(Excerpt from the Behave! book)
Working with the motivational factor of Identity led us to one of the most important insights into why existing employee engagement strategies get such mediocre results.
We form our Identities in various social contexts: at work; in the community; at our place of worship; in our extended families; in our immediate family; and with our college buddies with whom we occasionally go out to have a beer. When we form these Identities we use three different structures. Most Identities are created in adult-to-adult relationships. In our immediate families, part of the Identity is Parent-to-Child when we play the parent role to our children and their friends. When we go out with our college buddies, it’s a Child-to-Child relationship; we’re just having some fun.
However, at no point do we seek out an Identity where we play the Child role and some other adult plays the Parent role. This relationship makes us uncomfortable and we don’t like it. When it is imposed upon us, we like it even less. The look on the little girl’s face in the photo is exactly how we all feel about being in that position. We seek to avoid it.
Unfortunately, the way hierarchical companies structure the manager-to-subordinate relationship, it devolves into a Parent-to-Child relationship far too often. Because the person in the superior position can get some valuable Identity for themselves by playing the power card, the lure of the Parent role can be very strong. And even for a good manager, no matter how hard he or she tries to keep the relationship on an Adult-to-Adult level, the subtext for the subordinate is always that this is just a misstep away from going to Parent-to-Child. It is an uncomfortable relationship. Bad managers have taught us this, and we’ve all met these managers.