Greater productivity should be a goal of just about every organization. It is often challenged, however, by ever-tightening budgets and low employee morale. Nevertheless, increasing productivity can be accomplished without a lot of money and ultimately result in raising employee engagement. To do this, nothing works better than appealing to people’s intrinsic motivation and letting them decide how best to do the work. It is this combination of aligning people’s passion with the work they do and giving them the freedom on how to do it that results in greater productivity. As stated by Antoine de Saint-Exupery:
If you want to build a ship,
don’t drum up people to collect wood
and don’t assign them to tasks and work,
but rather teach them to long for
the endless immensity of the sea.
Passion leads to high performance. As a manager, you can find out what your employees are most passionate about by observing where they demonstrate the most energy. Also, you might ask them what they are challenged by and enjoy doing most—quite often these are one and the same. This is because liking tasks has a lot to do with the stimulation found in being challenged. It is not necessarily easy work that we find most appealing, but rather the things that are challenging yet where we ultimately can experience success. It’s about intrinsic motivation. You’ll likely see the highest quality results when employees are self-motivated in the performance of challenging tasks.
See if you can optimize this alignment of employee tasks with intrinsic motivation by careful observation and also by checking with them on your perceptions. You might also provide them with opportunities for acquiring new knowledge and skills where they may not yet have expertise, but want to develop in order to grow in their careers.
No one likes every part of their job and I’m not suggesting you do away with the parts that your workers don’t like. This is rarely possible, but it is important to rethink who does which task and evaluate whether that is the most efficient way to continue. It may be possible, and more efficient in terms of productivity, to transfer tasks to those who are most enthused about them.
As I’ve written about previously, people with intrinsic motivation can do incredible things. That’s because intrinsic motivation comes directly out of people’s passion. Discovering and appealing to the things your people are passionate about and finding those internal sources of motivation can be challenging, but doing so will ensure that your people are fully engaged in the work. I submit that no amount of extrinsic motivators (e.g., increased salary, bigger job titles, enviable perks, greater benefits, etc.) can ever supplant the value of intrinsic motivation.
Also, as mentioned above, the second thing that can lead to greater productivity is management that allows people the freedom to determine how best to do the work. It’s important to tell your people what you want but not how you want it done. Nothing stifles motivation, creativity and productivity more than telling people exactly how to do something while foregoing an opportunity that would have enabled them to do it in their own way.
Just because you’ve been building widgets the same way for years, this doesn’t mean there isn’t a cheaper and perhaps more efficient way to do so now. Getting a new pair of eyes on an existing process regularly could very well lead to a better way of doing something. Therefore, by allowing workers the freedom to determine how best to accomplish their tasks you can you stir innovation and ultimately raise productivity.
Amy Arnsten, a neuroscience professor at Yale University, studies the importance of feeling in control. She explains that when people lose their sense of control, such as when tasks are dictated to them, the brain’s emotional response center can actually cause a decrease in cognitive functioning. This perception of not being in control then leads to a drop in productivity. When a manager describes the outcome she wants, rather than specifying the steps to take, an employee can then decide how to achieve the outcome and preserve his perceived sense of control, cognitive function, and ultimately improve his overall productivity.
There is so often a tendency to reject new ideas that might upset the status quo. However, it pays to be open to new perspectives even if you find yourself at first rejecting them. Ask yourself why you do things a certain way, and allow yourself to be challenged. Let your entrenched ideas be up for debate. You may find you can no longer justify doing things the way they are currently being done.
By enabling your employees to follow their passions and enabling them to accomplish tasks in their own way, you’ll discover that are more fully engaged and you will raise overall productivity.