The culture club

19:49, Jan 13 2013
Culture Club
John Cleese inspired motivational psychologist Eve Ash to become one of the world's most prolific producers of workplace training films.

What does motivational psychology have to do with leadership?

I’ve been studying organisations, culture and communication for the last 30 years and making training videos. One of the things that has been of most interest to me is the way in which people convey a mood and how that can be very contagious when it’s negative and can pull a whole culture down. Despite the fact trainers, consultants and speakers try very hard to motivate people and provide skills and knowledge, you’ve still got people who remain in a negative space. I started looking at what we can do in the workplace to change that and developed an approach to culture which is based on the scripts or thoughts we have in our head, and dividing them into positive and negative.

What are the signs of an unhealthy workplace culture and how can it be fixed?

I talk about the 'resting position' of faces, which are things like frowns and scowls. That’s not a happy environment. The best way for managers to motivate is to get to know people, because everyone is incredibly different. Once you really know people, you can do a range of things to motivate them. A lot of these things aren’t going to be money. They’re going to be challenges, providing new skills or offering travel perks that might make somebody really love the work they do. It may be offering flexibility in hours or where they work that is going to be very motivating. The difference today is an individual can openly say, ‘my long term plan is to run my own business or travel the world in two years’. These were things never said before, they were secrets. Now companies work with people to achieve best results for the company and for the individual. That’ s when you get real peak performance.

Are leaders moving away from a 'one size fits all' approach to staff training?

We have an ongoing continuum of learning and development and that’s very different from before. We also have an environment where the difference in individuals is quite enormous, so solutions put out in batches for people are no longer adequate. A lot of companies are trying to provide libraries of resources where managers can implement things for their own team as opposed to a blanket approach for everyone.


Why are you a fan of laughing at negativity to create a positive company culture?

In the 1970s John Cleese was the guru of business training. At the time of his TV series Fawlty Towers, he was doing unbelievably clever training films, written by Antony Jay, who was well known for his writing on the British comedy Yes Minister. [Cleese and Jay] took a negative role model, laughed at them and said, ‘this is how things are supposed to be done’.

Staff used to sit and watch lengthy training videos. Does that work anymore?

We’re a generation of media saturated people. Media is at people’s fingertips with YouTube and access to all the cable networks. Now the challenge is to create things that are short, punchy and comedic. You have to get people talking and sharing and observing their own behaviour. That’s what will lead to change, not sitting and watching a film for half an hour.

Can training turn a poor leader into a good one?

If you’ve got basic skills of humanity, of caring about others and being open, you’re going to do a lot better as a leader. A lot of people are thrown into roles because they’ve been good at their jobs and now they’re managing people. They don’t know why the people aren’t performing well or are aggravated, or they’re always late or they want to leave early. It’s just that they haven’t had the training.