(As a worker, you should always be looking for ways to contribute more and increase your efficiency and effectiveness. And you should encourage your boss to push you.)
No, not burn anyone out — you should be seeking to grow capabilities.
The Uncomfortable Push
Humans aren’t insects. We’re not born as soldier ants or worker ants, with a role programmed into us. If we’re going to get good at something, it’ll be because several things happened — we had some innate ability, we had an external opportunity— and often, something or someone pushed us (or “gave us permission”).
As a manager you can get more, not merely by demanding more, but by growing people’s capabilities. Sometimes that means pushing them to do more, faster. Other times it means getting them to stop doing things, that they should either delegate or simply discontinue. And other times it involves you helping them grow their skills.
In all cases, you are responsible for the productivity of each person who reports to you.
And just as you have to communicate with each of your direct reports differently depending on their style and personality, and just as you motivate each one differently based on their unique goals and skills and drives, so too you need to boost productivity differently for each one.
Abilities and Interests
In order to push the right piece of extra “stretch” work to the right person, you need to know each person’s abilities and interests.
You think you do — but you don’t.
Bosses always tell me “I know what my each of my people is good at. I know their abilities.” Then we hold an ice breaker activity where we take turns revealing positive personal things that other people present don’t know about us. Inevitably, 80% of staff reveal significant abilities of which their boss was completely unaware.
(Bosses: stop over-estimating what you know. It’s safer to assume every one of your people has a strength and an interest of which you are completely unaware.)
The reliable way to get to know your people’s abilities and interests, is to have weekly 1:1 meetings with them, and to work with each of them on a career plan.
What motivates each worker? What’s their career aspiration? What do they find fulfilling?
You can find this out by listening closely during your 1:1s with each person. You can also fall back on some basic things that tend to motivate all humans.
As a bonus, give your people this multiple choice quiz and write down the answer in their file — it tells you what types of extrinsic rewards appeal to them.
Which would you prefer? Please rank these by what you’d enjoy, from most to least:
- Gifts: a gift basket, framed photo, or plaque
- Service: the Big Boss brings you coffee at your desk for a week
- Words: a letter or poem of appreciation
- Touch: a hug or handshake from the Big Boss
- Quality Time: lunch or a walk with the Big Boss
Every time you get more work as a boss, it’s an opportunity to find something to delegate. Even if you haven’t been hit with more work, you can still choose to delegate something that’s on your plate, that would be in the “abilities and interests” sweet spot of one of your direct reports. Do it.
Pushing, not Scaring
When you push people out of their comfort zone, some of them will push back, resisting the growth opportunity.
That’s okay. Acknowledge that they may feel uncomfortable, express your confidence, and remind them they won’t be perfect: “I don’t mind if you make some errors — I simply want you to stretch yourself. You’re stronger than you realize.”
You only need to be wary of pushing someone SO far out of their comfort zone that they actually feel afraid — fear is qualitatively different from mere discomfort. Don’t terrify people. If you can’t tell which one they’re feeling, don’t do it — and get back to doing 1:1s so you re-learn how to read their emotions.
Nothing boosts loyalty like a boss who has faith in you and also pushes you to grow.
You can be that boss.