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3 Ways to Improve Productivity By Letting Go

By Melissa J. Anderson

Summer’s here and it’s tempting to just let it all go. And, in fact, new technology and research shows you can! Here are a three ways to think about letting go that could make you and your team more organized, happier, and productive.

1. Let Technology Prioritize For You

“Anyone can say anything to anyone. Isn’t that wonderful?” asked Bradley Horowitz, Google Vice President, Product Management. “Yes, but we’re going to spend the next 20 years digging out of it. Because when anyone can say anything, they do.”

Horowitz was speaking at PwC‘s Diversity Leadership Forum, entitled, “Business works when life works: Flexibility in a hyper-connected world.”

According to Horowitz, Google is working on developing new products to help individuals prioritize data points rather than getting lost in an avalanche of information – to improve productivity by allowing individuals to “let go” of constant information vigilance.

Linda Stone, an expert on technology, attention, and productivity, commented that we can’t keep racking up responsibilities. “We have to take stuff off the list.”

2. Let Go of Control

Autonomy is one of the things key motivators for performance, according to Daniel Pink, bestselling author of DRIVE: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us.

Speaking at the conference, he explained, “We want engagement. Human beings don’t engage by being managed. You get engaged by getting there under your own steam. It’s the technology of self direction.”

Rather than serving as taskmasters, Horowitz said, “The job of management is to ensure short term incentives are aligned with long term objectives.”

According to Jenn Lim, CEO and Chief Happiness Officer at Delivering Happiness (a project with Tony Hsieh of Zappos), one way to achieve growth objectives is to make sure employees are happy. “There’s a tipping point of companies realizing it is time to focus on employees. If you do focus on employee happiness, you do get better productivity and that ends up reflected in your bottom line.”

She continued, “What was number one to us [at Zappos] was to commit to customer service – to culture and customer service – and give our representatives the opportunities to make their own decisions. It was not necessarily scalable… a lot of things come and go, but you can grow a company that way.”

Lim explained that by giving customer representatives the autonomy to make their own choices – rather than reading from a call center script or following a detailed flow chart on how to answer questions – productivity and retention has improved.

3. Let Go of Traditional Reward Systems

Finally, Pink indicated, psychological and economic research shows that for the kind of complex, strategic operations today’s workforce is engaged in, simply incentivizing employees with cash bonuses doesn’t work in the long term. Money is still an issue, he said, but it’s more complicated than that. It’s the issue of fairness. He explained “Money is a motivator… but it matters in a slightly different way. If you don’t treat people fairly, you’re not going to get them motivated at all.”

He continued, “The best way to use money as a motivator is to pay people enough to take the issue of money off the table – raise the salience of the work. Some of the highest performing firms are overpaying, so people are not thinking about money or fairness, they’re just focused on the work.”

What people really want, he said, is to feel their work is self directed. For example, he explained how 2010’s Nobel Prize for physics went to two scientists “doing their own thing.”

According to Pink, the two physicists Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov made a habit of reserving Friday evenings for unfunded work – experiments they were just interested in. It was these Friday evening sessions that gave way to their Nobel Prize winning breakthrough on Graphene. “Giving people a little time to do their own thing can have huge benefits,” he said.

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