Meaning or measurement

A recent Wharton article focuses on the topic of how to measure employee performance in a world where output volume is no longer an effective measure. A good topic, but a decade or more out of date. The shift away from “production line” approaches – in manufacturing as well as services – started at least as long ago as the introduction of desktop computers.  They provided a way to bring information together quickly to respond to customer requirements faster, but more importantly more flexibly.  This, along with other changes in business models, created customer expectations around service, speed, and innovation that many businesses are still struggling to fully respond to.

Of course, the professors at Wharton know this.  They describe the problems that can come from a “more output for less input” mentality, and sensible steps that can be taken to move away from that.  But, underlying the various difficulties and solutions they discuss is the question: “what leads some employees to be more productive and others less so?”. Forget how you measure it, how do you increase it?

An interesting angle on this comes from an experiment discussed by Dan Ariely in a recent TED talk.  (BTW, I’m a big TED fan. A great source of inspiration, information, and innovation.) The result of the experiment was that people would work 50% harder – for less money on average – if there was even a small amount of meaning or purpose to their work.  50%.  Given the size of that increase, it’s worth considering how much time and effort you spend on creating meaning at work, rather than measurement of work.

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