities.

Unfortunately, R&D (research and development) and innovative discoveries often do not provide clearly defined goals, nor fixed processes. The nature of the work is either for exploratory purposes, educational development, or both, which require constant creative management.

In addition, this type of dynamic work calls for a creative workforce, who are comfortable with unpredictable tasks and results. If an employee is okay with the ambiguous nature of their job, they will most often require careful guidance and mentorship through their projects.

This historical perspective allows us to see the workforce development as a creative endeavor, which requires a leader willing to help guide and mentor their team. This approach can be analogous to the experimental process of scientific discovery, rather than the strong-arm management of employees in order to “just get them to work!”. The scientific method is a careful process which fosters hypothesis-driven learning, which should also be the same strategy for developing productive teams.

However, not all employees are adept to ambiguous jobs. Therefore, we always advise that employers or faculty hire curious and creative people before industrious and methodical ones. Methodical employees work well if experiments are clear and the results are known [which is seldom the case.]

In contrast, the curious and creative nature of students and trainees can produce some of the most innovative and inspiring discoveries. An innovative employer would be wise to consider a curious intellect rather than a perfunctory performer. Which kind of person would you want to hire?

To help make that determination, we often cite Jim Collins, the author of “Good to Great, Why Some Companies Make the Leap…And Others Don’t”.  If you have to motivate your employees, you have hired the wrong people. The manager’s job is to avoid demotivating your employees by providing them the resources needed to do their job; whether that be financial support, equipment support, coaching support, or any applicable support to help them to succeed. If your employees are successful, you’ll be too.

Leaders and managers cannot motivate people. People are either motivated, or they’re not by their own goals and desires. The question a leader should be asking is “are their goals aligned?”.  Once they’re motivated, the job of an investigator is to communicate their shared vision by guiding and mentoring them. The only thing that a manager or leader should be managing is the environment, not their people.

Most young managers go wrong by not hiring the right candidates and failing to mentor them through their career journey.  Ill-advised leaders can sometimes be focused on their own goals rather than helping their team to succeed in their work. This ill strategy will always produce frustrating efforts and underperforming workforces.

Can you tell me what portion of the workforce is hirable as a creative employee?  If you want to know, feel free to reach out to me.

Interested in how you can hire the right team, and receive a free strategy session? Feel free to schedule a time.