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The Latest from Harvard:  Motivate Employees with Your Data

By Jon Thompson on September 21, 2020 8:45:35 AM MDT

Data Dashboard

At Blue Margin, we’ve experimented with various tactics to motivate our employees and executives (we sometimes feel like guinea pigs, but hey, it's important to eat your own guinea pig food).  We're guessing you tinker in the same way at your company.  Why?  Because "How do we motivate our employees?" is a question that has surely dogged every employer since the first wage was paid.     

The truth is, people want to be productive and they don’t want to be micromanaged.  Money, meals, and motivational talks are simply not the golden ticket to productivity.  And yearly performance evaluations?  We’ve nixed those altogether.  Those traditional tactics just don’t seem to work. 

So, what does drive employees?   

Observing our own company (and 150+ companies we’ve worked with), we find the primary driver for most people is the desire to make an impact.  In other words, most employees find the highest order of job-satisfaction by using their talents to create something of significance and value.  And we've observed that no number of “atta-boys” delivers the sense of accomplishment needed to sustain that motivation

Turns out we're not the only ones to have had this epiphany.  

According to a recent article in the Harvard Business Review, the key to sustaining employee motivation is providing empirical feedback (i.e., data-driven dashboards).   In the authors' words, “The solution is surprisingly simple: If you want to motivate employees, stop following your instincts and adopt a data-driven approach."  Thank you, HBR.  We couldn’t agree more. 

The good news is that "adopting a data-driven approach" is monumentally simpler and more affordable than even a few years ago.  At Blue Margin, our tools of choice are Power BI and Azure SQL.  These tools (along with a rapidly expanding market of user-friendly data-analytics and dashboarding services) empower companies to dramatically raise employees' level of motivation and job-ownership in short order.  And it's worth noting that Microsoft is experiencing something of a renaissance in the data world.  Power BI and Azure SQL are currently leading the pack in terms of functionality and rate of development (at a fraction of the cost of the competition), according to industry benchmarks (and our unreserved bias).   

As a result, we’re able to help organizations, in a matter of weeks, follow the model we use internally, inspiring employees to greater performance by providing real-time, concrete feedback on their progress against specific goals.  This model (which we call "The Dashboard Effect") gives employees a greater sense of accomplishment and job-ownership as individuals, as teams, and as a company.  Also, we've discovered that real-time, tactical feedback eliminates the need for giving pep talks or applying a vague and constant pressure to “do better.”  Those approaches are demeaning and can unwittingly demotivate people. 

Rather than micro-managing, try giving everyone, from the CEO down, a scoreboard so they can stay on-point and maximize their impact.  When you see how quickly it will transform your company, you'll want to join us fanatics by openly sharing your key performance data throughout your organization (such as on the homepage of your company portal, or on TV’s around the office).  Yes, we do that.    

Below is an example of a dashboard we refer to daily at our morning scrum (the data was anonymized to protect the innocent).  When our team members are in the green, we're all happy.  When we see reds or yellows, it's time to rally and lend a hand.  But no matter what color our dashboard shows, every employee is motivated to see Blue Margin hit it out of the park.  It creates a win-win-win (to quote management guru, and Blue Margin's favorite meme star, Michael Scott). 

Blue Margin Engineers.jpg

Image result for michael scott win win win

If you are interested in starting a conversation about how to use your data to increase productivity and profits in the next 90-days, contact us here.

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Jon Thompson

Written by Jon Thompson

Jon Thompson is co-founder and Chief Strategy Officer at Blue Margin Inc. An author and speaker, Jon sheds light on how businesses can take advantage of a revolution in business intelligence to become data-driven and accelerate their success.