Author Archives: Dr David Spicer

About Dr David Spicer

David is Senior Lecturer in Organizational Change at Bradford University School of Management where he lectures in the areas of change management and organizational behaviour on undergraduate, postgraduate and executive programmes. He is also a visiting professor at TiasNimbas Business School in Holland and Germany and alumnus of Harvard Business School’s Global Colloquium for Participant Centred Learning. He holds degrees from the Universities of Bristol, Stirling, and Plymouth.  His research is concerned with organizational learning and change, and he is currently working on a major project looking at the dynamic capabilities of Motorola and Intel.


+        Organisational learning in small firms

+        Organisational learning in a downturn

+        Styles of leadership – East vs West

+        Cultural change in mergers and takeovers

10 factors creating job satisfaction: what motivates now?

jobsatisInteresting jobs, security and being appreciated are top of employees’ lists for creating job satisfaction in today’s workplace. And it’s that second one – feeling your job is safe – that really speaks to today’s job climate.

In 2008 I wrote a piece in HR Director where I reported data from an ongoing project of mine. I had for about a year been collecting data on the relative importance of 10 longstanding factors that research identifies as significant in influencing people’s motivation. These factors are listed in the table below, which contrasts the ranking of these factors in 2008 (from a sample of 268 managers across UK and Europe) with those achieved with a new sample of 146 managers collected over the course of the last 12 months.




Interesting work



Job security



Full appreciation of work done



Good wages



Promotion and growth in the organization



Personal or company loyalty to employees



Feelings of being in on things



Tactful discipline



Good working conditions



Sympathetic help with personal problems



Today’s top 3 job motivators

1 Interesting work

In 2008, one compelling outcome of the research was that interesting work had, unlike in previous studies, such as one by Carolyn Wiley in 1997, beaten pay off the top spot for the first time. In the new data it is still there, so people still want to be doing something that compels and engages them.

2 Job security

The most significant mover in the table is probably job security – up to 2 from 6. In 2008 I argued that the lower importance of job security, compared with earlier research, was an indicator of people’s willingness to engage in a portfolio career and expectations they had that as their career develops they might move organizations on a regular basis. This now seems to have been a short-lived phenomenon.

As to why, the answer seems to lie in the current economic uncertainty. It is easy to discount the significance of having a job when the economy is buoyant and there seem to be lots of opportunities out there, but over the last year, with higher unemployment – currently standing at 7.8% – and regular news of redundancies and business closures people would inevitably be much keener to hang onto the jobs they have.

3 Full appreciation of work done

Recognition (full appreciation of work done) now ranks more highly than financial rewards (good wages). I suspect the realities of the availability of rewards and pay raises in the current climate is having an impact here. Nonetheless they both remain powerful tools for motivation. Research by Nitin Nohria, Professor of Business Administration at Harvard, and colleagues identifies both recognition and rewards are important motivators. But we also know that it is the recognition that matters most. In an experiment where students were rewarded differently for a simple computer based task, Professor Dan Ariely from Duke University, and his co-worker James Heyman, clearly showed that the greatest performance came not with the highest reward but where students were working solely as a favour and for the thanks of the researcher. So remember to say thank you for a job well done!

What is less important today?

The big mover going down the chart was good working conditions, down to 9 from 5. We might interpret this as the flip side of lower job security, with people being seemingly more willing to put up with poor conditions in the current environment rather than go and seek better conditions elsewhere.

5 top tip for managers

So what does this mean for managers? It certainly does not suggest we should lower the standard of working conditions. It does suggest that some of the fundamentals stay the same. People still want compelling work and rewards and recognition for doing the same.

  1. Show your appreciation in meaningful ways.
  2. Acknowledge the efforts of others – this is even more important given the pressures that the current economic environment places on employees.
  3. Spend time with employees explaining the organisation’s current position thereby helping to keep them informed about the safety of their job.
  4. Be bold. Promise no redundancies, even if revenues or profits are hit – sending a clear signal on the job security front.
  5. Move people round the organization to meet short-term needs – this will help meet challenges now and put your business in an even stronger position when the up-turn does come.

Doing all this is likely to more than pay back its dividend in the loyalty and commitment it creates. Surely developing employees’ skills, giving them compelling work and making them feel appreciated is the way ahead?

7 ways to better crisis management: BP’s lessons for radical change

Crisismanagement7tipsThe news that Tony Hayward has stepped down in the light of the mistakes BP made in managing the crisis of the Deepwater Horizon explosion in the Gulf of Mexico, is significant if perhaps not unexpected.

Hayward, it seems, is being painted as a poster boy for leadership failure in the media and elsewhere, but whilst Hayward should shoulder some degree of personal responsibility given his role as CEO, the focus on him as BP’s leader ignores the very real institutional responsibilities here. There are major corporate lessons (not just leadership ones) to be learnt from BP’s experience, and if these lessons are not learnt, both at BP and elsewhere, then the chances of both a similar failure and a poor response to the same remain equally high.

The sad truth is that crises are not as rare as we might think. If history has taught us anything it should be that we should expect the unexpected. Deepwater Horizon is an example of a crisis that has seen, at best, a mixed response.

Whilst the specific crises might be unexpected, crisis management should not be. If those responsible in the organization had perhaps had a better understanding of how to respond to radical change, then BP’s response might have been better handled. There are a number of lessons from BP’s approach to handling such a radical event that can help all of us in our response to such challenges in the future:

  1. Plan pessimistically – ask what is the worst that could happen and –plan accordingly, we tend to be optimistic and look at the upside and ignore the risks in our own plans, so involving other stakeholders and even critics is key. The plans may not match the eventuality, but the process of planning itself is likely to improve the quality of our response.
  2. Build contingencies – in light of our planning, have we got the resources and capabilities that allow us to respond to change and the challenges we are likely to face? BP at least had the resources to maintain several different strategies to contain the leak.
  3. Get information – an effective resolution and response to a crisis and its impact depends on understanding its nature and extent. Awareness of the situation is essential. The temptation may be to rush to the first response that occurs, but we have to be confident that we are acting on the basis of as full and complete knowledge as we can.
  4. Communicate honestly – be open and honest in communications. Provide information in a timely and approachable manner. It is almost impossible to over communicate when dealing with significant change, and remember that communication is a two-way process, so listen and…
  5. Show empathy – however bad it is for you remember the other guy. If may be the natural reaction in change to complain about the impact it has had on you and your personal life, but it is likely in a crisis to be much worse for someone else. We need to respond accordingly.
  6. Recognize mistakes – we are not perfect and to expect perfection in times of difficulty and challenge is unreasonable, but to fail to acknowledge your own mistakes and those of your organization is a lack of self-awareness and is all too often perceived as arrogance.
  7. Learn the lessons – review your response and the outcomes obtained, look at what went well, the process and procedures that worked effectively and how you could improve in the future. Embed the learning in the organization for next time.

The first two points should be part of ongoing management responsibilities, built into the architecture of the organization. They are no guarantee of an effective response but they improve the likelihood of your being able to respond effectively. Looking at worst case scenarios and building the dynamic capabilities needed to respond to them means that you have resources and experience to bring to the challenges you face.

Points three to five are fundamental elements of effective change. BP seems to have forgotten or downplayed the human elements of the change and has seemingly treated the Deepwater Horizon disaster as an engineering problem. Whilst an engineering solution is required, the success of the firm depends as much on how it handles and deals with the people affected.

The last two points are about institutionalizing the experiences and the knowledge and understanding they create. Just as  George Santayana believed about those who can’t remember the past, so it is imperative that we learn the lessons of the challenges we face, otherwise we are doomed to repeat them. It is important that not just BP, but the wider corporate community, can and should learn from BP’s response to the disaster in the Gulf.