I remember reading an article another scientist sent me, essentially describing some research in the Netherlands. They conducted three experiments, putting Dutch university students in different scenarios designed to make them feel either dominant or subordinate in ‘rank’. They were then asked to perform thinking tasks, such as solving puzzles.
The ‘powerless’ ones had trouble planning, updating a mental picture, and ignoring irrelevant information, the authors reported, attributing this to the fact that low power people are not expected to focus on the overall goals. Consistent with this interpretation were the results of a fourth experiment. This one used a game designed so that it would remain easy to focus on the task goal. It wasn’t motivation that was the problem. The less powerful participants reported putting in as much effort as others, the researchers said. It was self-perception of low power. And, I suspect, the long term results of the perception of powerlessness are even more damaging, given the way the brain works.
Whatever happened to the idea of empowering workers? Especially now, when competition for highly skilled employees is high and predicted to rise? Yet more and more I hear people talk about structuring jobs to be exactly what is needed by the company – forget what the employee needs. Wake up call: organizations can’t afford to play zero-sum games any more. Command and control just takes the company’s human assets and chews them into tiny bits of useless action, uncoordinated by any vision. And likely the effect is long lasting.
I want a smarter world, one with more vision, more power, more mastery, more innovation, more excellence. Ok, that may not motivate you. But what if all the people whose brains lose power because of managerial abuse in your organization put in Workers Comp claims?