120% – working more or better?

Last week I stopped off at a company to do a half day workshop/presentation on employee engagement. It was a successful program, but I spent the better part of the week puzzling out why some people there took particular objection to my analogy that “being engaged is working at 120% rather than at 100%.” This sort of hyperbole usually gets people thinking constructively in a half day format, but a section of this management group loved the idea of being engaged but saw themselves as being frustrated, unhappy, overwhelmed, and unproductive at 120%.

At first I began to think that maybe it was something that I hadn’t experienced before as the workshop was relatively new. In all my past experiences I got very enthusiastic responses to the questions and very constructive discussion. I noticed that the same people who shut down during the 120% discussions could engage in active and often enlightening conversations on the simple topic of engagement. So what was happening here?

Looking back their company has a culture of working more not working better. Performing at 120% meant doing more work. In fact they have a strong complaint from managers and workers about mandatory Saturday work. To them 120% in now way correlates to working with focus and passion that lead to working better or smarter. Instead they see it is working more hours and more days or in the best case scenario working through the same workload faster so they finish on time.

How about you, what does the 120% sound like to you? Working more or working better? Do you think that your work culture has created a mind-set that the only way to improve things is to put in more hours or complete more tasks? Are the best people in your team measured qualitatively or quantitatively for their achievements? Is this a shared mindset among your team members and your organization as a whole?

The good news is that it doesn’t have to be this way. The first step is to admit that something has gone wrong and the second step is start thinking like someone who wants to work better to get things done not work more to get caught up. Just ask yourself what you have to lose by thinking of your work in new terms.


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