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Rethinking Productivity For The 21st Century

written by Josh Levine & Ciana Wilson, Dec 27, 2017:

Ever since the management style of the Pharaohs was deemed unsustainable, supervisors have sought new ways to increase worker productivity. From Ford’s assembly line to Google’s 20% time, the challenge of getting increasingly more value out of workers has been the driving force behind many a process innovation. Productivity tricks may be a dime a dozen these days, but we still haven’t cracked the code on getting and keeping employees motivated.

We think it’s time to update the way we approach increasing workplace productivity.

“What can’t be measured, can’t be managed” goes the old saying, but can one actually calculate the whole of a human’s efforts? Lindsay Wolff Logsdon, who has worked with Square, frog design, and other creative agencies, doesn’t think so — at least not with current methodologies. “HR is still recovering from the transition from physical to intellectual labor. We have to shift the dialogue around ‘maximizing potential’ and ‘quantifying the results.’ People aren’t ‘resources.’ We need to start taking a different approach to measuring productivity.” Along with others in this new generation of HR pros, Wolff Logsdon has identified one of the biggest problems with measuring productivity: traditional ROI-based methods are too linear and simplistic. Quantitative data, while easy to measure, won’t always reflect workers’ nuanced needs and behaviors.

People aren’t ‘resources.’ We need to start taking a different approach to measuring productivity.

Let’s review: 1) People aren’t resources, and 2) most workers aren’t producing widgets. So if we haven’t yet discovered the best way to measure worker productivity in an intellectual economy, what can we do in the meantime to motivate without numbers?

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 the world over struggle to pinpoint these productivity dreamboats because they are hard to identify and costly to hire. But if it stands that all-star candidates are highly connected to purpose, it’s not the PR or paycheck you need to worry about. It’s identifying your company’s deeper meaning beyond making money.

A compelling purpose naturally attracts and holds the attention of those who strive towards the same goals. Productivity is just a naturally occurring byproduct. When we look for candidates that are a good fit, alignment in purpose needs to be the first-order criteria.

But connecting all-star hires to your organization’s purpose is just the tip of the iceberg. Wolff Logsdon knows from experience that “It’s much easier to build a purposeful workplace if there is support from the company in actually helping achieve that.”

She goes on to advocate for applying user experience design principles to the organization writ large. “What we need to think about is employee experience and how to maximize creative potential, not just for individuals, but for groups. If you believe that the next big idea can come from anywhere — and often these days, it does — then you need to make work pleasurable if you’re going to attract the right kinds of employees.”

What can you do to shift your organization’s approach from employees as resources to employees as creative partners? One way to start is by creating a purpose trajectory for your staff. Empowering employees and teams to work towards higher goals, not just quotas or routine expectations, frees everyone from the energy often misspent on micromanagement. More than anything, however, getting the best out your employees means one thing: treating them with as much care and value as your did when you hired them.

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