Tuesday, March 30, 2010

France Telecom & Employee Motivation

France Telecom announced last week that it plans to begin basing up to 30% of a manager's bonus on social criteria, including job satisfaction of the people on the manager's team.  The change was implemented as part of a plan to address the company's rash of suicides over the last two years. [story]

Many of the people at the company who committed or attempted to commit suicide blamed their actions on working conditions, forced transfers, or fear of job loss.  In response to the problem, France Telecom's leaders have implemented training programs for managers and supervisors, and hired additional physicians, psychologists, and human relations personnel. Last week's decision to tie bonuses to worker satisfaction, absenteeism, and other people-oriented measures was the latest effort to deal with the problem.

Why Wait for Suicides?

My initial thought about this latest action was that it was a good move to improve the environment and working conditions at the company.  In addition to stopping the suicides, it can result in improving productivity and quality of service.

Upon further consideration, however, I wonder why it would take a rash of suicides for a company to understand the need to hold managers accountable for the satisfaction of those who report to them.

It is the responsibility of anyone in a supervisory position to create a positive environment for those on his or her team.  This includes coaching, motivating, and developing people, as well as creating an atmosphere that continually challenges people to improve.  A good leader also has to truly like people.  Although liking people does not necessarily make someone a good leader, disliking people definitely makes for a bad one.

Also, senior leaders must accept the responsibility to promote and hire only people with leadership capabilities into management positions, and commit to regularly develop the abilities of these people to become better leaders.

Remember Maslow?

Those who learned in management classes about Abraham Maslow's theory of motivation will undoubtedly remember his hierarchy of needs.  In his book, Motivation and Personality (HarperCollins, 2006),  Maslow theorized that people have five levels of needs, ranging from the most basic (physiological, safety, and love/belongingness) to the highest (self-esteem and self-actualization).  Maslow further stated that people cannot be motivated by appealing to higher level needs when they feel their basic needs are not consistently met.

When applied to the workplace, it becomes clear that fear and other aspects of poor leadership keep people at lower levels - specifically, the need for safety and security.  Change, innovation, and improving productivity, on the other hand, require people to be at higher levels.  In other words, we will never achieve the type of environment that fosters quality, improvement, and dedication necessary for long-term success and growth without helping team members satisfy their lower level needs.

Unfortunately, France Telecom is learning this the hard way.  Other companies can learn from their misfortune and create the type of environment that values employees.   The results of such an effort will be rewarding, not only for workers, but for all stakeholders.


Unknown said...

Hi Gregg, I must agree that I too wondered why it took a rash of suicides to spur the company into action. However upon later thought I sympathised with the companies late decision to take action as you can't always tell how bad a situation is getting until it blows up in your face. I'm not in any way condoning the actions of the executive committee, as it was probably down to a lack of communication that things got so bad in the first place.

The latest actions put in place to combat this problem are agreeably a very good idea and should completly eradicate all previous issues within the company.

There's a really interesting interview with Louis-Pierre Wenes, former deputy CEO of France Telecom on Meet the Boss TV that goes into great detail surrounding the company suicides. Really worth a watch http://bit.ly/cbIrYS

Unknown said...

Packaged training programs only deplete the soul, and that just leads to more suicides and general despair. Thinking too much about motivation and trying to manufacture it is counterproductive. I recently read a blog post called "Did That Employee Motivation Plan Come in a Can?" and it got to the heart of the issue. Wheeling out the Maslow only gets us so far.

Gregg Stocker said...

I'm not aware that France Telecom is using packaged training programs to address the issue of motivation. If so, I agree - any programs must be tailored to the company's culture and specific circumstances.

Maslow only provides the framework - not the specifics regarding what needs to be done. There is nothing in his theory (as with most theories) that tells a company what to do in any given circumstance - only that positive results depend on understanding where the employees are regarding fundamental and higher-level needs.