06 October 2015 12:07:13 IST

‘Reflecting on work improves productivity’

Harvard’s Professor Francesca Gino says adopting a habit can help employees

Professor Francesca Gino of Harvard Business School was in India recently to conduct a module on negotiations for an executive education programme of HBS in Mumbai. In an interview with BusinessLine she explains that her course is about helping people use ideas and tools, and construct frameworks to help them negotiate better. Edited excerpts:

What can HR managers do to improve productivity at workplaces?

I’ll give you an example. There was this Indian company where we did a project in helping them deal with the issue of labour turnover. They were spending a lot of resources on training and then found that these recruits left within a few months thereafter. So, we decided to look at how the organisation was approaching the employee relationship from the start. What this organisation did was similar to what most organisations do — which is to try and instil pride from day one and try to help them know everything about the job they are going to do. That’s interesting but it is a bit striking given human nature. As people, we like to feel in control, feel authentic.

So, we did an intervention there. Some of those new employees were asked to think about what they were bringing to the table — their strengths, their uniqueness and how they were going to apply them to the job. This intervention was quite powerful because it changed the way the employees looked at the relationships. In the months after the intervention, we observed that they were performing better and more likely to stay happier in their jobs.

Tell us about your study on the need for reflection in our daily work…

Now, typically, when you start falling behind on a project, you push on the accelerator and try to work harder. After talking to some employees, we did an intervention where we told them there is actually some value in stepping back and thinking about what they were doing. So, we told them to set apart the last 15 minutes of the day — to think about how the day went and what they learned and write it down in a journal. We did this for the weeks — where they worked a bit less — but their performance was 20% better than another group. Maybe intuitively, we knew the value of reflection, but we get busy and don’t do it. Adopting a new tool or habit can help our productivity and happiness in the job.

You have done many experiments on improving productivity at workplaces. Tell us about an interesting case that will help HR managers.

One of the things we know about human beings is that all have psychological needs. There are two very strong ones over everything else. One, the need for uniqueness. And two, the need for belonging. Based on this insight we conducted a study at an organisation. But this was not only a matter of employees reflecting about themselves. We went to employees and asked them to give us 10 names who were part of their network — both professional and personal. We contacted those persons and asked them for stories about the times when this person was at his or her best. We compiled these and fed them back to the employees. This was interesting because though some were simple it was told from the perspective of another person. About how you are impacting the lives of others. We call it an ‘appreciation jolt’ and what we mean by that is you think about the impact of your life on others.