By Trevor Wilson
About five years ago our most valuable employee announced at a Christmas party that she had been searching for a place where she could find happiness. She explained that this place was Argentina, which is where she spent a year when she was eighteen. She then announced that she was going back. I almost fainted. In over twenty years in business we had never had an employee like Tamara. She was exceptional; we thought we had done what we needed to do to retain her and keep her motivated. We had paid her well, provided her with an impressive title, and given her an opportunity to work on challenging assignments and travel to exotic countries.
Just as I got ready to open my check book or drop to my knees to beg her not to go, she clarified that she was, in fact, not quitting. “You keep telling your clients to go virtual,” she said. “Do you realize with current technology I could be up and running in Argentina within two days and our clients wouldn’t even notice?”
“In fact,” she added, “your clients have no idea where I am working from right now.” She pointed out that in 12 years we had only six clients come to visit our expensive downtown office.
As usual she had made a compelling argument and was right. Two months later she had moved to the middle of Argentina and not missed a beat. In fact, in many ways the working arrangement was superior. For example, I could hear her better on my computer using Skype than when she was on the phone in our downtown office. What’s more, our clients had no idea where she was based, even when she left Argentina for France the following year and eventually ended up in St. Martin.
While very little changed with the quality of her work, work ethic, and client satisfaction, this transition did require a shift in my attitude towards the nature of work.
Like many boomers, I was brought up to think of “going to work.” This mindset, which had been around since the dawn of the Industrial Age, was based on the essential ingredient of “face time.” If I have not seen you do the work how will I know you have done it? When Tamara informed us that she might make one or two visits to Toronto per year, judging her performance-based “face time” proved to be an untenable management model. What was the option? Judge her based on the results of her labor rather than the hours it took her to produce the results.
In the book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, Daniel Pink argues that the typical approach to motivating employees is out of step with decades of scientific research on human motivation. Pink argues that the research shows three elements of true motivation: autonomy, mastery and purpose. Autonomy is having a full sense of volition and choice at work. Mastery is the desire to become better and better at something that matters. Purpose is working on something bigger than yourself that will live on beyond you.
When I look back at our experience with Tamara I see all three of these components. As we move down the road of human equity and maximizing on total human potential, it is time that we rethink using an industrial approach to management during an information age.
In 1996 Trevor Wilson started TWI Inc. to specialize in the area of equity and diversity as a business issue. In the same year, Trevor published a highly acclaimed book titled Diversity at Work: The Business Case for Equity. The firm’s clients include some of the most progressive global employers. TWI’s Human Equity™ approach was instrumental in catapulting Coca-Cola’s South African division to the top performing division worldwide.