Concern, or how we tick

Why do you care about your job? Meaningful product, nice colleagues, or a mortage to pay off? A place to prove yourself, hang out, or contribute to society? Concerns vary widely between people. And they make all the difference to how we do our jobs.

Concerns determine what opportunities we seek and notice, and they give our behavior its basic direction. If you don’t have a concern, you will do exactly: nothing. What makes us act is our needs (like hunger, safety), habits, motives (e.g. achievement, power), attitutudes, mindsets, goals – in short: our concerns.

You vacation on Mars (last minute was solar sytem only) and notice that the locals like to attach themselves to the foreheads of fellow Marsians employing a kind of tentacle, which begins to glow red in the moment of contact. This mass phenomenon can be seen from space and gives the planet a red appearance. Marsians explain this behavior is due to what they call their extrusion concern, and they call people with high such need extrudites. Your tour guide later notes on the quiet that the tentacle, while being a bit of a handicap, stops Marsians from being carried into space given the low gravitation. “Always assume concerns are rational”, the guide muses, stroking his long white beard.

In organizations, ironically, the attention paid to concerns seems to be inversely related to their importance. Why is this topic the blind spot of many medium sized companies, and even more so of large corporates? – Mainly because there is a wide-spread belief that concerns cannot be influenced. The good news is: This is wrong. Every day, we manage to disengage more and more staff at work (currently 66% according to the Gallup 2018 survey), showing that concerns can be influenced effectively.

After your duck-and-dumplings christmas coma dinner, are you still rummaging around for food? Or, assuming that you don’t usually find food in your bathroom, do you still keep looking for it there? If yes, you are very special, please get in touch. And this is true for “higher” concerns as well: They tend not to be active (1) when they are satisfied, and (2) in situations where they are never satisfied. Hunger will still come back, and so will employee engagement, if we do the right thing. So how to begin?

Working with others, ask yourself: What are their concerns? It is not easy to find out, but observing what they like and avoid doing, how they explain their choices, and what aspects of other people they comment on, will get you quite a long way. Bear in mind some concerns may be dormant, due to being satisfied, or never satisfied, see above.

Next, ask yourself: Which of these concerns are aligned with the common goal, which ones are at odds with it? Occasionally, this is easy – a loafer can generate great business benefit as a daybed presentation model, but his concern sits less easily with most other business goals. Usually though, a closer look is required – a person with a strong achievement motive, for example, can advance, or be really detrimental to, the common goal. How come?

Imagine three people, each with a strong achievement motive. One wants success for himself, the second for his department, and the third for the product she is engaged in. When trade-offs are involved (a fact of life), the first will self-optimize, the second silo-ize, and the third? Will try and navigate the product to success despite gusts of self-optimization and siloism. So watch out for the scope of concerns.

One more thing. It is fashionable to deliver absolute verdicts on concerns , e.g. purpose is good, fear is bad. But it actually depends on the situation, or would you rather expire with purposeful grace than save your neck with some menial fear? And to be honest, purpose is about fulfilling unmet concerns, which is not exactly what the latest sushi drone or other such new business model is able to deliver, neither for the customer nor for the employee.