How To Increase Employee Productivity In The Workplace and Sustain It? — A Core Strategy

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We all know that Employee Productivity plays a pivotal role in building a sustainable business.

Employee Productivity? —Productive employees are people who are willing(without any coercion) to do their best work all the time — who will happily go above and beyond their job description and contribute to the company — who don’t need a daily dose of external motivation from their superiors(They’re internally driven).

As productive employees love their work, they are happy and joyful. Allison Aubrey wrote in an NPR article, “Studies show that when a person becomes happy, a friend living close by has a 25 percent higher chance of becoming happy themselves. A spouse experiences an 8 percent increased chance, and for next-door neighbors, it’s 34 percent.” Happiness is contagious. Imagine how happiness spreads through the workplace network due to high-performing employees. Happy employees become highly productive. The organization gains as a whole.

Productive employees not only elevate their career but also for everyone around them.

How to build such a productive workplace? What lessons can we learn from some of the world’s top CEOs and businesses?

1.0 ENVIRONMENT AND CULTURE

Daniel Markovitz writes in his HBR article, “At the workplace, people don’t work in isolation. They work in complex organizations defined by interdependencies among people — and it’s often these interdependencies that have the greatest effect on personal productivity.” It implies that the workplace environment and organizational system play a pivotal role in improving employees’ productivity.

Daniel also stresses that 94% of most problems and possibilities for productivity improvement belong to the system, not the individual. So, the first step to improving employee productivity is to design and implement the right work environment.

And, the right environment begins with creating a psychologically safer workplace.

Dr. Amy Edmondson says, “The psychologically safer place is one where interpersonal fear is minimized, allowing a freer flow of knowledge. It’s an environment where a person feels able to express his/her views on something openly and honestly without fear of recrimination, abuse, putdown, or humiliation.”

The relation between Workplace Productivity and the psychologically safer environment —

  • A psychologically safer workplace encourages employees to share their opinions and ideas without any fear. It inspires him/her to generate new ideas. A safer environment will also give them the confidence to act on their notions as they know that the company would not punish them for failures. As a result, innovation explodes inside the organization. When people own a part of an idea or the whole idea, they would happily work above and beyond their job description.
  • Productivity and quality of work improve when an employee takes help from other colleagues from different disciplines or different cultural backgrounds. Research shows that diversity of knowledge helps in making better decisions. It also enhances creativity and pushes an employee to see problems from multiple perspectives. An employee who leverages other’s knowledge/ experience not only improves himself but also contributes to the company’s growth. To seek help from others, a person has to be good at interpersonal relationships. A psychologically safer workspace creates a positive environment for building those interpersonal relationships. A stress-free environment elicits trust-making behavior, resulting in quality interpersonal relationships.
  • Highly engaged employees are exceedingly productive. To remain engrossed in the work, an employee needs to focus most of his/her cognitive energy on the task. It means less distraction and low emotional loads at the workplace. A psychologically safer workspace ensures a stress-free environment. His/her confidence level will go up, improving productivity further. Barbara Fredrickson at the University of North Carolina writes that we become more open-minded, resilient, motivated, and persistent when we feel safe. As a result, humor, solution-finding, and divergent thinking increase.

How to develop a psychologically safer workplace?

It begins with the leader. It is his/her responsibility to set an ecosystem. He or she has to lead by example.

Some of the fundamental requirements —

As a leader,

a)Don’t Ridicule — Don’t let people ridicule or laugh at or punish or ignore somebody for their actions and ideas in the workplace meetings/environment.

b)Focus On Idea, Not People — In meetings, ensure that people focus only on the problem/idea and not on the abilities or personalities. Instead of saying that he/she is at fault, talk about the wrong things in the solution/idea.

c)Mutual Respect — Ensure that people believe that everyone intends to do good for the company, employees, and the customers.

d)Give Value — Ensure that people firmly believe that every individual in the organization is inherently valuable.

e)Be Transparent — Encourage participants in meetings to give honest feedback. At Pixar, the management introduced a system where participants earn no credits or rewards for their opinions on the project/idea. They gain no favors from their supervisors. They aren’t going to be fired or demoted inside the organization for their feedback.

f)No Backbiting — Make sure that people never say anything about someone that he/she wouldn’t tell them directly. Managers should not talk about people who work for them if they are not in the room.

g)Be A Partner — Think of yourself as a partner rather than a leader — There’s a famous saying — Leadership is not what you do to people. It’s what you do with the people. The most successful leaders are the ones who partner with their staff. Make sure that every manager/supervisor behaves in the same way.

When leaders/managers consider people equal(as partners), there’ll be no hierarchy or special weightage given to one person’s viewpoint over another’s — It means that people will become fearless. They will find it easy to share their ideas, opinions, and thoughts. Studies reveal that employees working under leaders who displayed partnership behaviors have shown higher performance levels. The employees also felt most positive and confident about the future of the company.

h) Develop A Listening Culture — A leader should create a culture where employees will love to listen to each other.

Managers/leaders/supervisors should set an example by listening to their employees as much as possible. Soon, this will prompt employees to listen to each other.

The more the employees listen to others, the more empathetic they become. They will start thinking about every issue from other’s perspectives. It will improve their problem-solving skills. Thinking from someone’s shoes will also help a person to understand other’s behavior. It will lead to a safer environment for sharing your views.

i)Don’t condemn failures — While growing a business, failures are inevitable inside the organization. A leader has to help people learn from their failures and leverage them. He/she has to guide them to find ways to prevent them in the future.

When a leader punishes a person for his/her failure, it will encourage other employees to hide their setbacks. It would lead to the proliferation of dishonest culture and further paralyze an employee’s ability to learn from failures and grow.

So, a leader has to create an environment where an individual would be happy to acknowledge his/her failures frankly and openly. It would encourage other employees to take risks. In that way, innovation would explode inside the organization.

j) Focus More on Positive, Less On Negative — Some leaders/managers unconsciously focus more on negative things than positive things. They tend to react quickly to unpleasant events and fail to observe things that go well. Bill Taylor, in his HBR article, writes, “We humans are wired in such a way that there is a universal tendency for negative events and emotions to affect us more strongly than positive ones.” The level of reaction to negative things varies from person to person.

A person’s productivity depends on his confidence levels inside the organization. A manager focusing on negative things crashes his/her confidence levels. It becomes a demotivator and affects morale. So, a manager has to talk more about positive factors/experiences. Joyce E. Bono and Theresa M. Glomb write in their HBR article, “What most people don’t realize is that positive experiences — even small ones — provide you with valuable resources that can be used to reduce stress, including physical symptoms such as headaches or muscle tension.”

John Gardener writes that the most effective leaders are the ones who go out of the way to remind colleagues of their positive things, the progress they’re making, and to celebrate small wins as frequently and colorfully as they can.

Create an environment where people focus more on positive things/experiences and less on negative things.

k)Sharing Bad News — How a leader reacts to bad events/news than to a good event can have profound implications in enhancing an employee’s productivity. Negative behavior affects an employee’s confidence levels and morale. It develops an environment of fear.

An unfavorable reaction to bad news also leaves a scar in people’s minds. Robert J Bies writes, “The empirical evidence suggests that bad events have more enduring and more intense consequences than good events.”

Encourage the sharing of both good news and bad news equally.

2.0 MAKING PEOPLE LOVE THEIR WORK

Now, we have got the right environment. However, productivity still depends on

  • how people love to do the work
  • how they find the work engaging.

So, how do we make people love their work?

Walter Bruckart, Vice President, Circuit City said, “There are five factors that led to the transition of a company from mediocrity to excellence. One would be people. Two would be people. Three would be people. Four would be people. And five would be people. A huge part of our company’s transition can be attributed to our discipline in picking the right people”

Jim Collins says, “If you have the right people, then the problem of how to motivate and how to manage people properly goes away.”

As Jim Collins says, as much as possible, we need to hire the right people who share common interests, who are passionate about the work that the company does, and whose career/life goals would match the needs/goals/vision of the company.

“If you give a good idea to a mediocre team, they will screw it up; if you give a mediocre idea to a great team, they will either fix it or throw it away and come up with something that works” — Ed Catmull.

Sometimes, it would not be possible to find relevant candidates at the right time. Even after hiring the right people, we need to find a way to keep them motivated. Whatever the case, we have to ensure that employees always find the work engaging. It means that we need to build systems to keep employees motivated.

Several factors play a role in keeping employees motivated. Some of them are related to work, and others are related to our system(part of a psychologically safer work environment). Let’s see some of them.

Our evolutionary history shows that humans have a biological necessity for a sense of control. As hunter-gatherers, if we felt that we could control our environment, our minds could focus and find ways to escape danger. It improved the chances of survival for our ancestors. The truth is that they weren’t actually in control of the environment for most of the time. It was an illusion. So, what humans seek is a sense of control.

Studies also show that a person’s belief in his/her ability to exert control over the environment leads to better outcomes.

The more in control we feel, the more confident we feel about achieving the outcomes we desire.

How to give a sense of control to people?

AUTONOMY — As I mentioned, to improve productivity, we need to make employees perceive that they have control over their decisions. It can happen when the company allows people to have a certain level of autonomy. They should feel that they can shape the desired outcomes, decide their timelines, plan their schedule, and choose several other things. The employees should feel that the company listens to their voice in running the company/business.

Giving autonomy to an employee makes him/her feel that the company values him/her. That would inspire him/her to stretch his/her skills/talents to the limits.

DECISION MAKING — To create a sense of control, the leader has to let employees make the decisions. Involve them as much as possible in the decision-making. Push the decision to the people who are closer to the facts. A leader has to function as a facilitator.

Allowing employees to make decisions improves their abilities and also expands their strengths, experiences, and expertise. It also enhances the trust between the leader and the members. Moreover, asking people to participate in decision-making shows that the leader trusts and values their opinion, which, in turn, builds employee loyalty and confidence levels — A critical factor in improving productivity.

Bill Campbell says, “When the leader was discussing a decision with the team, he/she should always have to be the last person to speak. It is to avoid a leader’s opinions biasing decision-making.”

“Just focus on doing this work — Remove the burrs, put the bolt on the screw. Don’t think about anything else. Remember, the company expects you to just do the job assigned to you” My manager told me when I asked him about the product’s applications. It was a long time ago.

Jack Stack, CEO, SRC, says, “Several companies set up the job and call it a job. What you end up with are workers who think a job is just a job. Over a period, most of them become unhappy with their jobs and unhappy with themselves. This is the reason why we have productivity problems.”

Jack adds, “As a leader, I don’t want people to just do a job. I want them to have a purpose in what the hell they’re doing. I want them to be going somewhere. I want them to be excited about getting up in the morning, to look forward to what they’re going to do that day. To do that, you have to get people to dream. You have to show them that there really are pots at the end of the rainbow, and you can get your pot if you want it and are willing to work for it. Business is a tool for achieving your highest dreams. Obviously, there is some dreams business can’t help with. But it can help most people to achieve some success in life. It can give people hope.”

So, what’s the solution?

Jack says that people should know how a person’s actions affect the business’ outcomes, how it affects another person’s progress, how it affects various departments, and so on. Every employee should know how their work fits into a bigger picture and contribute to business success.

Jack Stack claims, “In our organization, we teach everyone about our business. We train them. We try to take ignorance out of the workplace and force people to get involved, not with threats and intimidation but with education. In the process, we are trying to close one of the biggest gaps in the business — the gap between workers and managers.

Let’s imagine possible benefits from teaching every employee about the business —

  • If understanding business strategy helps an employee know the reasons behind the company’s every request to him/her, then his/her involvement in the work would grow well.
  • Understanding the core values of the business helps a person in making the right decisions.
  • Understanding the core competencies of the business helps an employee to focus on the right and relevant activities. It could strengthen the company’s core competency and thereby widening the distance with the next competitor.
  • An employee will change the way he/she works when he learns the competitive realities of the market and the low margins the company is fighting for survival.
  • Understanding the financial statements will help an employee to realize how their core/non-core tasks, work environment, inventory, and other purchases affect cash flow, product price, and stock value. They will take corrective actions on their own whenever/wherever required. At the same time, they’ll also explore ways to optimize the activities to improve cash flow.
  • When every employee understands the market competition and the customer requirements, and how their product fits in, he/she would become a brand evangelist. Businesses attain rapid growth when employees of the company act as brand ambassadors. Their behavior can imprint the positive perception of the brand in the consumer’s minds. It helps in building loyal customers.
  • If every employee is knowledgeable, then he/she can react quickly to the changes in the market. In some cases, they can predict the changes and alter the course. It means that the organization as a whole becomes flexible in meeting customer’s changing needs.
  • When the employee sees his contribution, he will soon think and act like an owner. Owners, real owners, always go above and beyond their work, think about every problem from multiple perspectives, and look for a long-term solution. They’ll always have one eye in the future.

The broader the picture you give people, the fewer obstacles they see in their path — Jack Stack.

So, as a leader, to motivate your employees, teach them all about your business, be transparent, show them the big picture, and reveal how they contribute. Moreover, markets keep changing — customers keep changing — technology keeps changing — customer’s needs keep changing — So, to constantly meet those changes, the employees have to keep learning all the time. As a leader, create an environment in which people are learning all the time. Also, give your employees a stake in their outcome — in the form of equity, profits, and growth opportunities.

Jack Stack says, “If people don’t know about the business, they won’t understand their contribution, and they won’t do the right things, and they will blame you when the company fails.”

For sustained motivation, an employee should be good at problem-solving. Research shows that people can learn to be better solvers through exposure to diverse knowledge and people from different cultural backgrounds. One way to help an employee gain diverse knowledge/skills is to encourage him/her to work across multiple departments. It blocks people from having tunnel vision while solving a problem.

Jack Stack says, “Tunnel vision is a big problem in business. At the workplace, when people spend all their time in one function, they see every issue from a single perspective. That makes it harder to accomplish anything. As a leader, I got around this obstacle by getting my people jobs in other departments. They learned to see different aspects of the business. As a result, my department could function better.”

Working across departments also helps a person to see the bigger picture.

At GE, when Jack Welch was made in charge of selling the new material named ‘Noryl’ to new unknown clients, he had to find a way to keep his team motivated and energetic, as it’s going to be a long, arduous journey. It was like starting a business from scratch. What did Jack Welch do?

When the team brought the first order for Noryl, Jack celebrated the moment with his team. Then he celebrated the tenth order, twentieth order, and so on.

When a client placed an order of $500 for plastic pellets, he called for a celebration. He posted the names of those clients on one of the office ‘walls’ under “500 club”. As they added clients to the ‘500 Club’ Jack called for celebration for the addition of every tenth client. He constantly looked for an opportunity to celebrate.

Similarly, whenever his team members or subordinates got promoted, he celebrated with the team. Every bonus, every raise for team members were also a cause for celebration. Jack strongly felt that celebrations at the workplace are a great way to energize an organization.

Jack’s team worked with enthusiasm. Noryl became a winning product and crossed more than $1 billion in worldwide sales within a few years.

By creating a small series of wins, Jack showed people how it feels to be a winner. The feeling of winning is a great motivator.

Why do we need to celebrate small wins? In the case of building the ‘Noryl’ business, the goal of reaching a one-billion-dollar business would take a long time. Will you wait till you achieve that goal to celebrate? How will you measure your progress? How will you keep yourselves enthusiastic, energetic, and motivated?

The research shows that when a big win is a rare event and would take a long time to achieve, the chances of people losing motivation and giving up is very high. Without motivation, an employee is like a dead mountain.

Jack believed that focusing only on the end goals would sap employee’s energy if the goals were for the long term. So, he was of the opinion that a leader should focus on the small and significant steps that would show progress and also would motivate the team to reach their goals.

Teresa Amabile and Steve J.Kramer write in their HBR article that the more frequently people experience that sense of progress, the more likely they are to be creatively productive in the long run.

They further add “The power of progress is fundamental to human nature, but few managers understand it or know how to leverage progress to boost motivation”.

Research shows that when employees realize that the company always cares for them, their motivational levels remain high.

If the organization cares for its employees, then they will care for their work. They will start taking pride in their work. Soon, the employees will start thinking like an owner. Pride drives productivity.

How to show that the company cares for its employees?

As usual, it starts with the leader.

A leader has to create the right environment that shows caring for people.

  • The leader should spend quality time with his/her people and have sincere conversations. He/she should get to know them at a deeper level — their motivations, likes, dislikes, desires, and other things.
  • The leader should understand how everyone’s job fits into their overall life goals. He/she should help them to synchronize wherever possible.
  • Consider your employees as part of your family. From the very beginning, Ray Dalio felt that the people who worked with him at Bridgewater were part of his extended family. When they or members of their families got sick, he put them in touch with his personal doctor to make sure that they were well taken care of. He had invited all of them to stay at his house on weekends. He celebrated their marriages and the births of their children with them and mourned the losses of their loved ones.

SOCIALIZING AT WORKPLACE — Another factor that shows caring is through Social Gatherings.

A right environment that encourages employees to socialize with coworkers strengthens the quality of workplace relationships. Strong relationships foster motivation at the workplace. Studies also show that socialization has improved collaboration, communication, and candidness among the employees, resulting in higher productivity.

When, where, and how to socialize?

A few tips from Springfield Remanufacturing Corporation(SRC) —

a) At SRC, the management conducts Open House programs, where they invite families, kids, parents of employees to see the place where they worked. It created a lot of goodwill. It was a way of letting people feel important.

b) SRC leadership team encouraged people to invest time and customize their workplace. The company supplied paint and other materials that allowed employees to decorate their work area. Some of them involved their family members in beautifying the place. They customized their work areas to show their personal identity. It was a way to market themselves.

When people invest time and effort in any activity or product, or business, they will begin to value it more. Jack says that because of work area customization, people started taking pride in their workplace. They began to think like an owner. It is called Endowment Effect through ownership — A cognitive bias that says that once we own something (or have a feeling of ownership), we irrationally begin to value the product more than its objective value.

c) Some more socializing activities at SRC —

  • The company periodically conducts fishing tournaments and baseball tournaments.
  • The company allows employees to participate in several local competitions and ensure that one of the teams wins the contest.
  • The company also encourages employees to take part in relay races against other companies.
  • The company also conducts in-house housekeeping games, attendance games, and other games.
  • Every year, the company hosts several parties from Christmas to the Birthday of an employee’s baby.
  • The company avoids games that are divisive in nature. Jack says that the best games promote teamwork and togetherness, and that creates a spirit of cooperation.

d) A few tips from Bridgewater Associates —

  • The company has the policy to pay for half of practically any activities that people want to do together.
  • The leadership has encouraged people to set up clubs based on shared common interests(The company has more than a hundred clubs).
  • The company pays for food and drink for those who hosted potluck dinners at their houses.
  • The organization bought a house where employees can use for events and celebrations.
  • The leadership also ensures that people shouldn’t force anyone who is not interested in parties or events. They understand that everyone is different and have varied interests, likings, dislikings, or habits. The company made it completely fine for people to opt-out of the socialization programs.

Charles Duhigg writes that Locus Of Control(LOC) refers to the extent to which people feel that they have control over the events that influence their lives.

The LOC is of two types — Internal LOC and External LOC. People with an internal locus of control believe that they could control life to a large extent, while people with external LOC believe that external factors/events/people influence their life most of the time. Internals tend to praise or blame themselves for success or failure, while Externals blame it on outside factors. Studies show that people with an internal LOC are more successful in work and life, have higher self-motivation and social skills, face lower incidences of stress and depression, and have a longer life span.

Research also shows that people with internal LOC appear to be more curious than the externals — So, they seek more information about the work-related tasks — They always love to learn. As a result, their observational skills, level of alertness in their cognitive abilities improve. It helps them to identify valuable cues in the work environment and leverage it. Therefore, people with internal LOC obtain better results from their efforts, acquire the ability to react quickly to changing situations, and have higher confidence to make decisions. In other words, people with internal LOC become better problem solvers than externals(a critical element in improving productivity). They have a greater interest in developing entrepreneurial skills and become more achievement-oriented than externals.

How to encourage Internal Locus Of Control in the workplace?

  • When an employee makes a mistake, a leader shouldn’t show anger or any other emotion. He/she should have rational/logical discussions and help the employee look back and reflect upon the steps that led to the mistake. Also, guide them to learn from their mistakes. That way, the leader will be strengthening the Internal LOC of the person.
  • Create a culture where a person will praise other’s efforts, hard work rather than the innate talents. When we applaud people for their efforts rather than natural abilities, they’ll think that their skills are not fixed or carved in stone and can be changed. It will reinforce the belief that they have control over themselves.
  • Praise/criticize the idea/solution rather than the people. Point out the specific things in the idea and, if possible, share suggestions. Avoid personal criticisms.
  • Provide autonomy. Delegate and give responsibilities.
  • Allow people to make as many decisions as possible.

FLOW EXPERIENCE — Productivity improves when people always enjoy doing the work.

When you start enjoying your work, you would no longer be distracted by the people around you. Your sense of duration of time would change, you would be oblivious to the environment, and you would intensely focus on the activity at hand. You would feel a sense of exhilaration when you achieve a goal. Later, you would feel more peaceful. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls this a “Flow” experience.

He defines flow as “The state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter. The experience itself is so enjoyable that people will do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it.”

However, not every job can be a flow-producing activity. So, how to transform a work into a flow-producing one.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi says that Flow Experience happens when a person’s skill level matches the challenges(ingrained in the activity). If the task is too difficult, you will feel anxious and won’t experience flow. But when skills are much higher than the challenge, you will feel bored. You have to strike a balance all the time.

Example — Take a new online game with multiple difficulty levels and start playing. Imagine that you start playing at difficulty level 5 — Won’t you feel like quitting? — Now, start from level 01. You will soon get addicted as you gradually move to higher difficulty levels. All games work on the ‘Flow’ concept. In the first level, the game will give you a simple challenge. When you raise your skill to meet that challenge, the game will provide a bit tougher activity in the second level. You’ll keep playing as long as you can raise your skills to meet the challenge.

So, productivity will keep improving —

  • As long as the challenges in the job keep growing steadily.
  • As long as the employee can stretch his skills to meet those challenges.

As a leader, give opportunities for an employee to stretch himself/herself.

INCREMENTAL CHANGES—One of the ways to widen the challenges and grow skills is through Incremental Changes. It is a way to find an opportunity to stretch yourself little by little on the work.

In 1964, the Beatles was a sensation in the American Music Scene. To everyone, the Beatles might have appeared as an overnight success. Before becoming famous, they had played for several months in a night-strip club in Hamburg, Germany. They had to play non-stop for hours to attract the audience for the club. Those hours of practice had set them apart from others. And, one of their success secrets — They didn’t mechanically repeat the same songs. They kept on improvising them every day.

Edwin Moses, a former track and field athlete, who won Olympic gold medals in the 400m Hurdle race, says, “I practiced for hours from my childhood. There’s a difference in how I practiced. I felt jumping over the hurdles as an artwork… I looked for ways to shave off 100s of seconds…manipulating(or improvising) small things — where the foot lands… Can I save a few seconds by looking at how the left or right leg goes over the hurdle… Can I gain few seconds if the left leg goes first over the hurdle… Everyone was taking fifteen steps between hurdles… I thought… Can I knock off two steps? I reduced this to thirteen steps… 15steps — 13 steps…between hurdles… You could say, all were incremental improvements…so small…but winning margins are also small. We neglect those minute changes”

To avoid boredom, we need to focus on periodically improving small essential skills related to our work, activities, or any other abilities which would appear mundane to anyone. The productivity lies in improvising those ordinary skills.

To conclude —

  • Approach the task in the same way an Olympic athlete will approach an event — Break each task into elements, improvise each one of them as much as possible. It could be knowledge, time, or skill. When you reach a limit, discover a way to make it attractive by adding a new element, eliminating an existing one, or combining some.
  • Choose tasks that have a chance of completing within the stretchable limits. It should be engaging and challenging enough.
  • Build a feedback system into the tasks so that we’ll know how we are progressing. That will keep us motivated.
  • Once in a while, we are all going to face unfavorable conditions. How we experience and react to these situations is in our minds. If those adverse external conditions affect our minds, then it would provoke negative thoughts. To have an enjoyable experience, we need to learn to change our experience of external conditions(If we cannot alter) in our minds to match our goals.

Our society has made everyone react, behave, work according to the established social rewards and punishments. Be it an employee or be an entrepreneur, we perform activities to gain approval, or appraisal, or other social recognition from other society members. The problem is that this attitude places enormous pressure on our body and mind, blocking our performance.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi writes that to enjoy the work and be productive, individuals must become independent of the social environment to the degree that they no longer respond exclusively to rewards and punishments. It implies that instead of working or adapting ourselves towards social recognition, we have to learn to provide rewards(Internal or Intrinsic) for ourselves — We have to develop the ability to find enjoyment regardless of the external environment — The rewards should be in one’s mind. Nobody should control his/her rewards, except himself/herself. His/her ability to feel happy or enjoy or feel satisfied should be in his/her hands.

Studies also show that working towards intrinsic rewards than external rewards obtain more satisfaction and pleasure, resulting in more happiness.

How to encourage employees to start working towards internal rewards?

  • Educate people and share stories of people who succeeded in their careers through intrinsic rewards.
  • Help your employees to develop a set of their own goals. Show them how the work and organizational goals can help them in achieving those objectives. Allow them to choose work goals to match their aspirations. Nobody should push them to choose the goals. Research shows that people highly value their work if they own their goals. They are also likely to persist with the goal against all odds.
  • Guide the employee to become the audience and critic of his/her work. Soon, he/she would recognize the internal rewards.
  • Give employees autonomy.
  • Encourage Deliberate Practice.

However we plan, we are all going to face difficult situations in our work. It could be a project failure or a colleague’s behavior or a random natural event, or something else. When things don’t go as planned, it’s going to be stressful. Yet, productivity depends on how an employee overcomes those obstacles/situations. To manage those situations, a person’s ability to make decisions under stressful conditions plays a crucial role.

How to improve decision-making under stressful conditions?

Charles Duhigg writes — In the late 1980s, a group of psychologists began exploring why some people seem to stay calm and focused amid chaotic environments while others become overwhelmed. Why some could make such good choices amid the stress and time pressures?

Their research showed that those good decision-makers loved to generate several theories about all kinds of situations. They try to find reasons behind every event — why sales dropped/rose, why a colleague behaved like that & what happened before that event, triggered the behavior, why some clients are happy/unhappy, why the manager accepted/not accepted my decision, and so on. The decision-makers continuously asked questions to understand the causes of events and made theories. It implies that they were trying to explain the world to themselves. In other words, they were generating several mental models — A model of how the world worked for them in various situations/scenarios.

Most productive workers were good decision-makers under stressful conditions.

Research shows that people with more mental models are

  • Innovative — They are more likely to throw out several ideas during meetings.
  • Predictive — They can predict future events better than others. They could anticipate trends.
  • Earlier Detection Of Errors/Mistakes — As they constantly learn the causes of events and update their mental models, they can detect possible failure scenarios/errors earlier than anybody else. It is possible because they can subconsciously recognize any variations that don’t match even a tiny part of the registered mental model.
  • They constantly observe people, understand the reasons behind everyone’s behavior and create a mental model. As they keep observing, they become more empathetic towards people. They could understand other’s problems better than anybody. It improves interpersonal relationships with colleagues. They can comfortably seek help from others.
  • Mental models help us choose where to direct our attention. It will help us to control our reaction to the external environment.

CONCLUSION

Your employees are the soul of your business. If you care for them, they will care for you and your customers. They will bring you business. Consider them as human beings. Treat them as your partners and not as a resource. You’ll easily build a sustainable business.

Reference:: Smarter Faster Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life by Charles Duhigg, Flow: The Psychology Of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Article in NPR by Allison Aubrey, HBR Article by Daniel Markovitz, Psychological Safety by Amy Edmondson, Principles by Ray Dalio, Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull, Radical Candor by Kim Scott, Trillion Dollar Coach: The Leadership Playbook of Silicon Valley’s Bill Campbell by Eric Schmidt, Jonathan Rosenberg, and Alan Eagle,The Great Game of Business: The Only Sensible Way to Run a Company by Bo Burlingham and Jack Stack, Jack: Straight From the Gut by Jack Welch, Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, “Winning” a documentary by Director Jacqueline Joseph, The Art of Creative Thinking by Rod Judkins, The Power Of Small Wins -HBR article by Teresa Amabile and Steve J.Kramer, What It Takes: Lessons in the Pursuit of Excellence by Stephen A. Schwarzman, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and others don’t by James C. Collins.

Secular Humanist, Business Growth Consultant, Design Thinker, India. Reach me at mmshah8@gmail.com. or https://www.shahmohammed.com

Secular Humanist, Business Growth Consultant, Design Thinker, India. Reach me at mmshah8@gmail.com. or https://www.shahmohammed.com