How to Manage for the Best Results

May 16, 2011
Mining brain science for clues to managing for optimal results.

Every manager faces the same challenge - how do you get the most from the people on your team? In his latest book, "The Brain and Emotional Intelligence:New Insights," author and psychologist Daniel Goleman says the key is to keep your employees in the "flow."

People operate in three neurological states, says Goleman. The first, disengagement, occurs when employees are in a low-motivation state where they are distracted and inattentive to the task at hand. "Disengagement is rife in the manufacturing sector because so many people are not inspired, motivated or engaged in the work they do. They just do good enough to keep the job," he says.

Frazzle, the second state, prevents people from being productive because they are upset with something. It may be a problem with their boss, a coworker or they just have too much to do and too little time. As a result, the body unleashes a cascade of stress hormones and the person focuses on the problem bothering them rather than their job.

Flow represents, in Goleman's words, a "state of neural harmony, where only what is relevant to the task at hand is what is activated." It maximizes cognitive abilities and is where people are at their best and most productive, says Goleman.

How do you help keep employees in the flow? Managers should strive not to overwhelm employees but to challenge them by understanding what they are good at and what they want to get better at. Goleman recommends they conduct a "coaching conversation," a one-on-one talk where the focus is on what the employee wants from life, their career and their job. That enables the manager to determine what stretch assignments to give the employee. Goleman says that is a "fantastic way" to motivate people and help them improve.

Goleman says managers can also improve employee performance by making work meaningful to them. He notes that in a crisis or when facing a big deadline, employees will rise to the occasion if it matters to them. Mission statements try to establish this shared purpose but Goleman says they often fail because they are too abstract and distant. "It is better and more powerful if this comes up in a natural conversation with people," he recommends.

"That is a smart mission for any company," says Goleman, "to get as many people as possible in that state where they love what they are doing, it is meaningful, it is serving a larger objective and is engaging."

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