This is an interesting finding, but not a surprising one if you’ve been paying attention:
“The throughline through all of this is that it turns out that your employees will feel more productive when you trust them to do their work, and when you try to force things on them, like productivity tracking software, and mandates to return to the office, they don’t trust you or your company and naturally resist them, and that shows up in metrics like employee engagement, retention and overall productivity.”
People do better work when they feel safe, and they feel safe when they have leaders who trust them and in whom they can trust. That seems pretty self-explanatory, yet we see so many leaders making business decisions without even considering that. Between significant layoffs and employers chomping at the bit to replace workers with AI, it’s hard to see how they expect the people who work for them to do good work. (In that last link, Ed Zitron suggests that maybe they don’t care about good work as much as they care about work that makes money. He may be right about that.)
But back to the link below. Al adds in some insight from Peter Drucker about the culture where knowledge workers can thrive.
Peter Drucker, one of the more influential thinkers of management in his book Innovation And Entrepreneurship, covered a lot of ground on the topic of knowledge worker productivity. In his book, Drucker listed six conditions that he believed enabled productivity. According to the HR Exchange they are:
- Knowledge worker productivity demands that we ask the question: “What is the task?”
- It demands that we impose responsibility for their productivity on the individual knowledge worker themselves. Knowledge workers have to manage themselves. They have to have autonomy.
- Continuing innovation has to be part of the work, the task and the responsibility of knowledge workers.
- Knowledge work requires continuous learning on the part of the knowledge worker, but equally continuous teaching on the part of the knowledge worker (to facilitate the sharing of best practices).
- Productivity of the knowledge worker is not—at least not primarily—a matter of quantity of output. Quality is at least as important.
- Knowledge worker productivity requires that knowledge workers are both seen and treated as an “asset” rather than a “cost.” It requires that knowledge workers want to work for the organization in preference to all other opportunities.
As I read over the list of six conditions that Drucker believed enabled productivity, I came to the conclusion that I have never worked in a place that provided all six. Usually, that last one, being seen as an asset as opposed to a cost, is the easy one to see. Management loves to remind you that you are a cost, especially if you work in a tech or training position. Heck, anything other than a sales position in some organizations is a “cost”, and we all know anyone who isn’t directly billing more hours to a client than they get paid in legal is a cost. As we have seen over the last year, you can do great work, but when shareholders and Boards decide it’s time to cut costs, that great work won’t grant you immunity from mass layoffs.
That’s one condition that hasn’t ever really existed in my work history. What else? There have definitely been times when the “task” is not clear. By that I mean, it’s not clear what measure is used to determine “productivity” or the measure is not related to doing good work. (i.e. if you measure the quantity of customer training, but your product is not up to snuff to bring in many new customers, that measurement is beyond the control of the knowledge worker, which makes it impossible for them to be responsible for their own productivity. You need a better measurement.)
Let’s also point out that 3-5 are difficult in any atmosphere that measures hours billed as well. Learning and Development activities are usually not counted as “productivity”, and in the worst cases, it’s actually career-limiting to spend much time trying to learn how to do the work better or to share that knowledge with your peers.
Even in cultures that promote learning and development, they usually don’t circle back to number one and define what the tasks and goals are of that time.
In those billable hour cultures there is also some confusion about quality versus quantity. The quantity of your work is time, not the actual work product. The measurement of productivity is how much time you spend not the quality of work. You really can’t measure the quality of time. An hour is an hour. It’s similar to measuring tech support by the number of tickets closed. Closing tickets doesn’t necessarily equal great work. It might get in the way of great work, in fact.
I’m not saying creating a culture that maintains all six of those conditions would be easy. If it were easy I think I’d have seen it somewhere. Just because it’s not easy doesn’t mean we should ignore all of it. In my opinion, the first thing to consider is that first option, what’s the task? What’s the measurement that actually tells me someone is doing good, efficient, work? I’m afraid too many managers can’t answer that question.