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Inspire workers by disregarding conventions

| Monday, Dec. 2, 2013, 9:00 a.m.

If you manage people, you know it can be challenging to get some to do more than “just the basics” of their job.

One of the tools you may use to encourage your employees to extend themselves is the annual performance appraisal — but that's a document that is often forgotten about before it's put to rest in the personnel file. Or maybe you subscribe to “MBWA” — management by walking around — a wonderful concept in theory, but in reality, you have plenty to do at your own desk. Or maybe you profess to have an open door policy, unfairly encouraging employees to think they can catch you for a 10-second conversation between phone calls and meetings.

Such methods are well-intentioned, but let's be honest, they are not well executed.

So, if you really want to jolt your employees into a higher level of performance, exactly what can you do to get results? How can you help your staff be more creative, more productive and more proactive? Consider what others have effectively done:

A small manufacturing firm was anticipating a spike in business just as it lost a key employee who left to raise her family. Instead of simply replacing the employee, the company divvied up her job responsibilities according to who was suited to the tasks. They each got a boost in pay and were encouraged to demonstrate their ability to assume even more responsibilities. This engendered lots of initiative, increased productivity and positioned better performers for their next promotion.

A busy engineering firm that needed to refurbish its offices took the opportunity to set up a radically redesigned workspace, with a focus on collaboration. The result was that some employees did not like the new layout and soon left the company, but those who stayed bought into a collaborative style of working, with an outcome of greater teamwork, higher productivity and far fewer mistakes.

A global manufacturing company hired Marlene Boas, a Peters Township-based coach and consultant to integrate a drum circle into their research and design team's annual conference. After the first day of presentations, the 35 wearied workers unsuspectingly entered a room strewn with colorful drums and chairs arranged in large circle. The group was apprehensive at first, but as the drumming caught on, they became engaged and reinvigorated. The manager, who had taken the risk of incorporating the drumming, observed in particular how one of his most promising employees was transformed during the drumming. This employee had always been reluctant to contribute in meetings, but in the drum circle he was unrestrained and participated fully.

Says Boas, “The behaviors exhibited in drumming do carry over to the workplace afterwards. Drumming is nonverbal, so people also listen more carefully and learn to communicate in a new and fun way. They quickly become synchronized to a dominant rhythm, which allows the unique pulse of the group to emerge, and they experience a rare vibrancy as they fall into their ‘groove.' ” She says group drumming sparks creativity because it synchronizes the two hemispheres of the brain, something no performance appraisal or MBWA talk will ever do.

Taking a nontraditional step demonstrates willingness to explore and encourage novel ideas to foster a collaborative, proactive working environment. That's a whole lot more than “just the basics” and possibly just the jolt everyone needs.

Chris Posti is president of Posti & Associates in Pittsburgh.

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