Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about productivity goals. Yes … I do have extra time on my hands. But it’s just that I see the word productivity blasted all over social media. How to get more for yourself. How to encourage others to produce more for your company. And how we can be more productive even in meditation and downtime!
Here’s the problem IMHO: more isn’t always more. Or better. It’s just quantifiable. And other measures of accomplishments are not so easily grasped. You can’t hold workplace flow and a creative, rewarding environment in your hands.
But don’t productivity goals show how we’re doing?
Well, partially. Clear, tangible numbers help you see that you’re making progress … or falling behind. But someone has to set those numbers. And decide that they are the end goals we’re aiming for, rather than some less easily-accessed assessment measure.
And then someone raises them even higher each time we get there — often without letting staff stop for breath or a success lap. So while management is staring at a chart showing how well THEY are doing, staff often gets pushed to the limit. All the while giving their all to a manager or team they respect. Not to the number setters.
But after a while this numbers-based management style takes its toll. And staff either burn out or just stop hitting the numbers. Again, the blame goes to the “shirker workers” or their direct managers. But rarely to the folks at the top churning out those numbers — meant to show their own ability to succeed.
Story from my university days
Back when I worked for a university, a new executive management team took over. Power houses we were told. Real go-getters. And each project that we brought in on time and on goal brought us even tighter deadlines and higher goals the next time.
At first, we thought we just need to make it through this one next project. And we had a great boss who we wanted to do well for. So we did. But the projects kept coming. And the team was suffering. Health problems. Anger. Sadness. Job hunting. And less ability to focus on identifying and solving problems before they became problems.
We tried talking to our manager, who was also under unrelenting pressure. And we kept working hard for her and the team, since upper management was using the threat of firing people if we couldn’t meet their productivity goals. But there was no give whatsoever. Nor recognition that we were real people and not machines.
Eventually some people started leaving. Others just slogged through the work, no longer enjoying it as they once had. Down the road, the team of execs left, bolstered in their reputations by all they had “achieved”. No one saw what they had broken. These things had no measurable goals — at least none anyone up on top gave validity to.
So what if unfair productivity goals happen to you?
I wish I had a sure-fire answer. First steps are always communicating with your boss — maybe along with the rest of the team to make a stronger statement about the unrelenting, ever-increasing productivity goals. And then getting your boss to work with upper management to set more realistic goals.
But unfortunately, this doesn’t always work. Or translate to language upper management understands. Or wants to understand. We’ve all had productivity drummed into us. But there are many valuable accomplishments you can’t put on a PowerPoint. And it’s hard to get executives to see their value if they don’t already understand.
Consulting firms make a living helping bring emotional intelligence and human values to management. If you’re lucky, maybe enough rumblings will cause them to recognize the need for outside help. Not all organizations are led by the kind of people I described. Some will accept different measures and labels for what real success is. Or just adopt more human-centered productivity goals.
Even if it takes time, it’s worth trying. Maybe even offer alternative measurements to compromise. But if not, it’s up to you to choose whether this is still the job for you. Is this something that you need to ride out? Or is this the way it’s going to be from now on. And how much, if anything, can you still do to help yourself?
Communication is almost always your best tool for change. And, though not easy, working together to find answers can sometimes open doors to understanding and positive movement. But if that just can’t work, and you’ve tried in more than one way, this may be the motivator YOU need to change … jobs.
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