There are four major things managers should be doing in order to increase work performance and productivity in their top employees. These four behaviors will not only improve work performance but also create a more rewarding work environment for the employees, ultimately leading to overall job satisfaction.
1. Providing Autonomy
The brain is a primal, yet sophisticated, organ that uses an approach-or-avoid or fight-or-flight response to threats. This response is hardwired and often derails productivity and performance if not dampened. Providing employees with a sense of control and choice can lessen the fight-or-flight response and allow them to work more productively and with more satisfaction, according to David Rock’s SCARF model. Allowing employees the opportunity to design their own work environment, working hours or work flow is important for fostering autonomy. Even asking, “Which of these do you prefer?” rather than saying, “This is what you need to do” can increase employees’ sense of control and autonomy.
2. Promoting Intrinsic Motivation
Autonomy, along with competence and relatedness, create a three-piece framework of intrinsic, or self-, motivation. An organization needs these three factors to create an environment that fosters performance, persistence and creativity. Like giving a child a bicycle with training wheels, to help employees develop competence (and confidence), managers must ensure that they are working in an environment where the they can be successful. This process may require chunking a project or giving more support before the employee can take it on solo.
Relatedness involves the human need to connect with others. As Edward Deci and Richard Ryan wrote in their book “Intrinsic Motivation and Self-Determination in Human Behavior,” to feel a sense of belonging and, ultimately, feel more motivated to perform, employees need to understand how what they’re doing relates to the big picture, to others and to their role.
3. Recognizing Sources of Influence
Sometimes, top performers will make mistakes that disrupt their performance and productivity. These errors are caused by either motivation or ability, and determining which is key to increasing work performance and productivity. Motivation and ability influencers come in three categories: personal, social and structural. Managers and employees must dissect them to determine the cause of the error(s).
When considering motivation as an influence, managers must consider if it’s something the employee wants to do, if the reward system for that behavior is counterproductive, or if there’s peer pressure or social sway to perform a certain way. For ability challenges, consider whether the employee has the required skill set or knowledge base. Lastly, determine if the employee’s environment, tools and work structure allow for successful completion of the task.
Ask an open-ended question to start the conversation, listen for clues to determine whether the error was caused by motivation or ability, and then provide targeted feedback and coaching. Identifying these influencers can increase work performance and efficiency, according to Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, David Maxfield, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler’s book “Crucial Accountability.”
4. Setting Expectations and Following Up
The human brain feeds off patterns and craves systems and structure; therefore, the need to set expectations and create certainty for employees is key to their productivity, according to Rock. The authors of “Crucial Accountability” use a simple acronym for setting expectations and following up: WWWF (Who does what, by when? Then, follow up). This approach takes assumptions and guesswork out of the equation. Each person involved needs to know what his or her specific tasks and expectations are in order to be successful. It sounds simple enough, but clear and specific language is paramount. When in doubt, ask questions to check for understanding and clarity. Set deadlines for specific dates and, if needed, times. Lastly, follow up at specific intervals to check on progress and/or answer questions to ensure accountability. These follow-ups can be at specific milestones or during scheduled one-on-ones.
A few key actions can drastically increase productivity and performance while also promoting a more satisfying work environment. It just takes some extra time and attention in order to gain the benefits of a more productive and efficient team.