How to create a productive work environment

Stair-step blocks leading up to target (Photo: cagkansayin / iStock / Getty Images / Getty Images Plus)
Stair-step blocks leading up to target (Photo: cagkansayin / iStock / Getty Images / Getty Images Plus)

When it comes to productivity, organizations now recognize mental well-being to be just as important as physical health. Together, they affect how well we function in all areas of our lives, including at work, the place where we spend most of our waking hours.

Stair-step blocks leading up to target (Photo: cagkansayin / iStock / Getty Images / Getty Images Plus)
(Photo: cagkansayin / iStock / Getty Images / Getty Images Plus)

Early in my career, I worked for a global corporation where annual performance reviews were the primary means for providing feedback. They were constructive, pointing out areas where I needed improvement, but the lack of steps for fixing them left me mentally deflated.  

A few years later, as the owner of my landscape company, I had the opportunity to do a better job by making the human element part of the process. I listened to my employees and offered to help. That’s when I discovered how challenging it can be to develop people.  

Many people are afraid to ask for help. Others want help desperately, but not from you, the owner. These were important discoveries. Our leadership team agreed the nuance of developing team members was a complicated effort but one we had to figure it out.  

Observing behavior is an important step  

There was no playbook that I was aware of, so I searched my memory and recalled learning about the Hawthorne Studies in one of my business management courses in college. Researchers conducted the study in the 1920s at the Western Electric factory in Chicago and from it, the Hawthorne Effect was born.  

Researchers wanted to know how changing the lighting in the factory affected productivity. They predicted productivity would increase with brighter lighting, and it did, but the surprise was productivity also increased when researchers dimmed the lighting.

This was a landmark study at the time, and while some dispute the results, not the general outcome. In fact, researchers further confirmed the outcome. We now know from other studies that people not only change their behavior when being observed, but they tend to change it for the better.  

Active engagement became the pivotal first step toward making our landscape company work environment more productive. We tasked division leaders with noticing and acknowledging everyone’s work. We also asked employees if they had ideas for making work better.  

This opened all kinds of conversations about how to boost workplace performance. More importantly, it encouraged new ideas for innovation and growth and let the air out of many false narratives about management and its expectations.  

We didn’t expect to learn so much about what drives productivity and what can undermine it. 

Requirements for productivity

To simplify our process, we distilled everything down to the following three requirements for a productive work environment. They became the three “must ask” questions for recruiting, training and if necessary, employment termination decisions.  

  1. Everyone must want to do their job. Desire is a powerful ingredient for success. For some people, one aspect is being part of a team that’s making a difference. Knowing the reasons why can be invaluable for informing your marketing and recruiting.
  2. Everyone must be competent in their work. If they need training to perform at a higher level, you must provide it. This is another way of activating the Hawthorne Effect.
  3. Everyone must enjoy working with other team members. We always look for selfless team players. They are more willing to work together to remove perceived barriers in the organization when noticed in time.

Nobody wants to fail. Engage with team members to learn and clarify your expectations. Give everyone the right tools and training and pay attention to body language. It’s the surest signal that something needs attention.   

Jeff Korhan

Jeff Korhan

Jeff Korhan is the owner of True Nature Marketing, a Naples, Fla.-based company helping entrepreneurs grow. Reach him at jeff@truenature.com. Jeff works with service companies that want to drive growth and enhance their brand experience with digital platforms.

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