7 Principles of Productivity: Q&A with “Great at Work” Author Morten T. Hansen

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Morten T. Hansen is the author of “Great at Work: How Top Performers Work Less and Achieve More. “ He is also a management professor at the University of California, Berkeley and formerly a professor at Harvard Business School. Hansen has been ranked as one of “the world’s most influential management thinkers” by Thinkers 50. I caught up with him to discuss how leaders can be more productive, and make their organizations more productive.

Why did you write “Great at Work”?

Hansen: The first inspiration came back when I graduated from school and joined Boston Consulting Group in London. I thought I had a brilliant strategy for success:  work crazy, long hours. So I’d put in 70 to 90 hours per week trying to do great work. One night I was looking at a teammate’s slides and noticed that her work was better than mine, more crisp with sharper insights. I asked another guy working late with me, “Where’s Natalie?” And he told me she’d gone home, that she almost never worked late. That was an epiphany. How could Natalie work less but perform better?

 A second inspiration came when I worked with Jim Collins on our book ‘Great by Choice,’ which was a sequel to his book, ‘Good to Great.’ Both of those books are about corporate performance. I thought, “What about applying the same kind of data-driven methodology to evaluating individual performance?” I said, “Okay, I'm going to tackle that Natalie question,” which this book does.

You found seven practices that promote productivity. Four impacting individual work and three impacting collaboration. Can you describe those first four (individual) practices?

Hansen: All seven practices are based on a data-set of 5,000 people ranging from senior managers to individual contributors to factory floor workers. And these seven explain the majority of the difference in performance between people, so they’re significant. The first principle is about “doing less, then obsessing.” Top performers know what to focus on and they are all in with those few things. The second practice is about what to focus on. Top performers focus on what really provides value for customers and for others in their organization.

The third principle is that productive people are really good at continuously learning and developing themselves: they grow. The fourth one is passion and purpose. Don’t let passion alone dictate what you do. Purpose is about what you bring to others, your contribution. So, if you're a manager, you’ve got to make sure your people have passion and purpose.

What about the three practices related to collaboration?

Hansen: Top performers are really good at advocating, and inspiring others so that they’ll support whatever they're working on. In middle market companies, you don’t get work done by just issuing commands. People might have different agendas, goals, and be working in different departments and geographies. You’ve got to be able to persuade them, and that’s part inspiration and part political maneuvering. I call these productive leaders “forceful champions.”

 The next principle is “fight and unite.” You want to have real debate among your people, because that supports the best decision-making. If you get a collection of the right people and they have a really good debate, where they’re listening and openly expressing views, you’re most productive. But the team

also needs to unite behind the final decision. The last thing is what I call discipline and collaboration. It turns out that the best performers collaborate less because collaboration takes a lot of time, and if people are not collaborating on the right things, it’s not productive.

Read the full interview here.

Chuck Leddy is a humble, intellectually curious, and fast-learning digital content developer/writer in Boston with a focus on employee engagement, leadership, and wellness. As a content developer, he's worked for B2B clients such as ADP, GE, American Express OPEN Forum, Cintas, Office Depot, the National Center for the Middle Market, and more.