Wednesday, September 7, 2011

What really makes employees productive?

Powerful article in the New York Times over the weekend about employee satisfaction and productivity.  The authors, Teresa Amabile of Harvard Business School and Steven Kramer, point out a connection that should be obvious but isn't:  dissatisfaction on the job connects directly to a lower bottom line. 
Employee engagement may seem like a frill in a downturn economy. But it can make a big difference in a company’s survival.... Conventional wisdom suggests that pressure enhances performance; our real-time data, however, shows that workers perform better when they are happily engaged in what they do.
What do employees find most engaging?  Amabile and Kramer's study showed a clear result:  "of all the events that engage people at work, the single most important — by far — is simply making progress in meaningful work."

Managers can facilitate this progress.  But Amabile and Kramer found that they're missing the boat:
Unfortunately, many companies now keep head count and resources to a minimum and this makes progress a struggle for employees. Most managers don’t understand the negative consequences of this struggle. When we asked 669 managers from companies around the world to rank five employee motivators in terms of importance, they ranked “supporting progress” dead last. Fully 95 percent of these managers failed to recognize that progress in meaningful work is the primary motivator, well ahead of traditional incentives like raises and bonuses.
Here's a clear call to action:  let's humanize the workplace, encourage creativity and meaning, and help people feel that their presence makes a difference.  It's not just good-heartedness; it's good business sense.  

Photo:  Creative Commons

Thursday, August 18, 2011

How to set priorities at work

Erika Andersen has an excellent post here about helping leaders figure out what they need to do themselves and what they should be handing off to others.  It's a common problem we've seen, too: after a promotion, people often find it difficult to stop doing their old tasks and focus on the demands of their current job.  Whether it's the school principal who keeps hanging out in the classroom or the executive who can't stay off the manufacturing floor, we all like to continue with tasks that we enjoy and do well.

Erika's rule of thumb:
"Only do what only you can do.  In other words, only do those things that no one below you is capable of doing. And if you’re doing tasks that someone else less highly paid and skilled than you could do...but there’s no one in the organization to do them...consider hiring someone."
Good advice for all of us, from one-person consultancies to CEOs of multinationals.

Photo:  Creative CommonsBy akeg

Monday, August 1, 2011

Good words

The expert is one who, having incorporated his tools, is unaware of them.  Douglas Harding

Monday, July 25, 2011

No "brilliant jerks" at Netflix

Everyone talks about company values, but few do anything about them.  Here's a post by Bill Taylor of Fast Company magazine about how values really mean behavior.  He quotes Netflix CEO Reed Hastings:
"Values are what we value," Hastings declares in his presentation, and values "are shown by who gets promoted, rewarded or let go." Actual company values, he continues, "are the behaviors and skills that are valued in fellow employees."
In other words, not platitudes framed on a wall, but what people consistently do and say - and how they do it and say it.  Hastings and Taylor believe that
a great place to work isn't about free lunches or weekly massages. A great place to work is about "stunning colleagues," an organization filled with people who bring out the best in themselves and in everyone around them.
So, even though I'm a little mad at Netflix right now over their price increases, I feel better knowing that they're trying to be human-hearted in corporate life.  We need more of that.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Practice helps us own our knowledge

"The benefit of a flight simulator is that it allows pilots to internalize their new knowledge.  Instead of memorizing lessons, a pilot can train the emotional brain, preparing the parts of the cortex that will actually make the decision when up in the air." -- Jonah Lehrer, How We Decide  

Great point.  When faced with a situation that requires action, we rarely have time to think, "What was that approach we talked about during Day Three of management training?"  We act from the gut.  And we train the gut through practice.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

What do all those NPR people look like?

Here's Gaelan Kelly's mental pictures of Carl Kasell, Jad Abumrad, Robert Krulwich, and other voices in our heads.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The case for in-person learning

Valuable blog post by Deborah Laurel on why interpersonal skills need face-to-face training.  Her points 3 and 4 focus on practice, immediate feedback, and trial and error -- and how they help learners master and retain new skills.
Interactive skills require whole body learning. In other words, just because a participant intellectually grasps the steps in a specific type of interaction does not mean that the participant is able to effectively handle the interaction in real life. The only way that learners will achieve confidence in their own competence is for them to practice their new skills in simulations that are as real to life as possible.  
 a. The participants can evaluate whether their verbal and nonverbal behaviors are consistent with each other, or whether they are giving inconsistent messages.
b. The participants get a chance to see how it feels to actually say what needs to be said to the other person.
c. The participant has to adjust to and handle unexpected responses of the other person.
d. It gives participants the experience of having to think on their feet.
I've got to agree!  Practice that's designed to be authentic, realistic, and unexpected (combined with a chance to coach and be coached by peers) is tremendously powerful.  It's the difference between reading a recipe and tasting the dish.

Photo by Jill Brazel
at a Workplace Interactors program