While it’s easy to say “lead by example” when it comes to productivity, it’s also important to use tools to get your entire team moving in the same direction. These tools can help to create accountability, stoke desire, and encourage competition in your team. Used effectively, they can take your team’s performance to an entirely new level.
There’s a story from a business book that recounts how a business owner wanted to foster greater competition between his employees in a factory. The factory ran two 12-hour shifts, one for the daytime and one overnight. One day he wrote a number in chalk on the ground. “What’s that?” some employees asked as they came onto the factory floor. “Oh, I think the day shift left that there. That’s how many units they were able to put out, and I think they bragged that there was no chance the night shift could hit that number.” “Oh, really?” was the reaction among the workers. Sure enough, at the end of their shift, they chalked up a number (higher, of course) for the day shift. The day shift workers came in, and this time, the boss was able to ride his earlier fib into a truth, “Yeah, the night shift wrote that down. That’s how many units they produced and they said there was no chance that you guys could catch them.” You can guess what happened from there. While the boss may have stretched the truth to get the game going, once it started, pride was on the line for the employees and they began to stretch themselves in solidarity with their shift.
What opportunities are you missing to create some friendly competition in your team(s)?
Anyone familiar with Parkinson’s Law can tell you that appropriate deadlines are a key part of productivity. The mind doesn’t have any use for the excess time given in an easy deadline. Tell someone they have six months to finish something and they’ll blow it off, for no other reason than neurologically, our minds don’t know what to do with all that extra time, so it automatically gets de-prioritized. Tell someone they have six days to do something, however, and suddenly there’s laser-like focus. There’s nothing like a deadline to focus the mind, and there’s nothing like challenging deadlines to push your team’s productivity.
What rubric are you using to create deadlines? If you’re not at least slightly uncomfortable when you give it out, you’re making too easy of a deadline. Demand more, which will lead to more neural focus from your team, and better performance overall.
I often say, if no one fails, the goal is too low. When this happens, you should set higher and more aggressive goals. Tim Ferriss uses an excellent strategy to go for aggressive goals. He begins by asking people to describe key goals that they hope to achieve across the next 10 years. He’ll then pick one of those goals and ask, “Okay, but what if we wanted to achieve this in half the time, in five years?” After listening to the person hem and haw, Tim will usually get an answer along the lines of, “Well, I suppose if we did X and Y and Z went our way, then yes, that would be achievable.” Tim then nods, getting buy-in to cut the timeline from ten years to five. “So now that we’re going to do it in five years,” he continues, “what would it take to do it in 2.5?” The person Tim’s talking to is once again taken aback, but going along with the thought experiment, he/she might respond, “Well, really, it’s all about A and B. If A can hit targets at a faster rate, and B stays consistent, I don’t see why we couldn’t.” In a matter of moments, Tim’s taken a ten-year timeline and brought it under 1000 days, consistent with the idea of Parkinson’s Law that we alluded to above – a ten-year goal isn’t really a goal, it’s a dream. The mind doesn’t take such a long-term goal seriously. Push harder, stretch more, demand the “impossible.” Then do the work and you’ll be impressed by what happens next.
It’s not a good thing if everyone on your team is hitting their targets. You’re making it too easy. Ask the “impossible.” The worst thing that can happen is you (and your team) will learn from the experience.
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