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Increasing Productivity - 16 February 2012

A Fisher once took his bagpipes to the bank of a river, and played upon them with the hope of making the fish rise; but never a one put his nose out of the water. So he cast his net into the river and soon drew it forth filled with fish. Then he took his bagpipes again, and, as he played, the fish leapt up in the net. "Ah, you dance now when I play," said he.

"Yes," said an old Fish:

"When you are in a man's power you must do as he bids you."

That famous fable by Aesop, the Greek storyteller, is essentially a tale about a power gap. The fisherman alone didn’t have enough power to make the fish leap and dance out of the water. He had to resort to something more, in this case, a net.

A similar principle applies in the workplace. Unfortunately, being a manager isn’t enough to compel employees to be more productive. You can try, but as research by professor John Kotter attests, a power gap exists in managerial jobs. It exists because positional power – otherwise known as Legitimate Power – is weak and unreliable. When employees follow the instructions of a manager just because of the manager’s job title, it’s not sustainable.

Unless you bridge the power gap. The question is: how? You do it by acknowledging that Legitimate Power is not enough. You need to incorporate the remaining four types of power (as developed by psychologists at the University of California) into your management style.

Expert Power: This type of power convinces employees and builds their trust simply because the manager’s wealth of information is awe-inspiring. Study and learn whatever it takes to become an expert in your field. Employees are more likely to work harder when they’re led by managers who are deemed to have credible wisdom.

Reward Power: This is about reciprocation. If you demand more from employees, give something in return. These rewards can be intrinsic (such as recognition or new opportunities) or they can be extrinsic (such as money and gift vouchers). It’s based on the concept that employees will increase their output if they personally benefit from it.

Coercive Power: Be prepared to use the threat of punishment as a way of getting underperforming employees to deliver what’s expected. Shying away from difficult conversations sends a direct signal that your authority is fragile. But be careful. Only use this power sparingly and always as a last resort. It can backfire when it’s overused.

Referent Power: This power exists when employees see you as a role model. They aspire to be like you, and for this reason, they’re more likely to work hard to achieve the productivity targets you set. This is a difficult power to attain. It requires charm, excellent interpersonal skills, and a focus on building meaningful relationships.

In a way, gaining greater levels of productivity from your employees is just like fishing. Playing the same old tune (Legitimate Power) is rarely enough. Sometimes you have to cast your net wide for something to bite.

 

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