Behavior Science Discovers Productivity Boosters

(Photo: New employees arrive at the campus of Amazon in Seattle. Ruth Fremson/The New York Times)

Behavior Science Discovers Productivity Boosters--and you already know two of them.

There are some people who pretend at productivity, whose résumés appear impressive until you realize their greatest talent is self-marketing. Then there are others... who seem to exist on a different plane of getting things done.

From the introduction to Smarter Faster Better, a new book by Pulitzer prize-winning Habit guru Charles Duhigg, in which he scours the lives of the most productive people he can find to discover their secrets to success.

Perhaps this reminds you of someone you know:

His communication is smart and engaging, and, by all accounts, he is gifted at his profession, committed to his customers, supportive of his team, and a devoted husband and father. Whenever you see him in public, he appears relaxed and thoughtful. His accomplishments are important and real.

In brief, "productivity is about making certain choices in certain ways. The way we choose to see ourselves and frame daily decisions; the stories we tell ourselves, and the easy goals we ignore; the sense of community we build among teammates; the creative cultures we establish as leaders: These are the things that separate the merely busy from the genuinely productive."

At WeSpire we are all about choices, and we'd add to Duhigg's list: We've found that shared purpose is a key to solid employee engagement. People become passionate and productive at work when they participate, themselves and with colleagues, on meaningful initiatives; supported by top management leaders; whose results they can measure and celebrate together; and when their employer offers a choice of such impactful activities.

In the course of researching the book, Duhigg found eight ideas: "secrets to being productive in life and business;" one of which is the power of teams. "If a company wants to outstrip its competitors, it needs to influence not only how people work but also how they work together."

"Psychological safety" is a key ingredient to working together:

A sense of confidence that the team will not embarrass, reject, or punish someone for speaking up. It describes a team climate characterized by interpersonal trust and mutual respect in which people are comfortable being themselves.

A thriving culture of psychological safety: where to begin? Everybody's different, and it's hard to please everyone all of the time. A couple of tips to recommend:

1) Be sure everyone on the team has a voice--and uses it!

If any one person dominates the conversation; or if a few people remain silent during most team meetings, there's something off.

What you can do about the Quiet person. Build a relationship 1:1 with that shy person and encourage him to speak up. Tease out his valuable idea, ask if he's okay with you mentioning it to others. Yes some people are painfully introverted, but most welcome a friendly shove in the right direction.

What to do if you are that Quiet person. Prepare for meetings. Figure out one idea or datapoint to share with the group. Practice it. Not sure if it's relevant? Run it past a trusted co-worker. Vague re: the meeting topic? Ask the organizer.

What you can do about the Dominant person: Same thing in reverse. Build a relationship with her and ask if she's noticed others aren't participating. Get her to read chapter 2 of SFB.

2) Cultivate high "social sensitivity"--be aware when others feel upset or snubbed, and be quick to bring them back into the group.

Use your common sense, remember what your parents taught you, follow the Golden Rule: whatever motivates you to bring your complete best self to work, channel that. Then use your best self to be aware of how others are doing.

Another word for this: compassion.

If people are reserved, you might launch a conversation by relating a personal story. Maybe it's something not so pretty; maybe you keep it light.

At WeSpire, we post a monthly employee spotlight including a punchy 'Mad Libs' autobiography that asks the subject to complete the sentence "People at work would be surprised to know that I ____________________." We all enjoy these glimpses into what makes our co-workers tick!

Bottom line: at work, at home, we are all always, quite simply, people. So the conditions for psychological safety are quite likely to be things you've known all along.

"The behaviors that create psychological safety -- conversational turn-taking and empathy -- are part of the same unwritten rules we often turn to, as individuals, when we need to establish a bond. And those human bonds matter as much at work as anywhere else. In fact, they sometimes matter more." - Duhigg