“There is surely nothing quite so useless as doing with great efficiency what should not be done at all.” Peter Drucker
This is one of the first volumes in a new series of anthologies of articles previously published in Harvard Business Review, in this instance 27 of them, in which their authors share their insights concerning a major business subject, in this instance getting the right work done.
As is also true of volumes in other such series, notably HBR Essentials, HBR Must Reads, and HBR Management Tips, HBR Guides offer great value in several ways. Here are two: Cutting-edge thinking from a variety of primary sources in a single volume at a price (about $12.50 from Amazon in the bound version) for a fraction of what article reprints would cost.
The material in this volume is organized within nine sections. All of it is of outstanding quality and value. Some of it is of special interest to me, as indicated:
o Section 1: GET STARTED
Of Special Interest: “Being More Productive, An Interview with David Allen and Tony Schwartz”
Do you need the right system or the right frame of mind?, conducted by David McGinn (Pages 23-31)
o Section 2: PRIORITIZE YOUR WORK
Of Special Interest: “Get a Raise by Getting the Right Work Done”
Focus on the work that will bring the greatest reward — for your organization and for you,
Peter Bregman (35-38)
o Section 3: ORGANIZE YOUR TIME
Of Special Interest: “Stop Procrastinating — Now”
Five tips for breaking this [some believe] bad habit, Amy Gallo (53-56)
o Section 4: DELEGATE EFFECTIVELY
Of Special Interest: “Management Time: Who’s Got the Monkey?”
Delegate, Delegate, Delegate, William Oncken, Jr. and Donald L. Wass, with a commentary by Stephen R. Covey (87-107)
o Section 5: CREATE RITUALS
Of Special Interest: “Use a Ten-Minute Diary to Stay on Track”
The best way to spend the last ten minutes of your day, Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer (125-131)
o Section 6: RENEW YOUR ENERGY
Of Special Interest: “How to Accomplish More by Doing Less”
Take breaks to get more done, Tony Schwartz (135-137)
o Section 7: TAKE CONTROL OF YOUR E-MAIL
Of Special Interest: “Simplify Your E-mail”
Three folders will do it, Gina Trapani (153-156)
o Section 8: MAINTAIN YOUR NEW APPROACH
Of Special Interest: “Sustaining Your Productivity System”
You’ve become productive! Now keep it up, Alexandra Samuel (165-168)
o Section 9: EXPLORE FURTHER
Of Special Interest: “More Productivity Books to Explore”
Summaries of three popular titles by Covey, Morgenstern, and Allen, Ilan Mochari (171-174)
The material was selected to help those who read this book improve in areas that include prioritizing, staying focused, working less but accomplishing more, ending bad habits and strengthening good ones, formulating to-do lists that really work, dismantling overwhelming projects into manageable parts, avoiding or eliminating e-mail overload, and refueling energy.
If you need assistance in any of these areas, this book will be of invaluable assistance, both now and in months and years to come.
Here is an excerpt from an article written by Teresa Amabile and Steve Kramer for the Harvard Business Review blog. To read the complete article, check out the wealth of free resources, and sign up for a subscription to HBR email alerts, please click here.
Artwork: The Big Mobile (2004), 3rd Biennial of Contemporary Art of Valencia
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People can’t do their most productive, creative work unless they are highly engaged in their projects. According to the progress principle, of all the events that can keep people engaged and happy at work, the most important is simply making progress on meaningful work. The progress can be great or small, and the meaning can be as noble as trying to cure diabetes or as common as providing a useful service to a customer.
There is a dark side to the progress principle. Of all events that can destroy engagement, joy, and productivity at work, having setbacks or being stalled in the work is number one. Our research revealed that, on 76% of peoples’ very best days — days in which they were happy and highly engaged — they had made some degree of progress in the work; only 13% of those best days had setbacks. By contrast, only 25% of people’s worst days showed any progress, while 67% had setbacks. Even worse, the negative effect of setbacks on engagement is two-to-three times the positive effects of progress.
The obvious lesson for managers is that they should do everything in their power to support the daily progress of their workers, and reduce impediments to progress as much as possible. But there will always be setbacks. The innovative work that contemporary organizations need for survival is often hard and complicated, so problems are inevitable. What can a manager do to keep people engaged, productive and creative when things do go wrong? Here [is one of] three suggestions:
First, don’t treat setbacks as failures, but rather as challenges and learning opportunities. It is common wisdom that we learn from our mistakes, but too many managers seem to forget this and try to assign blame when things go wrong. Listen to the words of Alvin, one of the 238 participants who took part in our research:
“So far every solution I’ve developed for this project does not meet with the cost constraints. I’m becoming very frustrated with not finding the acceptable answer. Around here, not finding a solution is perceived as not being competent!”
Clearly, Alvin had a difficult problem to solve, but rather than being able to sense any forward progress, he was beaten down and made to feel incompetent. Contrast this quote from Tim, who worked for a different company with a very different attitude about setbacks:
“I showed the project manager the results I got and told him that there was a mistake in one of the trials. He said that is all right, as long as we know what we did.”
In the end, Tim and his team had a stunning success, while Alvin and his team never found an acceptable answer.
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To read the complete article, please click here.
Teresa Amabile is Edsel Bryant Ford Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School. She researches what makes people creative, productive, happy, and motivated at work. Steven Kramer is a psychologist and independent researcher. They are coauthors of The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement, and Creativity at Work (Harvard Business Review Press, 2011).
Adam Bryant conducts interviews of senior-level executives that appear in his “Corner Office” column each week in the SundayBusiness section of The New York Times. Here are a few insights provided during an interview of Bill Kling who is founder and president emeritus of the American Public Media Group, a producer of public radio programming and owner of radio stations and services. He says his parents taught him the importance of unstifled creativity.
To read the complete interview as well as Bryant’s interviews of other executives, please click here.
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Sometimes, You Need to Blow the Fuses
Bryant: What were some important early lessons for you?
Kling: I think we sometimes undervalue the experiences we have as small children. I used to go to my grandfather’s farm, where they didn’t have electricity. But he had this enormous radio, and it sat on the table next to his rocking chair. It was run on batteries, and it had a big antenna that went out to the orchard. I was younger than 7, and I’d sit on his lap. Out in the country with an antenna and a well-powered radio, you could pick up stations from all over the country.
So he would tune in to St. Louis or New York or New Orleans, and I just thought that was fascinating. It had to have had an influence on my lifelong interest in radio. I think we often undervalue the importance of giving young kids that kind of hands-on experience. It may not lead to their deciding what to do with their lives, but it’s surprising what they will absorb — and maybe their lives will turn out differently.
Bryant: What about your parents? How did they influence you?
Kling: They were wonderful. They absolutely left me alone. They left me up in my attic room to take everything apart and blow everything up and try everything I could try. I think I blew probably two dozen fuses as I tried different things. I took radios apart. I wanted to know how they worked, and then I wanted to know how I could make them better. I wanted to repackage them in some cases.
I can remember one point where I pulled a plug out of the wall about half an inch and then put a metal piece of an erector set across the two pins just to see what would happen. But they never said, “Why did you blow that fuse?” They just put in a new fuse. I think letting a kid’s imagination run is really important — though I don’t recommend that particular experiment.
Bryant: What do you consider the most important leadership lessons you’ve learned?
Kling: Let me start by answering the question this way: I don’t think that there is one formula for leadership. There are cheerleaders who are really good at motivating people. There are innovative leaders who are really good at conceiving of products or spotting talent and who have a great vision for the company. There are leaders who are strong on personality, leaders who are strong on creativity. Some of the most effective leaders don’t fit a mold. The ones who I think make a real difference tend to be totally different from the standard definition. I think the strongest criterion is creativity or innovation.
I couldn’t have stayed, and shouldn’t have stayed, long term in this job if that wasn’t a characteristic of my personality, because the company would have stagnated. I could have been the best leader around, but after 10 years, it probably would have peaked. I can remember a very difficult time of trying to get our FM radio signal to extend from 50 miles to 100 miles. Now new technology allows us to be heard and seen anywhere in the world, streaming live, with full fidelity.
Bryant: Tell me more about your leadership style.
Kling: I think every C.E.O. needs an executive team to be balanced to fit their strengths. The key elements, such as strategy, innovation, management, finance, don’t need to be in any single position — but they need to be there in the executive team. It’s terrific if you can walk through the halls and say hello by name to every employee. I can’t. It’s terrific if you can stand up at a staff meeting and do it in a way that people feel really good about your company. I can do that. But you never have all the pieces.
A mentor of mine taught me that every perspective is additive, because every person sitting in a room is looking at things differently. Each of them has a different perspective. They come from a different way of thinking and different experiences. And their collective perspective gives you a better outcome. So you have to value the perspectives and try to organize those perspectives in some useful way that lets you go forward. Anybody who tells you that they can do it all themselves needs an ego adjustment.
Bryant: Have you received any feedback over the decades about your management or leadership style that caused you to make adjustments?
Kling: I think that I was generally perceived as aloof. That’s probably accurate. But not for the reasons you would think. It’s difficult for someone who has grown up with the company and who knows the veteran employees so well, to then find that there are so many other employees whom you don’t know well. And if you don’t know them well, you feel bad about it.
You may feel awkward when you don’t know enough about some people to make them feel as much a part of the company as you want them to feel or know enough about what they have to offer the company. And so you kind of avoid interactions with them. That’s a mistake because inevitably they have something to offer. And that comes off as aloof.
I’ve been on boards with C.E.O.’s who can stand up and say: “Here are 15 people who we promoted this month. And here are their names and here are their birthdays,” and they can recite the names of their children. They know everything about them. And I’m just in awe of that kind of ability to connect with employees.
I think it’s your DNA. It’s your personality. If you’re the kind of person who can’t resist walking around the floor and your mind absorbs names well, they’ll stick because there’s something about each person that intrigued you. That’s motivating to the employees. Other leaders spend more time thinking about what’s the new thing, what’s being invented right now that’s going to put us out of business unless we embrace it. I think you can’t easily do both. If you can do both, you’re probably underemployed.
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Adam Bryant, deputy national editor of The New York Times, oversees coverage of education issues, military affairs, law, and works with reporters in many of the Times‘ domestic bureaus. He also conducts interviews with CEOs and other leaders for Corner Office, a weekly feature in the SundayBusiness section and on nytimes.com that he started in March 2009. In his new book, The Corner Office: Indispensable and Unexpected Lessons from CEOs on How to Lead and Succeed, (Times Books), he analyzes the broader lessons that emerge from his interviews with more than 70 leaders. To read an excerpt, please click here. To contact him, please click here.
The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement, and Creativity at Work
Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer
Serial Innovators: Firms That Change the World
Claudio Feser and Daniel Vasella
The Secret: What Great Leaders Know – and Do
Ken Blanchard and Mark Miller
How to “take a hard line on the soft issues”
Many of those who get “fired up” about a new job, a new assignment, a new promotion, etc. eventually become “burned out” by it. What we have in this volume, written by Michael L. Stallard with Carolyn Dewing-Hommes and Jason Pankau, is a remarkably thoughtful and sensitive examination of the causes and effects of this familiar workplace situation. Stallard observes that, “Although people generally enter their organizations fired up, over time most work environments reduce that inner fire from a flame to a flicker.” Why? They lack “connection” with others, especially with their supervisors and immediate associates. As a result, they have unmet needs; more specifically, to be respected, recognized, included and accepted.
In this context, I presume to share a complaint I hear constantly: Being held accountable to achieve results without receiving any explanation of the ultimate objectives, much less an explanation of the given assignment’s relevance to achieving those objectives. Worse yet, not being provided with sufficient resources. And even worse yet, having no “say” about how the given work will be done. Jean-Francois Manzoni and Jean-Louis Barsoux have much of value to say about all this in The Set-Up-to-Fail Syndrome: How Good Managers Cause Great People to Fail.
Stallard asserts that “the lack of connection will gradually burn [employees] out. Organizational environments where connection is low or absent diminish [employees'] physical and mental health. They create a low level of toxicity that drains [their] energy, poisons [their] attitudes, and impacts [their ability and willingness] to be productive.” It is difficult (if not impossible) to calculate the total cost of such a situation, including its impact on customer relationships and retention of valued employees. The potential damage and (yes) cost of a group’s disconnection must be at least the number of people in a given group compounded by a factor of 3-5, if not greater.
Over the years, various questionnaires and surveys have been conducted among many millions of people, asking respondents to rank what is most important to them in a relationship with an organization either as an employee or as a customer. With very few exceptions, “feeling appreciated” was ranked among the top three…with compensation or cost ranked anywhere from 9-14, depending on the given feedback mechanism. Stallard cites one Gallup Organization study that suggests that only 25% of employees are engaged in their jobs, 55% of are just going through the motions, and that 20% of them are undermining efforts to achieve their employers’ objectives. He also cites a study of 50,000 employees at 59 global companies conducted by the Corporate Executive Board. One of its most significant revelations is that “emotional factors were four times more effective in increasing employee engagement rather than rational ones.” I presume to suggest that it is no coincidence that many of the companies listed on Fortune magazine annual list of those “most admired” are also on its annual list of those most profitable and many of them are #1 in their respective industry.
In collaboration with Dewing-Hommes and Pankau, Stallard carefully organizes the material within four Parts: “What Fires Us Up?”; “The Three Keys to Connecting Your Team and Lighting Their Fires: Vision, Value, and Voice”; “The Fire Starts with You: become a Person of Character and Connection to Ignite the Team Around You”; and finally, “Learn from Twenty Great Leaders Over Twenty Days.” Appendix A provides “Questions to Assess Organizational Culture and Connection.”
Stallard and his collaborators focus almost all of their attention on “how” when addressing challenges such as these:
1. How an individual, a group, and (eventually) an entire organization can establish and then sustain emotional connections others
2. How a clear and compelling vision can “ignite” commitment throughout the given enterprise
3. How shared values can nourish human development
4. How giving “voice” to an individual, group, and organization can expedite knowledge flow
5. How to become “a person of character and connection who ignites the team around you”
Of special interest to me is the material provided in Part IV. (That said, I must emphasize the obvious: The value of this material can be maximized only if the material that precedes it has been carefully absorbed and digested.) Stallard and his collaborators offer a self-improvement program that the reader completes with several “collaborators”: Stallard, Dewing-Hommes, and Pankau as well as “20 great leaders from various fields who fired up people by increasing connection.” These leaders do indeed comprise a diverse group. They include the Marquis de Lafayette, Ann Mulcahy, Ed Mitchell, Harriett Beecher Stowe, Howard Schultz, Frances Hesselbein, Fred Epstein, and Bill Belichick. (If at least a few of these names are unfamiliar to you, you will welcome the introductions to them in Part IV.) Over a period of 20 days (one leader per day), the reader is asked to consider what can be learned from each about firing up people by increasing connection (i.e. mutually-beneficial relationships) with others. At the conclusion of each profile, there is a follow-through section that will facilitate effective application of the given lesson(s).
My congratulations to Michael Lee Stallard, Carolyn Dewing-Hommes and Jason Pankau for producing such a thoughtful, sensitive, and eloquent as well as practical book.
When concluding this brief commentary, however, I do feel obligated to make one final point of my own: At one time or another, to one extent or another, everyone gets “fired up” only to experience “flame out,” if not suffer severe” burns” from the experience. That is true of Stallard, Dewing-Hommes, and Pankau and it is also true of every one of the 20 “great leaders” whom they discuss. What then? Long ago, Jack Dempsey said that champions “get up when they can’t.” In the business world as well as in competitive sports, that is as true of groups and even entire organizations as it is of individuals.
Note: Since this book was published in 2007, several other excellent books have addressed several of the same issues and I highly recommend three of them, also.
The Why of Work: How Great Leaders Build Abundant Organizations That Win
Dave and Wendy Ulrich
Be Excellent at Anything: The Four Keys To Transforming the Way We Work and Live
Tony Schwartz with Jean Gomes and Catherine McCarthy
The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement, and Creativity at Work
Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer
How to “unravel the mystery of what really affects workplace creativity”
The information, insights, and recommendations that Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer provide in this book are research-driven — based on real people in real-world situations — and thus have a legitimacy that would not otherwise be credible. The authors collected data from 238 professionals on 26 project teams who reported their day-to-day workplace experiences in seven companies. Analyzing the 12,000 daily electronic diaries they gathered, the authors obtained answers to two “burning” questions: “How do positive and negative work environments arise?” and “How do they affect people’s creative problem solving?” The revelations are shared in this book. Here are three that were of greatest interest to me.
First, what Amabile and Kramer characterize as “Inner Work Life” is the confluence of perceptions, emotions, and motivations that individuals experience as they react to and make sense of the events of their workday. “Inner work life is inner because it goes on inside each person…It is work because that is both where it arises – at the office – and what it is about – what people do…[and it is life] because it is an ongoing, inevitable part of the human experience at work every day.” The challenge for leaders is to determine how to create and then sustain workplace conditions — at all levels and in all areas — that will foster positive emotions, strong internal motivation, and favorable perceptions of colleagues and the work itself. “Great inner work life is about the work, not the accoutrements…As inner work life goes, so goes the company…Work-related psychological benefits for employees translate into performance benefits for the company…and the best way to motivate people, day in and day out, is by facilitating progress – even small wins.”
By now, those who are reading this brief commentary are no doubt curious to know what The Progress Principle is. (I certainly was when I began to read the book.) Its nature has already been suggested in the previous paragraph: The single most important event supporting inner work life is making progress in meaningful work. The book guides and informs efforts to facilitate progress, “even small wins.” All organizations need leadership at all levels and in all areas. Therefore, what Amabile and Kramer characterize as “the power of meaningful accomplishment” must be generated throughout the given enterprise. Setbacks are to be expected. In fact, if viewed and (key point) if taken full advantage of as precious learning opportunities, setbacks can be invaluable allies to progress, whatever its nature and scale may be. The three primary influences are events that signify progress (e.g. goal completion), events that support the work (e.g. setting clear goals that everyone understands), and events that support the individual worker (e.g. continuous indications of being appreciated). Progress offers evidence of achievement; setbacks offer evidence of what has yet to be achieved.
I was also keenly interested in know what the unique leadership challenges are for those who attempt to establish and sustain an “Inner Work Life Culture.” Almost immediately, in the Introduction, Amabile and Kramer share startling results from the research: “95 percent of the leaders [surveyed] fundamentally misunderstood the most important source of motivation [when ranking] `supporting progress’ dead last as a work motivator.” Amabile and Kramer provide a wealth of invaluable advice throughout their narrative about effective leadership, much of it in Chapter 6 (“The Catalyst Factor: The Power of Project Support”) and Chapter 7 (“The Nourishment Factor: The Power of Interpersonal Support”). In brief, the defining characteristics of effective supervisors and team leaders include: (1) Showing that they respect people and the work they do; (2) Recognizing and rewarding the accomplishments of those for whom they are directly responsible and also praising other associates; (3) When needed, provide emotional support to those who report to them; and (4) create opportunities for the development of friendship and camaraderie between and among team members.
Before concluding this commentary, I presume to note that during exit interviews of hundreds of thousands of highly-valued employees who are leaving to pursue their career elsewhere, the one reason cited more often than all others combined is their supervisor. More specifically, what they perceive to be an insufficiency of one or more of these from their “boss”: respect, encouragement, emotional support, and affiliation. It is no coincidence that these four fundamental human needs serve as the foundation of the Inner Work Life Culture.