The Productive Loops

Engaged is pleased to welcome guest blogger and DisruptHR speaker Clemens Rettich, Principal & lead consultant with The Great Performances Group. Clemens’ blog outlines his talk “The Productive Loops” at DisruptHR 2.0 with the full length video available below. 

In 1899, we exchanged an orchard for a machine. Once, ‘productive’ was an adjective describing value. In 1899, productivity’ became a noun, a formula: the rate of output per unit.

The words we use don’t just reflect our thoughts, they shape our thoughts. Words shape how we behave, and what we value. ‘Productive’ values growth and possibilities. ‘Productivity’ values speed and volume.

The framework created by this language is no longer relevant, and has become a trap.

All organizations are in a life and death struggle with the law: the second law of thermodynamics, or entropy. The layman’s version is this: in the absence of the external application of energy or organizing forces, all systems revert to their prior state of chaos.

Speed and volume do nothing to reverse entropy. In fact, they mask it. The speed and volume measured by classic ‘productivity’ makes it feel like we’re growing, when really we’re just moving very fast. Being productive reverses entropy: creating, learning, transforming, designing, structuring. Those things energize and fuel growth.

The speed and volume measured by classic ‘productivity’ makes it feel like we’re growing, when really we’re just moving very fast.

We value productivity rather than being productive because all machines are hamster wheels – they can move very quickly, but they can’t grow.

The modern idea of productivity is a product of the industrial age: what is easy to measure in a machine is speed and volume. So, we have ended up valuing what’s easy to measure. Speed is easy to measure, growth is harder; the trouble is, only the latter really matters.

Take bread. For centuries humans used wild yeasts to break down grains into a form we could digest. In the industrial era we introduced fast-rising yeasts. Yeasts that raised breads to fluffy emptiness in minutes, instead of chewy heaven in hours. Our food, and our relationship to gluten, became a victim of productivity.

Like yeasts and grain and water, being truly productive is a slow, messy, cooperative process.

Being productive is about the individual and the organization co-creating growth. Being productive is about co-creating value in a loop.

The Productive Loop

Being truly productive is not a wheel of empty speed, but an ascending spiral of value; the constant amplification of learning and discretionary effort, for the growth of both the individual and the organization. This is the only defense against the second law of thermodynamics.

The productive loop is the co-creation of value between the individual and the organization. Using the tools of leadership, learning, positive feedback, and discretionary effort, the individual and the organization support each other in growth.

Here are the four key elements of the productive loop:

1. Leadership: Leaders are responsible for defining the ‘why’ and creating environments to support growth. Good leaders build trust and confidence. Creativity and growth cannot happen in sterile, chaotic, threatening spaces, or in the absence of a clear understanding of what it is we are trying to do, and why.

2. Followership: As team members, we must generate feedback; literally be in the loop. We must find a home that our energies will vitalize, where our discretionary effort becomes fuel in a productive loop.

3. Strengths Orientation: Create spaces and processes that engage our strengths. When we amplify existing strengths, strengths in turn amplify and energize. They feed a productive loop.

4. Verify and Validate: Use feedback loops to verify results and to validate that we matter. This creates a virtuous cycle. When we are validated we matter, we use our discretionary effort to contribute to the growth of the whole organization.

The downhill mountain biking rule is to keep your eyes on the line – your bike will follow. Our minds and our organizations follow the channels of the language we use. New language pulls new behaviours.

It is again time to think of productivity as “being productive.” Disrupt the workplace by measuring VALUE instead of a measuring VOLUME. Stop measuring how fast we work, and start measuring the quality of our contribution to mutual growth.

Learn more with Clemens’ 5 minute DisruptHR Talk “The Productive Loops”.

Disclaimer: All content provided in this blog is the opinions expressed by the author alone and do not necessarily reflect the thoughts, intentions, plans or strategies of Engaged HR Inc.