Empowering Employees Through
Problem-Solving

Revolutionizing HR and Management Practices to Foster Job Satisfaction and Productivity in a Shifting Work Landscape

The nature of job roles has been evolving over the past few decades from repetitive production tasks to heuristic activities requiring knowledge and critical thinking skills. That change is projected to continue as we enter the 4th industrial revolution. Despite this change, companies are failing to adequately adapt HR and management practices to effectively motivate employees in the roles that are needed the most. Studies have shown that the “carrot and stick” motivational theories that form the foundation of “pay for performance” based management approaches not only don’t work for roles that require creativity and thinking but can be de-motivating and counter-productive to the goals the company is seeking to achieve.

So what does this have to do with problem solving?

It turns out that for knowledge workers, providing meaningful and challenging problem solving opportunities along with the authority to solve them can be a key driver for fostering intrinsic motivation and job satisfaction. Think about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs for a moment: most modern employees have most of the lower needs met and what they are really seeking is self-actualization through their careers. Here are 4 tips on how to use problem solving and what we know about human behavior to increase both productivity and employee satisfaction:

1. Treat problem solving as a motivator

The millennial generation in particular has grown up with an affinity towards activities where they feel challenged and they feel a sense of purpose. As an employer, you can build upon this natural inclination by providing bigger and tougher problems for the employee to solve. Consider using a new and challenging work assignment as a means of motivating employees to perform to their potential by making them feel empowered.

2. Even repetitive tasks can be positioned in the context of continuous improvement

For manufacturing, operations and service roles that have a large repetitive component, consider changing the conversation from “how well are you executing the role?” to “how can we execute the role better?” Employees are seeking a sense of purpose and a feeling that they are making a difference – so continuous improvement comes naturally to them, as long as your company culture doesn’t discourage it.

3. Frame the activity as an opportunity, not a chore

How you frame the activity makes a huge difference as to whether or not employees will be motivated to do it. Mark Twain made the point well in “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” with the story about painting the fence. Tom encourages his friends to join him in the task of painting the fence (initially a punishment) by persuading them that the activity is fun, as well as a privilege. Whilst perhaps essentially a humorous story about a cunning little boy, it also serves to illustrate how you can completely flip the perception of an activity by taking a novel approach to framing.

4. Compensate appropriately for solving problems

Leaders should entrust challenging problems to individuals they trust and respect. Offering the right form of compensation is crucial, as an extrinsic reward may diminish the intrinsic value of the activity and subsequently reduce employees’ motivation to participate.

In conclusion, it’s essential to recognize that the modern employee is intelligent and possesses significant potential – that’s precisely why they were hired! Now is the opportunity to demonstrate your management prowess and guide your employees towards reaching higher levels of performance. Utilize business problems strategically to provide your team with the challenges and sense of purpose necessary for their career satisfaction and motivation.

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