Work Smarter//

Want Your Employees to Care More About Being Productive? Change Their Answer to This 1 Question

Does it feel like half of your people are obsessed with productivity, while the other half don't care? Here's how to change that.

Rawpixel.com / Shutterstock
Rawpixel.com / Shutterstock

About a year and a half ago, a junior consultant at a prestigious consulting firm disputed my advice on how to better manage his time: “Why should I care about becoming more productive? If I get my work done faster, they’ll just give me more work.”

Part of me thought he was right. At the same time, I knew he must be missing something. There must be benefits of enhanced productivity that aren’t affected by one’s employer.

A year later, I was coaching a human resources professional who hadn’t taken on much additional responsibility in eight years at her job. Her approach was to keep her head down and save development for another day: “I’m just trying to do what I’m asked and then take it from there. Once these two months are over, I think I’ll have time to focus on my development, but then I never do.”

Becoming more productive didn’t matter to these professionals initially because they defined their job as doing what they were asked to do. When you define your job only as execution, you sap it of the motivation to drive your improvement.

How do you define your job?

That one question determines your feelings toward productivity. Productivity agnostics see their job in a limited light, while productivity enthusiasts understand that their job includes the following:

  1. Doing what they are told
  2. Increasing their team’s impact (defined however your team defines hitting its goals)
  3. Taking on increased responsibility

When you embrace this full definition, you are compelled to find more efficient and effective ways to get work done and create impact. For managers and business owners, this represents the difference between a static, passive workforce and a proactive, growing one. For individuals, it represents the difference between execution and ownership.

To propel team members out of execution mode and into ownership mode, incorporate these three practices:

Give employees choices, especially superficial ones.

Extrinsically motivated people do what they’re told because they know they must in order to get their paycheck. In contrast, intrinsically motivated people work because they enjoy it. Choice increases intrinsic motivation, and in turn, effort and performance, according to a meta-analysis of 41 studies on the topic.

Surprisingly, while nearly all choices increase motivation, choices that don’t matter much to the task give the largest bump to motivation (because choices that do require effort which can reduce motivation). For example, you can give employees these choices: “Would you like to create this in slide or document format?”

Tell them to do your job.

A mentor once told me that he felt it was his job to do the job of the person above him. I embraced this advice but found many resisted it because they worried it would make their supervisor feel threatened. Convince your team you won’t feel threatened by describing how you apply the principle yourself and by showing them that you are far busier than them, making you eager to offload work.

Have them start by asking you if they can take simple tasks off your list. Over time, encourage them to proactively seize work before you have time to start it. Just make sure they don’t get too far in front of you or take on work that is too ambiguous or time-consuming without asking.

Remind yourself to share testimonials.

Highly engaged employees see their job as important. Yet, only 40 percent of US employees strongly agree that the mission or purpose of their company makes them feel their job is important. Often more junior employees never hear what impact their work has. In the midst of the unknown, they assume their work doesn’t matter. When you think your work doesn’t matter, you do the minimum: what you’re told.

The trouble with getting this feedback to your team is that it often comes long after the work is done. To overcome the time gap, put a reminder on your calendar a few weeks or months out to share feedback with your team.

Ask their opinion before giving yours.

This advice seems simple, even obvious, but it’s rarely done. Only 30 percent of US employees feel their opinion counts at work. When people’s opinion isn’t wanted, they assume the only value they provide is doing what they’re told. In contrast, employees who are encouraged to share their opinion believe they are responsible to think about how to make things better.

Make this a habit by asking for team members’ thoughts before sharing your own. For example, start a check-in with “What’s on your agenda for our check-in today?” rather than “Today, I want to talk about these three things…”

Before asking your team members how they define your job, ask yourself. If you care about productivity, you’ll probably find your definition includes one through three above. Use your definition to instruct and inspire your colleagues. If you find you’re still in execution mode, it’s time to rewrite your job description. Once you do, you’ll enjoy your job more and your company and the world will be better off.

Originally published on Inc.

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