Illustration: Oscar Ramos Orozco

It's Time to Rethink Productivity

Ever since the management style of the Pharaohs was deemed unsustainable, we’ve all sought new ways of inspiring worker productivity. From Ford’s assembly line to Google’s 20 percent time, the challenge of getting more out of less has been the driving force behind many process innovations. Productivity tricks are as cheap as buying an app these days, but we still haven’t cracked the code on getting and keeping employees motivated.

What is known about productivity comes straight from the motivational speaker’s proverbial handbook: the amount of time we have is constant, it’s our energy that’s expandable. The more energy we have, the more we can do. Aside from installing more latte machines, how do we supercharge our team’s energy and productivity?

Energy Project author Tony Schwartz proposes twelve “whole-person” ideas that can be used to expand employee energy and their ability to get things done. The tenets range from well-timed, protein-rich snacking to eliminating unnecessary choices. Most profound of all is the final insight of the series: finding purpose. According to Schwartz, a near-infinite well of energy is available to people who take the time to identify their personal motivation.

This won’t come as a surprise to high performers; they know what this type of purposeful motivation is worth to an organization. Headhunters and recruiters battle to land these productivity dreamboats. If these workplace heroes tap purpose as the source of their super powers, no amount of 401(k) matching can make up for that. Successful leaders ensure their teams know, understand, and believe in something more.

If these workplace heroes tap purpose as the source of their super powers, no amount of 401(k) matching can make up for that.

It’s ideas, not widgets, that drive commerce. Companies have gotten so efficient at the production of physical and digital products that the market is cluttered with inexpensive, and mostly commoditized choices. As the market shifts from valuing the physical to prizing the intellectual, it’s the best ideas that command our attention and a premium. And ideas take energy. They take purpose.

An example: which payment pioneer would you rather work for, Square or PayPal?

Both seem to have the ingredients that make for success these days. Both have shown impressive revenue growth year over year; both have support from Silicon Valley royalty, both have even nailed the holy business skill of consistent innovation, regularly cranking out new features and products. Even if I told you that Paypal’s revenue in 2013 was $6.6 billion and Square has yet to turn a profit, my guess is you answered Square.

Why? PayPal has struggled from day one to find their purpose. While everyone at Square knows their collective job is to make commerce easy, you’d have a hard time getting even a veteran PayPal-er to recall its stated purpose that PayPal is the faster, safer way to pay and get paid online, via a mobile device and in store. It’s not about character count, it’s about clarity of concept.

A quick search on Glassdoor.com says it all:

At PayPal

  • 63 percent of employees would recommend working at PayPal to a friend.
  • “Great Benefits, passionate people, poor management”
  • “awesome technology, but culture has changed for the worse.”

At Square

  • 81 percent of employees would recommend working at Square to a friend.
  • “Meaningful work and mission”
  • “Working at square is amazing. The people, the work, and the mission make coming to work every day a pleasure.”

PayPal is in the black today, but I’d bet on Square for the win.

Unfortunately, not every team is part of a purpose-driven company and the reality is that a company-wide purpose, clearly told, won’t happen without the work or at least the permission of the Chief Executive. Here’s the good news: individuals within a purpose-driven team are just as likely to reap the benefits as those in a highly functioning company like Square.

The knowledge worker productivity is a new kind of productivity. It isn’t about extracting every last drop of effort from employees, nor is it about dangling rewards to get from milestone to milestone. When a company, team and individual understands their purpose, it enables each employee to hook into a greater cause on the level that fits them best, so that each team member actively builds towards the ultimate goal. A passionate, driven organization will always outpace those that have no purpose.

Empowering employees and teams to work towards higher goals, not just quotas or routine expectations, frees everyone from the energy often misspent on micromanagement. It takes trust to make your staff responsible for achieving your purpose as well as their own, but a productive company culture depends upon it.

Here’s what you can do to inspire a new level of productivity and passion, pronto:

1. Write your purpose statement. 

Even if the company doesn’t have one, your team can. Ask what one thing you’d like your group to be known for accomplishing. Have everyone contribute a few ideas and as a group, choose the best one. The best statements are succinct and don’t even have to have direct involvement with the actual product. For example: Zappos aims to “deliver happiness” — the shoes are a byproduct.

2. Create a “purpose trajectory.”

Encourage each team member to keep in mind purpose when making choices. By having each person connect their everyday responsibility and role with the far-reaching purpose, individuals can create a larger context within which to make decisions. From the front lines to the back office, everyone should be able to tie their day-to-day to the bigger picture. 

3. Reinforce with great stories.

At weekly staff meetings have one team member share a story of something they or a colleague did that supported the team or organization’s purpose. Treat the brave soul who shared their story to a coffee. Those stories will resonate with your team more than any mission statement ever will.

How about you?

What is your purpose? How did you find it?

More insights on: Motivation

Josh Levine

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Josh Levine is principal of Great Monday, a brand and culture consultancy. You can find him talking future of work on his own twitter feed or advancing the conversation on company culture as a co-founder of @culturelabsf.

Ciana Wilson

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Ciana Wilson is a Public Content Analyst at Facebook, a skilled writer, and a linguist passionate about communication. You can find out more about her diverse interests on Linkedin.
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