As a fresh and happy graduate from the Executive EMBA Program at the CORVINUS University of Budapest, I would like to share my great experience with using the theory of FLOW in my final MBA thesis and the outcomes. Already since the first class on “Leading People” with our professor Dr. Zoltan Buzady (Academic Director www.flowleadership.org), I understood my interest and curiosity in finding out more about how can my various teams be more often in Flow at work and how could I possibly better promote more Flow for the success in my organization. Luckily, when I started drafting my thesis I was a rather new member in my company where I am currently working:
So I used this opportunity as a pulse check, to first understand the motivation level and secondly to see where we are in terms of Flow pre-requisites.
By now, I have 10+ years’ of experience working in Shared Service Centers and what I could notice throughout the years is a constant decreasing of the motivational level of the employees, mainly as a consequence of companies adopting ever more and more complex business processes, further enhanced by many processes not being fully integrated after corporate mergers and acquisitions and pressurized by their struggle to adapt yet more innovative solutions on the legacy of the old systems and applications. All this, usually and far too often, results in more manual and non-value added tasks for the qualified employees. This leads to increased personal attrition, higher cost for the companies to hire new, replacing staff and heavy difficulties in respecting the Service Level Agreements, and thus to sustain the key performance indicators.
With the help of the Flow questionnaire, that dr. Buzady had introduced to us which we also explored during our course, I was able to solicit direct feedback from my 72 (!) team members using two distinct dimensions: ‘Important for me’ versus ‘True about me’.
In this way we could collect the responses on 8 separate areas of work-life which strongly influence us all in the working environment, namely:
- Content and meaning of work,
- Organization of work and time,
- Scope for action and decision making,
- Skills and Aptitude,
- Balance of work and private life,
- Relationship with colleagues, and
- Relationship with superiors/bosses.
Based on the responses we have collected, it was possible to take the appropriate managerial intervention actions, which were aimed to tackle those particular issues which my team members were sharing with me.
Concrete information was collected, without casting time on making vague assumptions what needs to be improved in my teams to find more Flow.
Let me share with you a sample of the many graphs which I have compiled, interpreted in my Executive MBA thesis, and also implemented at work:
The datasheet above clearly expresses the gap between the two dimensions: ‘how important is for employees to have good time management’ and ‘what is actually their subjective reality about this aspect’.
59 employees reported that ‘time management is important for them’ but only 39 were saying that ‘they have a good organization of work and time’. This was a flag for me and my direct reports begin to further investigate underlying issues and work on it for improvements.
Another such flag for further action for me was their answer to the following question during the face to face interviews, which I also conducted with a team of selected team members:
Prof. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s theory about Flow emphasizes the importance of having clear, non-conflicting goals to be set. If goals are not completely clear to everyone in the organization, that is an important source of low motivation and this needs to be addressed with priority! It is thus not as only a conceptual prerequisite for getting into Flow, but clear goals are crucial for business success and for having performing teams as well!
Only by aiming for the overreaching goal will my teams be able to deliver sustainable results.
The thesis writing process itself, was a great example for me, on how good measurement tools and appropriate actions clearly help us, leaders, in getting closer to the teams, facilitate a better understanding of the existing issues and stimulate the leader to take the necessary steps to improve the overall motivation in the teams. This is part of the process of how we can constantly search for ways in which to keep a balance between new challenges and existing skills while impacting positively the efficiency and outcomes as well.
The final conclusion of my MBA thesis, based on my findings from both the interviews and the above-described Flow questionnaire, was the following:
The best leaders are those who are actively developing better employees.
The best companies are those which prioritize programs and initiatives which are supporting the growth of their future leaders.
The best companies are those which create the best chances to sustain their current competitive advantages in an era of globalization via developing more Flow at work
– in short #Flow-promoting Leadership.
Based on the findings and primary data results, my recommendation for the organization where the study I conducted my research was to continue the focus on the leadership development, starting from the concept that better leaders will develop better employees and as a final takeaway from my thesis, my plan is to cover the following aspects:
- Creating more meaningful work – I plan to work with my direct reports on finding new ways how to involve more people in projects and initiatives at our organization or intra-departmental ones, considering also the creation of new programs and development plans that are customized to the needs and interests of our team members.
- Increase knowledge – We are constantly looking for opportunities to strengthen the knowledge and increase the expertise, by creating more training sessions, so everyone can apply and participate in the online sessions.
- Personal development plans – I will propose customized development plans for everyone in our teams who is interested in their career progression and knowledge improvement, supporting them with presenting all available options, since many times people get caught in their day-to-day routine tasks and leave aside this important aspect. Therefore, it is our role – as leaders, to unlock their potential and guide them through achieving better results. Our responsibility will be to create an effective framework for their development, by having allocated time for each of them, to focus on learning and acquiring new skills, by creating a good back-up structure in each team, so they are not accumulating a backlog on their daily tasks when returning from training programs. We will improve training attendance in our organization, supporting people to focus on the benefits of such programs and not on measuring the unsolved queries and missed deadlines during the training attendance period. This way the employees will fully immerse themselves in the training opportunities.
- Balance of work and private life – Although in my organization we scored well in this section, there is always room for improvement. What the company is currently working on is a new home office procedure, which could allow more home office days per month. The 2020 pandemic situation was an opportunity for the company to measure the performance of the employees working remotely and independently on the challenges we faced as a business, people achieved outstanding performance, keeping good time on responding to queries, adapting to changes in useful time and finding efficient ways to share data and knowledge with both external and internal partners.
- Recognition and appreciation – Although monthly awards were implemented, as a next step we are considering team awards and more ad-hoc ways to recognize performance and people that are going the extra mile. Independently of the recognition platform, direct feedback from supervisors remains the most important aspect and is going to remain a priority for me to work with my direct reports and encourage them to share open and genuine feedback and appreciation for a job well done. More than six months have passed since I joined the company and I intend to retake the skip-level meetings, to measure the current mood in the teams, so I can understand if the changes implemented so far were received positively. Based on the changing times we are all living, employees will no longer see as a benefit the recreation areas and in-class training, so we need to assess the importance of implementing new tools, aligned with the results from both the interviews and the questionnaire: better online training opportunities, which are satisfying their needs of having flexibility in the working hours and choosing their own pace in the work.
Flow was for me a great discovery!
I recognize myself in many of the aspects this great concept is promoting and as a people manager!
I repeat: it is crucial to invest time and energy into the measurement of both the Flow preconditions as well as the emotional aspect of being in Flow-mental state, as a leader, as a team member, and as an organization.
I take this opportunity to say again Thank You to my great teacher and educator Zoltan, who help me to navigate throughout this amazing academic/intellectual and professional-developmental journey and inspired me for getting in the Flow-Zone.
This research was supported by FLIGBY, Professor Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s official program for more Flow at work via better leadership development!