Setting Challenges - 12 May 2009
Once a caged animal has been behind bars for some time, it internalises its imprisonment. This means that even if the animal is set free, it is often too frightened to escape, and so it remains psychologically locked up. This is why caged animals behave strangely and differently from their wild contemporaries.
We humans are just like those caged animals. Sometimes we’re trapped in the cage of a repressive religion, or the cage of a forceful family, or the cage of what’s deemed to be socially acceptable. It can also be the cage of… work. Many people go to work and get stuck behind the bars of bureaucracy, the shackles of archaic processes, and a cell of sameness and groupthink.
Setting meaningful challenges is one of the surest ways to break your employees away from work that no longer stretches or stimulates them – work that, in effect, leaves them psychologically locked up. There are four types of challenges you can set.
Something NEW: Spicing up an employee’s role by adding anything different to what they already do every day fits into this category. It might be a new skill, a new work experience, or even an entirely new job. This type of challenge fuels curiosity.
Something RISKY: Give employees tasks of genuine importance, which might put at risk anything from their reputation to the budget. To paraphrase Brian Tracy, the greatest risk of all is to not take risks. Just like going skydiving, this type of challenge builds courage.
Something TOUGH: Work that pushes employees outside of their comfort zone rests here. It might be a project that gets them nervous or a job responsibility that requires them to break long-time habits. Whatever it is, this type of challenge triggers confidence.
Something COMPLEX: This is about thorny problems that need solving and messy situations that need fixing. Similar to Rubik’s Cubes, which are so popular because of the joy that comes from cracking the puzzle, this type of challenge develops competence.
Compared to animals in the wild, many caged animals suffer from stunted growth, their brain development slows, and they more easily contract disorders. Employees who aren’t being challenged suffer a similar fate. Before they know it, their intellectual growth is stunted, their brain development has slowed, and they get sick more often. Unlock the door to their cage.
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