Conventional wisdom dictates that a core focus of the workplace manager should be to maximize the productivity of the people that work for him/her. This is a concept that seems to have gained particular legitimacy in the hustle and bustle, resource constrained modern day tech company/startup.  There’s even a name for it: human resource process engineering. (*shudder.*)

Among the (many) downsides to this singular focused approach is that any management methodology that seeks to externally create productivity in an individual, works so long as that individual is under the direct observation of the Manager looking to create said productivity.  That is, if I manage Bob and want him to do things that make him more productive, generally speaking, those activities are done when he knows I am watching and not done when he knows I am not. Or, if you prefer, even if they are done a percentage of the time when I am not around,  they are ‘compelled activities’ whereas our approach, as you will soon see, will make the activities ‘voluntary’, making them far stickier and more powerful .

A Difference in Focus

So the focus of the modern-day manager is increasing productivity.  There is nothing wrong with wanting to increase productivity.  In fact, the Manager is, to a certain extent, looking out for the best interests of his employer by seeking to maximize the production of those he is charged with managing.

In reality, it is the approach that is flawed.  Saying “be more productive!” to people is bound to get you exactly nowhere.  This is partially because (really) people don’t like to be told what to do.  Looking for an approach, therefore, where maximum productivity is self-created would very much seem to have merit.

Creating Self-Directed Maximum Productivity

To get to a point where the people that work for you are volitionally increasing their productivity, don’t focus on increasing productivity.  Instead, focus on creating symbiosis.  If the people that work for you are in fact, well, human, they likely thrive on give and take.  You do for me and I do for you.  If you are therefore able to consistently and repeatedly create symbiosis with the people that work for you, you create a situation where human nature dictates I am going to maximize my productivity for you.

symbiosis(*Warning: If you are hung up on “well, I’m the boss so they have to do what I say”, you are in fact denying that people—humans—operate optimally in a give and take framework.  Furthermore, I don’t think it’s overstating things to say that those who argue that symbiosis has no place in the workplace, that a manager-worker interaction must be one of ‘tell-do’, is to argue that humans leave their core nature at the door when they enter the workplace.)

Look for Symbiotic-Capable Employees

If we agree that a symbiotic approach is a valid one, there are many implications, several of which could be explored in their own blog posts.  And, we could write several more about ways of actually creating symbiosis in a manager-worker relationship.  However, there is one implication I’d like to explore, partially because it is particularly relevant to my own personal recent experiences.

It is clear to anyone that has spent any time on earth amongst humans that not everyone is, well, ‘optimized’ to operate in a true give and take framework.  Put another way, if the true art of negotiation is understanding that in the place where your interests and my interests overlap is the place where we can meet, not everyone has fully integrated that concept.  Some, when presented with a ‘give and take’ opportunity are disproportionately focused on the ‘take’.

If not everyone is optimized for symbiosis, and if a true symbiotic relationship is what I am looking for in a Manageràemployee relationship then it makes sense for me, in the hiring process, to look for someone I believe is intimately familiar with, and can thrive in a symbiotic relationship.

What I mean by this is explainable by analogy.  My second daughter notices and recognizes good fashion.  We’ll meet someone in the coffee shop, talk with them for a moment, and later, in the car my daughter will remark “she had nice jewelry”, whereas if you told me the person we met was wearing a garbage bag as pants I’d believe you because I don’t notice these things.

The same concept holds true for symbiosis.   Someone ‘optimized for symbiosis’, when in a symbiotic situation says “oh, symbiosis.  I know what to do with that.” and reciprocates by ramping up productivity, increasing loyalty etc.  Those not optimized for symbiosis see it and say “cool, let’s see what else I can get out of this guy”.

All of this is not to say that “testing for symbiosis” is the one and only thing to look for in a hiring process. There are many great interview approaches that a lot of smart people use with great effect. But if you buy into the symbiosis approach in the workplace it makes sense to find someone who is capable of operating within the framework. Then, once you find him or her, by creating a symbiotic paradigm—a paradigm that jives precisely with human nature–you will find that the people that work for you will trip over themselves to both maximize their productivity and demonstrate their loyalties.


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