Everyone has, at one time or another, heard the cliche about giving 110% as a way to motivate people. This cliche bugs me. It’s based on a faulty premise and, more importantly, delivers only half as much as it could.
Before we go into how to get twice as much, let’s debunk the cliche and its general use.
We’ll start with the impossibility of giving 110% of your efforts. You have to give what you have to give. If you’ve given your all, you’ve given 100%. Think of it as an oil well. You can’t get 110% by drilling harder, faster or deeper. You only get more of the 100% that’s there. Those last few points may be very difficult to tap but they still constitute part of the 100%.
Next is the reason why it’s often requested: encouraging employees to go above and beyond as a normal way of working. Again, I believe in getting people to give their all. However, when you’re calling for people to effectively “tap out”, it should be for specific, limited and more rare situations.
Think about how your computer behaves when the CPU is running at 100%? How’s your car doing when it’s redlining? Running at 100% does not increase productivity or performance over the long term. It leads to a degradation of performance and damage to the system.
The last reason is compensation. I believe in mutually beneficial relationships with employees, shareholders and customers. If one expects 110% of performance as a constant, one should provide 110% compensation. With the exception of sales people who generally have this method baked into their comp plans, this doesn’t happen for most parties.
Ok. So how do we get from the mythical 10% increase to a real world 20% increase? It’ll all starts with some reality checks. Here are some steps I’ve taken to increase performance and output:
- Accept reality: Optimal performance is about 80%. This is the level where the team meets or mildly exceeds its goals. Accepting this level also ensures that the team has reserves in place for when the unexpected occurs (because it always does). If they’re running at 100%, they really won’t have anything else to give when the organization needs it the most.
- Realistic goals: Accepting reality also means setting realistic goals that allow the team to meet the company’s needs without extraordinary efforts on anyone’s part. This is what you would get if everyone worked together well and had work -life balance. If meeting baseline performance requires more than a normal effort during normal hours your baseline is too high, your resources are too few or your current resources are not up to snuff.
- Better planning: Instead of turning on a dime and never seeing a dime not worth turning on, plan better. If a change is absolutely needed, then it’s needed. However, in most cases, little Timmy down the hall isn’t going to die if you don’t implement the new whatever by 2pm. Most of us are not curing cancer. This correlates to having realistic goals. If you haven’t done the math to know that the new idea is worth the cost of the disruption you’re about to create, then you can’t actually say it’s better than what your team is currently executing.
- Redeploy resources: Once the team sees that goals are realistic, the people who are going to make those goals happen, your superstars, will want to work with other superstars ideally. That said, no team is comprised of only superstars so the next acceptable level are moderate performers – your “B” players. Neither group wants to work with failing team members. Identify and reassign failing team members quickly. If there is a better role for them somewhere else, put them in that role. If there’s no role or they are actively disruptive, send them on their way.
- Create performance incentives: Now that the team can operate at a healthy performance level and the team members that are the weakest performers are no longer there, give the remaining team members something to strive for on a regular basis. Contests and performance plans that make exceeding goals both fun and voluntary are the stuff that healthy teams love. And now that you don’t have anyone less than a B player, you’ll get real participation and results. Now that you’re not changing direction willy nilly, you’ll get focus and commitment.
- Show trust: Treat professionals like professionals. Encourage work-life balance and let them know you trust them to meet their goals and be successful. Professionals will respond by showing that your trust is well placed.
In my experience, when expectations are realistic and professionals are treated like professionals, when it’s crunch time, the team will deliver. Using this method, you’ll get a real 20% boost as the team stretches from 80% to 100% with no damage instead of an imaginary 10% spike as the team burns itself out.