Going back to 1999, Lori Goler (Facebook’s Head of HR) had been a fan of Marcus Buckingham’s and Curt Coffman’s management tome First, Break All the Rules. Based on 25 years of Gallup studies of 80,000 managers at 400 companies, the book finds four commonalities among great frontline managers:
Numbers 1 and 2 are good, but numbers 3 and 4 most interest Goler: an organizational mindset that focuses on people’s strengths and practically ignores their weaknesses (or, put slightly more pragmatically, works to make weaknesses irrelevant nontalents relative to someone’s role). This focus is a big driver of people’s engagement with their job and company, which in turn is a primary factor in their performance and intent to stay, the preeminent asset in the people economy of Silicon Valley.
Why is Goler so confident in the engagement-centric approach? It comes down to the chemistry of flow and the math of jungle gyms. While intuitively it seems “nice” to match people’s strengths to their roles in order to maximize engagement, the success of the practice goes much deeper than that. It is rooted in research begun in the 1970s at the University of Chicago by Hungarian psychologist MihalyCsikszentmihalyi. Known simply as “flow,” it refers to an optimal state of consciousness where we feel and perform our best. It’s so powerful that in a 10-year study conducted by McKinsey, top executives reported being five times more productive in flow.
Csikszentmihalyi’s work surfaces a specific approach to understanding how to get into flow and why it is such a powerful state: the flow channel. Depicted in the upper right of Figure 11-1, it relates your skill with a task to the challenge of that task. When you are skilled but not challenged, you are bored. When you are not skilled but highly challenged, you are anxious. When you are neither skilled nor challenged, you are apathetic. In the flow channel, however, you are finely balanced between a constant growth in an existing skill and a level of challenge slightly beyond that skill.
When in the fine balance of the flow channel, we feel focused, have inner clarity, higher confidence and greater creativity; we learn faster and have a sense of timelessness and high intrinsic motivation.
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