“Being a high-performance organization!”
“Doing more with less.”
In the hallways and meeting rooms in organizations around the globe, people use phrases like these to imply that they are working toward hyper-performance. Sure, there is a lot of hyperbole, but what really happens at work? Is an increase in productivity really occurring?
The short answer is no. Companies seem like they are getting more out of their current workforce. But, if customers are buying less, fewer employees can do more of the work. The recent rise in productivity is masking this dirty little secret.
A great deal of employee’s time is spent doing one of three tasks:
1. Preparing for meetings
2. Going to meetings
3. Getting coffee/snacks/etc.
Working for a Living?
Research says that many employees manufacture work to make themselves look better, look busy and look important. But what does this type of behavior do for the bottom line? How can that energy be turned toward something good?
The problem is a result of two issues:
1. Companies knock the creativity out of employees
2. Employees don’t act like owners
Kicking the creative habit
After consulting with a number of great organizations over the last many years, one constant has become clear to me:
The culture of organizations both drives success and drives people crazy.
New employees are generally hired because of their experience, enthusiasm, drive, and new ideas. There is a great deal of fanfare when the new employees arrive until they start sharing ways to make the organization more effective. However, something different actually happens when most new employees arrive in their new spot. Each time they bring a new idea, they are essentially told to “sit down and shut up.” After too much of this type of treatment, they reach the point of frustration and “go native.”
Going native is:
To act and do as the members of the tribe, town, environment an individual finds themselves in as to blend in and be accepted.
Then, lo and behold, the very creativity and spark that was the reason that the employees were hired is snuffed out like the torch at tribal council on “Survivor.”
I just work here…
But, employees are not blameless. As Sisyphus can attest, pushing a rock up a hill can be very difficult. However, successful employees (and people) are folks that take responsibility and pride in their roles. As a wise mentor once told me,
“I act like this little part of the company is mine. I run it as if it were my own, making sure to be careful with money, look for opportunities to improve and fight the status quo.”
Too often, employees work hard to distance themselves from an organization. Many people feel like they are not going to be at a company long-term so why should they invest themselves. It leads to a very “quick-fix” mentality. Companies certainly don’t help themselves by using layoffs as a method to meet quarterly profit goals. As the old saying goes, you can’t go into a marriage expecting divorce. That is a recipe for disaster.
Employees must step up and take ownership of their role and tasks.
So now what do we do about it?
Care for creativity.
It almost goes without saying that creativity and enthusiasm are the lifeblood of any organization/team. These are characteristics that should be nurtured. Creativity comes in all disciplines. It has been shown that innovation comes from an engaged and motivated workforce. Determine how engaged folks are now and give your managers the tools they need to increase it, all the time.
Figure out what you want to be.
Teams/organizations need a purpose that drives them to act. Innovation comes from the need to fulfill that purpose. Make sure that the purpose is well-known and that actions are aligned to meeting it. Focused effort naturally eliminates waste, increases clarity, and actually makes work more fun. It is a powerful incentive to know where you are going, why you need to get there and what happens if you don’t.
Do whatever you can to notice, recognize and reward employees when they act like owners. Owners don’t waste; they go the extra mile, take risks and are unwilling to smooth things over. As a business owner, the drive is to be successful now and even more successful in the future. Relationships are nurtured because they are important over the long haul.
Be an owner.
As an employee at any level, treat the organization you are in as if you are an owner. It makes work much more satisfying if you are doing the extra work to benefit you. It seems like semantics, but ownership allows for responsibility and gives latitude to be bold both in action and in protection of the organization. Even if you think that the job is temporary, an ownership mentality will provide some clarity of decision and perspective.
But what about meetings?
Meetings are actually a powerful method to communicate and get work done. However, they have been used and abused making them seem ridiculous. If organizations actively protect creativity and encourage an ownership mentalitythey will naturally be more effective. Time won’t be wasted on preparing for or attending meaningless meeting. However, they will need a good cup of “joe”.
What are your experiences of acting like an owner? Have you seen what happens when an organization promotes an ownership mentality? Where might this be effective?
Anil Saxena is the President of Cube 2.14, an organizational development consulting firm that works with clients to increase both customer and employee engagement while decreasing turnover, improving customer retention, and increasing profitability within organizations.
Saxena is a certified High Impact coach and trainer and a Joint Application Design facilitator. He is also certified by both Rush Systems and IBM as a focus group facilitator. He is an inaugural member of Northwestern University’s Learning and Organizational Change program, and he earned his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the Illinois Institute of Technology.