I came across this two-part question the other day: “Is there someone on your team who seems unusually productive? Someone who gets a huge amount done — without working longer hours?”
Productivity on a wide scale is a tricky concept. It’s got loads of economists scratching their heads. Take Britain’s low wage, low productivity economy as an example. Then add artificial intelligence and automation to the mix.
During the industrial revolution in Britain, it was worthwhile investing in machines/automation because of the relatively high cost of labour. That’s not so much the case these days. Yet many are fearful of the threat of automation. Probably rightly!
Manage workloads effortlessly
Anyway, I digress. What interests the questioners at the top of my blog is productivity on a micro scale. It’s not about the Hotel California colleague (they can check out any time they like, but they can never leave) … it’s about the ones who manage their workloads effortlessly and are still home in time for the early kick-off from Volgograd. This is altogether easier to grasp as a concept.
Productive people are in every sector. According to the Harvard Business Review, the most productive software developers write nine times more usable code per day than the average developer. According to research by Michael Mankins, the best fish butcher at Le Bernardin restaurant in New York can prepare three times as much fish as the average one and the best sales associate at Nordstrom sells eight times more clothes.
Leadership development consultants Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman collected data on 7,000 people rated by their manager for productivity. Here, I’m going to share the seven top skills/traits/behaviours, as identified by Zenger and Folkman.
- Stretch goals. “A big project encourages you to pick up your pace and eliminate all distractions. There is some great magic that occurs when people become riveted by the thought of achieving a stretch goal. The people in our study who got the most done made setting stretch goals a habit.”
- Consistency. “We all know people who are 100 per cent reliable. If they say, “It will be done,” it will get done. In our study, the most productive people did not see their productivity ebb and flow over time; they didn’t procrastinate only to pull all-nighters later on. Instead, they figured out how to consistently deliver results. There was a cadence and a rhythm to their work that seemed to keep them going.
- Knowledge and technical expertise. “When you know what you’re doing, you don’t have to sacrifice quality for speed. You don’t need to spend time searching online for a good tutorial, or asking a colleague for advice. The most productive professionals didn’t hesitate to ask for help when they needed it…but they didn’t need it that often. They also intentionally acquired new skills and worked to expand their expertise. That helped them be skilful, exacting, and quick in their execution.”
- Drive for results. “Most people are willing to accept responsibility for accomplishing goals and to work at a reasonable pace to achieve expected results. But there are a few people who have a great desire to accomplish results sooner and quicker. They are overjoyed to be able to check something off their to-do list. They’re competitive — and they compete not only with their colleagues but also with themselves. They like to set new records for performance and then beat their own best.
- Anticipating and solving problems. “The most productive people come up with innovative solutions and accomplish work more efficiently. They also tend to anticipate roadblocks and begin working on solutions in advance, and so avoid some of the problems that other people run into. Social psychologists call this mental contrasting — thinking about what you want to achieve and what might get in the way of your achieving it — and have found that it helps people achieve their goals.”
- Initiative. “For many people, the hardest part of getting a job done is starting. The most productive people start quickly, and they never wait to be told to begin. They ask for forgiveness, not permission. And indeed, their bias for action can get them into trouble sometimes — they might start executing a project before all parties have bought in, say. But their bosses rarely complain, because their results tend to speak for themselves.”
Collaboration. “So far it might sound like we’re describing a person who is a brilliant individual worker but can’t work well with others. But that’s not what our study showed. In today’s complex organisations, very little gets done by someone acting alone. Everything is highly interdependent. The most productive people in our study were highly collaborative and worked well with others. They didn’t have to spend a lot of time soothing ruffled feathers, because they didn’t ruffle many feathers in the first place.”