Science tells us that organizations are better off when their people are happier, more satisfied, more connected, and more self-reliant.

If you can optimize how your people operate, how they feel, their experience, and their level of joy, you will get better results in your organization.

People have an innate desire and ability to help themselves, and that’s the idea the Toyota model is based on. That was the early thinking before people got put in charge of other people, and it all went amuck from there.

This idea has a deep impact on how we coach people as leaders. Many times, we’re still coaching with an idea that people need more help than they actually need.

They usually don’t need so much help. Often, what they actually need is for us to get out of their way and give them space to help themselves.

At the core of this is people’s sense of meaning and self-reliance. What would things look like if that was the starting point instead of centering the business on trying to get things done for better profit or quality?

When I first started this work, I didn’t know what that would look like. But I had a sense that there’s a shift when you work from people’s passions, interests, and what gives them a sense of meaning.

If you’re in an organization of 100 people or 10,000 people, that’s 100 or 10,000 different individuals with their own unique viewpoints, needs and desires. How can you grow the heart of your culture through your people value streams?

For many of us with Lean backgrounds, we’re used to thinking of value streams as the product or service flow. But each of your people are having their own flows. Yes, you work. But while you work, you’re having your life. The idea is to optimize how well you have your personal flow while you work — which creates happier people and better organizations from culture to quality to bottom line.

This work isn’t about how we have people do the right things and solve problems to get the best output. It’s about how we optimize the workplace to optimize how people live, which will then optimize our initiatives, problem-solving, and processes to create the best results.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

One piece of this in practice is Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. There are five levels in Maslow’s pyramid. From the bottom of the hierarchy upwards, the needs are:

  • Physiological (food and clothing)
  • Safety (job security)
  • Love and belonging (friendship and connectivity)
  • Esteem (a feeling of competence), and
  • Self-actualization

I like using Maslow’s pyramid as a concept because it shifts our understanding of what people feel and think, and we can use it as a guide in continuous improvement.

It’s basically how we think about how people naturally operate, and what we can do differently to support the natural way they flow. The theory considers how they generally work and how we progress from one need to another.

What motivates people?

You’ll see a few ideas show up often in what motivates people in the workplace – connectivity and autonomy being two of them.

Connectivity (or belonging) is a core need. If you have an organization with people that don’t feel like they belong, you’re sub-optimized. Your team members don’t feel a sense of safety and belonging, so of course they’re not trying to self-actualize, solve problems, and climb the rungs of your organization.

People are generally motivated by autonomy, and demotivated by micromanagement and control. They enjoy things that give them a sense of independence and of being able to impact things. I’ve seen time and time again that people are highly motivated when they feel like they can master their work and be competent in it.

The psychology of the optimal experience

People value streams help us better understand natural motivators and how to consider them in creating an effective, people-centered culture.

In the psychology of the optimal experience-focused book Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, we learn that we can build our sense of flow by talking to team members, doing focus groups, and working to understand how people describe their flow.

An optimized flow generally leans towards being comfortable. Over time people usually want to move towards a little bit of stretch, but not far enough that they feel way in over their heads. There’s a sense of getting past what I know I can do. How many of you have ever talked to people and heard, “I’m bored” or “I’m doing something I know I can do, I’ve done it over and over again, now I want something more?” That’s looking for a stretch.

Bringing it into coaching

People aren’t objects or robots; they’re always experiencing feelings. We need to take that into account at all times. We can use that knowledge to guide the process and help people get out of their comfort zones into areas of stretch.

When we think about how to use this information to coach differently, we can consider:

  • What people need
  • The order they need it in
  • Other underlying needs
  • The urgency of the problem

Satisfying the basic need for safety

I’ve always believed HR has a huge role in protecting the psychological safety of their workforce.

Of course, there are gradations of safety and if we’re thinking in Lean, we want people to contribute ideas, challenge the status quo, and say that we should do it differently. When a worker feels that they can take these actions, they’re at a very high level of psychological safety.

If we’ve not been able to keep basic levels of safety in place, there’s no way they’re going to stretch up towards contributing ideas and challenging status quo’s.

To start thinking about psychological safety in your workplace, ask: if a mistake is made, how does that mistake get handled? What happens to people who challenge the status quo?

Growing the heart of your culture through your people value streams

As you can see, investing in optimizing your people value streams has a deep impact on both your people and your organization. Your people’s happiness and satisfaction are directly tied to the results your organization is able to get — and it starts with understanding natural motivators and satisfying basic safety needs.

Do you think of people in terms of value streams? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments.

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