The Boss Show

Workplace wisdom with heart and humor

February 20, 2017

The Downsides of Productivity, Part 2

In Part 2, Jim and Steve question the unexamined assumptions business holds about productivity and getting things done.  Plus, in the noble desire to honor multiple perspectives – especially those typically ignored or suppressed – there’s a trap:  Not all perspectives are equal.  And believing they are leads to paralysis.

View Transcript

Voiceover: It’s a Northwest lifestyle weekend on KOMO News. Now, a show for anyone who is, or has a boss. This is The Boss Show with Jim Hessler and Steve Motenko.
Jim Hessler: Today, on the Boss Show, we’ve got two meaty, T-bone steak concepts for you to wrestle with.
Steve Motenko: Jim? Jim?
Jim Hessler: Yeah.
Steve Motenko: I’m a vegetarian.
Jim Hessler: I know. Sorry. A tempeh ….
Steve Motenko: Perfect.
Jim Hessler: Two tempehs.
Steve Motenko: Meaty tempeh steaks, thanks.
Jim Hessler: We’re going to talk about why all opinions are not created equal. We’re also going to talk about why sometimes productive behavior isn’t productive at all. I’m Jim Hessler. I’m the founder of Path Forward Leadership Development and the author, along with my co-host, of the book Land on Your Feet, Not on Your Face. I’m also known as The Business Guy. Who the heck are you?
Steve Motenko: I’m Steve Motenko. I am known by everyone in this room as The Psychology Guy and our seven listeners, as well.
Jim Hessler: Hey, come on. We have a lot more than that. Don’t we?
Steve Motenko: Yes, we do. I’m a Harvard educated leadership coach, making the lives of leaders and the people that they lead more effective and more fulfilled.
The part of the show today, just to pull back the curtain and be a little transparent about our process here, the part of the show that’s about productive behavior not being so productive is a follow-up to last week’s show. We just decided 20 seconds ago to do this. We’ll see how it pans out. We just found that last week’s show, it just raised so many more questions ….
Jim Hessler: There’s more we wanted to talk about.
Steve Motenko: Yeah.
Jim Hessler: Yeah, yeah. Yeah, if you picture us with the green eyeshades, sitting diligently in our rooms planning everything that happens on this show, you’re sadly mistaken.
Steve Motenko: Down to the second, yes.
Jim Hessler: Steve, I know it’s something that you and I have talked about. One of the things that people seem to think they’re doing something really, really important in their organizations is to carefully and thoughtfully honor everyone’s opinion as being equal to everyone else’s opinion.
I hear people saying, “It’s just my opinion,” and, “That’s just your opinion,” and, “We’ll have to agree to disagree,” and all this kind of stuff. I understand the intention behind that to honor the fact that we may think differently about this, but the fact is not all opinions are created equal. I know you have some thoughts on this.
Steve Motenko: Yeah, it’s a controversial notion. The kind of picture that you painted comes from a very honorable intention. We tend, as human beings, to believe that the conclusions we’ve come to based on our experience are the right conclusions. It’s very common for us not to open up to others’ perspectives.
We’re constantly telling people that we need, as leaders, to open up to others’ perspectives. Our perspective is necessarily from our experience, very narrow. The problem …
Jim Hessler: Here we are. We’re trying to move forward now. Here we are. We’re these very opinionated people, whether it’s based on our belief system, or our religion, or whatever. We think we’re right. We try to impose that on other people.
Now we move into this new phase which says, “Now I’m going to be really open to everyone else. I’m not going to weight my opinion as being more valuable than yours.” Here’s where we are. Where do we go from there?
Steve Motenko: I have to take a step back and look at adult development. We tend to think, in our culture, that adults don’t really go through stages of development and they do. This is one of the most intriguing subjects, in my own mind, that you can possibly look at.
Jim Hessler: Robert Kegan talks about this a lot, that we think people are done learning how to be an adult when they turn 18.
Steve Motenko: Right, right. Kegan is one of many adult development theorists whose theories line up, if you set them next to each other, you see these stages of development that are framed in different ways in different theories, but are so consistent from one theory to the next. There’s so many common factors, one theory to the next, that it seems pretty clear that there’s really something grounded in this way of looking at things.
Those of us who’ve taken Psychology 101 know that Piaget blew open this notion of children go through stages of development. We have to honor those. The notion of adult stages of development is so relatively recent that not many of us are familiar with them.
Jim Hessler: We get to this phase where we feel like we’re enlightened and we’re open to everybody else’s opinion and we’re not doing this battle of opinions, but then we developmentally have to move beyond that, don’t we? Tell me what that looks like.
Steve Motenko: First of all, I think it’s important to realize why we get to that phase in the first place. That is at every stage of adult development, including childhood development for that matter, but every stage of adult development resolves the issues at a previous stage.
There are always issues that come up in your stage of development. The previous stage of development is all about achievement, and success, and productivity, …
Jim Hessler: Mm-hmm (affirmative), yeah.
Steve Motenko: … which we’ll talk about a little bit later.
Jim Hessler: Stay tuned, yeah.
Steve Motenko: Yeah. It allows …. If you look at the excesses of the enlightenment period, if you look at the excesses of the industrial age, everything from slavery, using humans to get things done, owning humans to get things done.
Jim Hessler: Massive pollution, and …
Steve Motenko: Right.
Jim Hessler: … deforestation, et cetera, et cetera.
Steve Motenko: There’s so much that has been …. So much negative that has happened and continues to happen in the name of growth, and progress, and achievement, which are the core values of this stage of development that comes before this stage of development that says, “Everybody’s opinions are equal.”
If we go to the indigenous people whose country we took over 250 years ago, if we go to slaves, if we go to populations that are oppressed all over the world, we start to realize that to be humane, we need to respect more perspectives than we have been respecting in this drive toward growth.
Jim Hessler: To be more inclusive.
Steve Motenko: Exactly. The problem is when it gets to the point that we say, “Everybody’s perspective is equal.” which is something we’ve had to say in order to embody this notion of opening other perspectives, there is a fundamental contradiction.
The fundamental contradiction is all perspectives are equal, except for anyone who thinks … who disagrees with me that all perspectives …
Jim Hessler: Who thinks that all opinions aren’t equal.
Steve Motenko: … are equal.
Jim Hessler: Right, right. If you look at it’s clear …
Steve Motenko: You really get wrapped around the axle with thinking like that [crosstalk 00:07:13].
Jim Hessler: Yeah and wrapping …. Another way to wrap around the axle is to say, “The Nazi’s perspective is equal to our perspective.”
Steve Motenko: Right, right.
Jim Hessler: Some may be going there around current political events.
Steve Motenko: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Jim Hessler: Right?
Steve Motenko: Yeah, yeah.
Jim Hessler: It’s not that I’m better or you’re better. We’re just different, which I hear a lot of people saying that. I just reject it.
Steve Motenko: I think to make it more palatable, the notion that all perspectives are not, in the end, equal is I like to frame it not as …. You’re going to call this coach speak. I like to frame it not as better, or worse, but as looking at what works and what doesn’t work …
Jim Hessler: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Steve Motenko: … based on your core values. The Nazi perspective does not work, based on my core values, and hopefully yours too as you listen to this.
Yeah, we need to understand that while we need to open to …. Every time we move to the next stage of development, we don’t suppress the previous stage. We include it into our new, more expanded world view.
Jim Hessler: Putting this in a business perspective, what’s coming up for me, Steve, is it’s still very important for people to feel they’re heard and that their opinions and thoughts are valued and heard. It’s also important to say, “I’ve heard two or three different perspectives on this. One of these is clearly the more productive perspective and the one that we’re going to go with. Thanks to everybody for your ideas, but this one was better.”
Steve Motenko: Yeah, the one that the ….
Jim Hessler: A lot of business people don’t have the courage to say that.
Steve Motenko: Right, exactly. Still, a decision has to be made. That decision has to be made based on what is most aligned with our mission as an organization.
Jim Hessler: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Steve Motenko: Yeah, I’ll just stop and end there.
Jim Hessler: Yeah. Thank you for that, Psychology Guy. It’s tough, sometimes, to move past that idea that everything is equal. Its’ not. Have the courage to say so.
Last week on the show, we talked about how driving towards increasingly higher levels of efficiency and productivity wasn’t necessarily the be all and end all of business. That made me think of really some sacred cow things that we take for granted as productive behaviors, which really aren’t. Let’s talk about when productivity tips over so far that it becomes unproductive.
I was telling you about there was an old show on PBS many years. I think the might have shown some reruns in the last 15 years, but it’s been a long time. It was called Good Neighbors. It’s about this couple back in the 60’s that decided to just check out of everyday life and grow all their food and raise animals and stuff in their backyard.
Steve Motenko: Damn hippies.
Jim Hessler: Damn hippies, yeah. That was the beauty of the show. It was all about that counter-culture moment, I think, where a lot of people started questioning that. The thing that cracked me up about it was in the very first episode, you found out that what the guy did for a living was he designed the plastic animals that went in cereal boxes.
When you bought a certain brand of cereal, you’d get a little plastic dinosaur, or something. He was the draftsman who had to design. He just was working at his …
Steve Motenko: There’s a meaningful life.
Jim Hessler: … drafting board one day. He just said, “I’m just not going to do this anymore.” So he checked out. When does productivity …. You could have easily looked at this guy and he could’ve looked at himself and said, “Yeah, I’ve got a job. I’m producing little plastic animals, so people will buy more of our cereal. This all seems …”
Steve Motenko: Making a lot of money.
Jim Hessler: … making good money. The fact is he was producing something that had no value. The world would be no different, and no worse off without the plastic animals in the cereal boxes.
Steve Motenko: That’s your perspective.
Jim Hessler: Yeah … [crosstalk 00:11:11].
Steve Motenko: All perspectives are equal, I guess.
Jim Hessler: Yeah, yeah. Good point. I think the first thing that came to mind with this idea of productivity, productive behavior that is not productive is when you’re producing something that’s actually harmful, or stupid, or trivial. You think about it, there’s a lot of us that are employed in doing things that really the world would be just as well off without.
Steve Motenko: Not only that, but there are a lot of us who are involved in doing things that positively impact a very small number of people like just the people in our company, who are making money from it, but have a negative impact on the seventh generation, or the environment, or the community in some way.
Maybe we’re polluting way more than we need to. There are all sorts of ways in which our stakeholder set is too small in what we’re producing.
Jim Hessler: Steve and I, for a living, do a leadership workshop program that’s 18 months in length. I kicked one of them off this morning with a client and found that there was a lot of stress in the room. We go around and do a one through 10 check in, ask people how they’re doing and there were some threes and some fives and some sixes on a scale of 10.
It made me reflect on at what point was it as seven, was it at six, was it at five when this person began to become less productive? When does our productivity drive us so hard that we start to produce at a lower level? That’s a really tough question. We need to know where that line is, so we can stop pushing people past that.
Steve Motenko: I think the point that, Jim, that you’re making to summarize is that there are a lot of ways in which we think we’re being productive maybe we ought to look at.
Jim Hessler: If you’re a manager and you are really, really focused on the productivity of the people that work for you, you’re wanting to know how they spend their time. You’re wanting to maximize their efficiency around using their calendar. All these books, Getting Things Done and stuff like that.
What I would just ask you to think about is when do the cognitive abilities of people begin to suffer from too much work? You mentioned in the last show, that about 90 minutes is a good model for a productive chunk of time. If we push people for three, or four, or five, or ten hours, the relative productivity of that time goes down significantly.
Steve Motenko: Jim, you mentioned the book, Getting Things Done, just in passing a minute ago. I wanted to note that …. I think it’s a good reference to cite. It’s the ultimate reference on productivity currently. It’s a classic.
Jim Hessler: I actually learned some really good things from that book.
Steve Motenko: Yeah, yeah.
Jim Hessler: I don’t want to put the book down [crosstalk 00:14:17].
Steve Motenko: Yeah. It’s a great book. I just happened to pull a quote from it the other day in the context of the previous show that I …. I didn’t get to that quote, but if …. To me, it’s really intriguing that the author of the book, David Allen, said in this book, and I’m quoting, “It’s possible for a person to have an overwhelming number of things to do and still function productively with a clear head and a positive sense of relaxed control.”
That’s one thing about this whole issue of productivity. Are you being productive while …. You talked about cognitive impairment, or cognitive impact on driving too hard. Can you create peace of mind while you are being productive? If not, then there’s something wrong with this picture.
Jim Hessler: I would absolutely agree with that. Essential to that, Steve, is something again that I think most business managers aren’t good at. That is we have to authorize people to not complete work.
We have to decide what work is essential and we have to decide what work is not essential. We have to bless the not doing of that other stuff. That’s really tough for a lot of managers. They think they just pile stuff on people. If they pile more work on people, people will be more productive. This is not true. Piling work on people does not make them more productive.
Steve Motenko: You want to ask the question productive for the sake of what? Just getting more things done ought not to be the definition of productivity.
Jim Hessler: I also think there’s just this lack of trust present, which, I think, a lot of managers believe that in order to get people to perform at their top level, we have to put a lot of pressure on them to produce a lot of stuff.
A lot of managers get really nervous if their employees don’t look busy. They walk around, they sniff the air, again, they see whose car is in the parking lot at 6:00 at night, or 7:00 at night. They get pissed off if they see people talking to each other in the hallway, or if they see somebody reading a magazine, or something. They just ….
Steve Motenko: Not realizing that some of the best work gets done by people talking to each other in the hallway.
Jim Hessler: Yeah.
Steve Motenko: Or, by reading a magazine. Maybe you’re turning yourself on to an idea that somebody had about your work responsibilities that you would never have thought of. Our clients who read our book, On Company Time, in the context of our leadership workshops, and feel guilty doing it.
Jim Hessler: Yes, we hear this all the time. Maybe tossing your employee a couple of whiteboard markers, throw them in a room without their cell phone and ask them to do some work on the whiteboard.
Steve Motenko: This gets into a show we did a couple weeks ago on the benefits of procrastination. When you procrastinate something that you think has to get done, you can allow creativity to bubble up. What we really need, in the 20th century workplace, is more creativity.
Jim Hessler: There’s another one, Steve, that absolutely we talk about this with our clients all the time. It’s a favorite topic of mine. That is that personal heroism, and I’ll describe that in a second, is not particularly productive behavior set into the broad context of how the business should be working.
Heroic behavior is that individual who says, “Yeah, I’ll stay til 10:00 tonight and I’ll finish that report.” Or, “Yeah, that customer needs to get that order out. I’ll stick around and do that.” Or, “I’ll do three people’s jobs at one time, because I’m a hero.”
So many individuals and companies get hooked into this culture of heroic behavior. Really what they’re saying is, “It’s all about the intention and effort of the people in the workplace. If everybody just works really, really hard, we’re going to be fine.”
Steve Motenko: In The Drama ….
Jim Hessler: It just doesn’t work that way.
Steve Motenko: In The Drama Triangle, Stanley Karpman’s Drama Triangle, you might want to Google it, that we talk about in our workshop, it represents the rescuer personality whose ego is totally tied in to being the hero, into fixing it for everybody else.
Jim Hessler: One of the most interesting things that ever happened to me in our leadership workshop, this was many years ago. I walked into a group of managers. I said, “Let me just play a little thought game with you, a thought experiment.” I said, “I want you to imagine you come into work tomorrow and everything works the way it should. Everything’s on schedule. Everybody knows what they’re doing.”
Steve Motenko: Nobody’s complaining.
Jim Hessler: Nobody’s complaining. The customers are getting their stuff on time. I said, “Tell me honestly how you’d feel about that.”
Steve Motenko: Or, you go on vacation for two weeks …
Jim Hessler: And you come back and everything’s fine.
Steve Motenko: … and you don’t get any emails with any urgent issues.
Jim Hessler: I said, “Tell me honestly, how you’d feel about that.” About seven people out of the 10 in the room actually used the word hate; that they would hate working in an environment where everything worked that well. That was such a huge lesson for me.
Steve Motenko: Man, I don’t ever remember you telling me story before. That’s such the rescuer personality. In a way, our workplace culture breeds that rescuer personality.
Jim Hessler: It was also reflective of the culture in that company and what behavior was rewarded. That was a company that consistently rewarded people for operating outside of process, Band-Aids, baling wire, duct tape, whatever it took to get the customer order out the door. The problem is the reliance on that behavior prevented that organization from designing, creating systems.
Steve Motenko:  From doing anything strategic.
Jim Hessler: Doing anything strategic. In order to do that, you would have had to step away from the …. This is what Toyota does such a fantastic job of. It forces people to examine process consistently.
One of the biggest ways to destroy productivity in your organization is to burn people out asking them to operate with bad processes. When you see people engaging in heroic behavior, propping up a bad process through their own force of will and their own sheer determination, sure pat them on the back, but then understanding that that behavior, for the long term benefit of the organization needs to stop.
Steve Motenko: It’s very short sighted.
Jim Hessler: It’s very short sighted. It’s not sustainable. I think my closing thought here is when you think about personal productivity, I’m going to ask you to think about whether your behavior is actually productive, or it simply looks productive to others.
If you’re doing what you’re doing to appear productive, or to deceive yourself about your own level of productivity, or whether you’re doing something that really, really adds value. That can be a tough conversation to have with yourself and within the company that you work for.
Steve Motenko: In order to have it, you have to stop being productive long enough to look at how you’re approaching your work.
Jim Hessler: Or, to think of your time spent thinking as being more productive than the doing part.
Steve Motenko: The Boss Show is produced by Boss Media Productions. Our sound engineer is Kevin [Dodrol 00:21:57].
Jim Hessler: If you missed any of the show, you can get it in its entirety online at You can also contact us through that and listen to all of our past episodes.
Steve Motenko: Thanks so much for listening.
Jim Hessler: Don’t forget rule number six.
Steve Motenko: Rule number six.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *