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Employee Recognition and Flow: Mihály style

Posted by Nakao, Kevin at Friday, 02/15/2013 2:35 pm
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In a recent Linkedin HR group thread, Cris Wildermuth, Ed.D., SPHR and Editor for Linked:HR asks “What impacts your Flow? Does recognition matter?”

Flow, for reference, is the ground-breaking work by Mihály Czentsmihaly featured in this TED Talk "Flow, the secret to happiness".

Cris elegantly defines flow as “an exciting combination of joy and productivity in which we are “in the zone” and “time stands still”.

Ben St. Hilaire, Director of Guest Services for Comcast arena further describes Csikszentmihalyi original concept of flow as “two core factors: perceived challenge, and one’s perceived ability to meet that challenge. Flow results when perceived challenge is high, but not so high as to be overwhelming, and one’s perceptions about their own ability to meet that challenge is also high.”

The question at hand is whether or not recognition can have any impact on this state of flow.

Hillaire believes “Managerial behavior can only indirectly influence a person’s experience of flow. Recognition or lack thereof can bolster or undermine some peoples’ perception of their own abilitiesbut for other people it has very little impact. This means that there is no one-size-fits-all rule about rewards, recognition, or other behaviorist technique to maximize employee flow.”

Founder and CEO of In2Focus Leigh Mastrantonio shares her story on recognition and flow: “ I spent my 20′s toiling in a role that offered great advancement opportunities yet little internal fulfillment. In some ways I remain a “seeker” of flow. Some days, some projects, some clients inspire this feeling more than others. One thing I can say is that for me flow is less about extrinsic reward and more about intrinsic value… For me it’s the connection of my heart (passion) and head (logic/applied knowledge) that is the perfect setting to inspire creativity and purpose.”

Many of the commenters on the thread agreed with the notion that recognition can impact flow. Ken Cowman, Managing Director of Emercomm Business Consultants says “I’ve come to the conclusion that management has a huge role in facilitating an employee’s ability to get into that zone where work is rewarding and meaningful which, IMHO, is when they are going to achieve that state of FLOW.”

Yet recognition is not the only factor influencing flow. ”If you are talking about Flow using basics concepts from the psychologist Mihalyi Czentsmihaly, than recognition is just one out of seven indicators of Flow, and NOT the most important to get people really engaged with their job!!” says Marcos Luiz Bruno, a Professor at Post Graduate HR program.

The question is particularly interesting for us at MeritShare because we provide peer-based recognition programs for over 100 companies, enabling everyone to impact flow, not just managers. Leigh Mastrantonio says “I am in flow when I have the opportunity push the boundaries of conventional thinking and collaborate with others who are willing to do the same in an effort to solve a particularly hairy organizational challenge”. Given this, peer-recognition can enhance team flow.

Cris Wildermuth is also doing further research in this area and she has set up an anonymous survey here: . Her co-researcher (Kim Barney) and Cris will summarize the results and share the article which will be published by the Human Resources Certification Institute – HRCI – magazine).

We have posted additional comments, resources, and links on the concept of flow here, along with the Mihaly Czentsmihaly’s original TED Talk.

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