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Minding Your Business: The Motivation and Art of Productivity

May 15, 2014

Productivity doesn't happen by accident, whether it's by an individual or an entire organization. It is planned, honed, and executed with the vision and understanding of the end goal and the time constraints with which to reach that result, according to executive and leadership coach Janna Hoiberg.

A sales rep for a geospatial sensing and mapping company was asked why her product was important. She paused for a moment and then shared the following: Every time one of her friends or family members dials 911, her product is put to the test. If the data mapped by the product is accurate, then the police, ambulance, or fire department can find the location of the person in distress quickly. If the data is not accurate, then a loved one may not receive help needed at a critical time.

That was a core motivation for the employee of this company, ensuring that her work was productive and focused. Lives would be saved or lost based on it.

Dramatic? Possibly. Real? Absolutely.

The motivation behind productivity is at the core of what makes an individual or a team successful in reaching a goal. Setting a goal and envisioning the impact of the end result are the components that maintain a productive nature.

What does it mean to be productive? The definition is usually in the eye of the individual -- or his or her boss. One of my clients adopted the theme "Is it Your Best?" for his company, and the story he used to exemplify his theme was about a CEO who had a report submitted to him by an employee.

The CEO took the report and handed it back to the employee and asked, "Is it your best?" The employee took the report back, reworked it, and returned it. The CEO accepted the report and then asked the same question, "Is it your best?" The employee once again took the report back, reworked it, and resubmitted it to the CEO.

This happened about three more times, after which the employee stood before the CEO and stated, with some frustration, "This is the best I can do, there is nothing more that can be done to improve this report!" The CEO then stated, "Ok, now I will read it!"

Did the employee do her best the first time around? Obviously not. Was the final version much better than the first? Absolutely. Now, just how productive was that process? It all depends on the desired end result, and in this case, the CEO was both attempting to teach the employee how to improve on the first draft and how to get better results with a first draft.

The challenge is to define what productivity level is acceptable. Many years ago, when I was general manager of a supplier of enterprise resource planning software, the productivity of a new employee who was working on documentation for a new software release became an issue.

Documentation was always a challenge in the company, and we were working hard to improve the end result. We hired the new person to take charge of the documentation process for this specific project. As we were defining what was acceptable as an improvement, it was determined that we couldn't afford the time needed to move the quality from a C- to an A+ in one release. Since she wanted everything to be perfect, her delivery time was moving out weeks and months.

We needed to define for her the deliverable, so that she was able to determine what was required to be productive. The time-to-market for the A+ was way outside the realm of attainability. Therefore, we needed to step back and generate a plan to take us from a C- to a B+, and then from a B+ to an A+. We never did achieve the A+, primarily because the return on investment for it was not advantageous.

Let's boil productivity down to some very practical steps:

  • Understand the "why." Not everyone is doing work that saves lives, but everyone is doing something important for the company. It is your job to know and understand the value of the project, team, and company. The more you know the "why," the better your focus and productivity.
  • Understand what is required of you. Is your best required? One would say always do your best, and I agree. Yet you must do your best within the time available. A project that has only 20 hours to complete but really needs 40 hours must be done to the best of your ability in the time allocated. That forces a different level of productivity.
  • Plan out what is required. Productivity doesn't happen by accident. It happens with daily, weekly, monthly, and quarterly plans to accomplish an end result. It's critical to envision what the end result looks like, so you will know when you have arrived at it.
  • Communicate, communicate, communicate. After you know the "why," understand the requirements, and develop a plan, the next step is to make sure you are not executing it in a vacuum. Verify the accuracy of your assumptions and the end result before you are halfway to completion with the project.

Productivity is a choice each individual needs to make every day -- and, at times, every hour. The ability to maintain high productivity requires each of us to be intentional in our planning and decision-making.

The difference between high levels of productivity and mediocrity depends on the choices you make and your willingness to execute your plan. In the long run, you will appreciate the focus and dedication you give to achieve what you've decided on.

READ MORE: Paradoxical Thinking that Prevents Success

Top photo credit: basketman at

Janna Hoiber 2Janna Hoiberg is a seasoned and credentialed coach highly respected by her business-owner and executive clients interested in leadership development, business growth, and corporate executive coaching. She has the ability to translate the skills, knowledge, and expertise - acquired through 30 years of managing and operating successful businesses - into strategies that effectively make a difference in sales, marketing, management, team building, time allocation, and more. As an author, keynote speaker, and workshop facilitator, Janna shares her real-life experiences from her past and from within the business world. Her latest book, The Family Business:  How to be in Business with People you Love, Without Hating Them, represents her 30 years of working in and coaching family businesses. Janna can be reached at or (719) 358-6936.