Leadership practices that kill productivity

Leadership practices that kill productivity

Leaders are consistently encouraged to set SMART targets with established deadlines and drive for results and improved performance. Yet statistics consistently show that up to 70% of our workforce is disengaged and organisations are spending vast sums annually to fix the problem that is costing them millions in lost productivity. Could a different approach be more effective?

Many engagement strategies seem to be under pinned by the belief that people are lazy and do not want to be accountable, and attempt to change this behaviour through incentives, prizes, and competition or, just as bad, pressure and threats. The fact is nobody wants to be bored or disengaged and people appreciate meaningful challenges. No matter what our situation, our basic nature is the desire to thrive.

Recent ground-breaking psychological research shows that human motivation rests on the psychological needs for autonomy, relatedness and competence (ARC). However, too many leadership practices undermine these psychological needs, thwarting people’s productivity, sustainable performance, creativity, resilience, and even emotional well-being and mental health.

Here are three approaches for revising your traditional approach and developing a more optimal motivational style of leadership.

Change the “M” in SMART to “Motivating”.
Just because a goal is specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time bound, does not mean that it satisfies a person’s needs for ARC. If people cannot choose their own goals, then you need to have a conversation with them about why they might pursue the goal for their own reasons—reasons that align with yours and the organisation’s, but reasons that the individual finds personally relevant and meaningful.

When establishing deadlines, also provide a rationale for the timing.
Tie deadlines to the bigger picture and how this person’s efforts are contributing to a greater effort. People want to contribute, feel fulfilled, and grow and learn every day. It is in their nature. Use deadlines as valuable information that can help them succeed and make a difference instead of a means of applying pressure.

Stop driving for results.
Driving for results implies an assumption that the only way that people will achieve the results you want is if you drive them. If you think that people need to be driven to perform, ask yourself why. Are goals unfair? Are your metrics meaningless to the individuals you are depending on to accomplish them? Are people so externally motivated by external rewards or pressure that you constantly have to drive them with more incentives or threats?

Despite what you many think, people do not do their best work under pressure as it erodes their sense of autonomy, negates their sense of relatedness, and undermines their sense of competence. The outcomes are stifled creativity and quality, burnout and cynicism, and a lack of wellbeing that leads to disengaged employees. Even in the short term, driving for results through goals that are sub-optimally motivating and under the pressure of deadlines, compromises your results. In the long-term these leadership behaviours ironically lead to the very thing you are trying to avoid, employees who need to be driven to perform!

Try asking yourself every day how you can better support people’s ARC. Pay attention to the reasons people do their work and pursue their goals. The compelling science of motivation shows that when people thrive, you do not need to drive to get results.