It’s tempting to believe that the best employees and teams are the ones that spend the most time in the office. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with putting in extra effort to complete an important project or task. But focusing on and rewarding effort will only get you more hours in the office. It won’t automatically produce better results. In fact, it seldom does.
Have you ever known someone that stays at the office late every day but never seems to accomplish anything?
Have you also known someone that leaves the office most days at 5:00, but consistently outperforms everyone else?
I recently worked with a development team that was on a year-long critical project with a tight timeline. The team got together to celebrate delivering its first big milestone. There was a buzz of optimism in the room. The Executive Sponsor was invited to say a few words.
What happened next was shocking.
The executive didn’t congratulate the team on the first milestone. Instead, he took the opportunity to admonish the team. He said,
“This is the company’s most critical project, and I’m not seeing enough effort from this team. I don’t see lights on in your offices after hours. I don’t see many of you here on weekends. Frankly, I’m disappointed.”
He wrapped up by saying that he expected more effort from this team. Effective immediately, mandatory team meetings would begin on Saturdays and Sundays. By the end of his remarks, all of the positive energy had left the room. In the next several weeks, several key people left the company. Eventually, the executive was fired, but not before the project went completely off the rails.
If you want better performance from your teams, make this simple shift: Focus on outcomes, not effort. Stop measuring productivity in terms of hours. Divide large projects into smaller pieces that produce real customer value. Celebrate milestones. Reward innovation, high quality and less rework.
If you measure and reward effort, you’ll get more effort, but you won’t necessarily get better results. You also may demoralize and wear down your employees. If you reward outcomes, your best teams will find ways to do more in less time, and they’ll just keep getting better.