Having a workforce in a state of flow is the most powerful productivity force in business. Given the average knowledge worker loses 28% of their day to interruptions, knowledge workers are unfortunately rarely in this state of mind. But, the research shows every company should strive to create environments that are conducive to powerful state of mind.
McKinsey has extensively studied this issue (Link), which ties to engagement, or being emotionally connected to what you are doing. Over the last ten years, they have directly asked the following two questions to over 5000 executives:
1. What factors create a state of flow for them?
2. How does flow impact their performance?
The most common answer they got regarding performance impact was profound: five times higher than normal. Considering the complexity of executive tasks, this productivity boost should cause every business executive that does not want to be “ubered” to figure out how to use flow as a tool in their workplace.
But, how can an individual, or organization, create an environment conducive to flow? As always, it comes down to the human factors. It is the application of human factors like the ones below that will differentiate winners from losers in the rapidly emerging talent era. McKinsey found the following three drivers:
1. The need to connect everyone to their work by using five different stories. Normally people will leverage one or two different story lines, but that leave a percentage of the workforce emotionally disconnected from the work. The five stories that tie individuals to their work are:
a. The company mission
b. Their personal success
c. Bettering society
d. The success of the team
e. Helping the customer
You will notice that all of these are about people. Humans are social animals and it is the success of the tribe that confers survival to the individual. What motivates them depends where they are on Maslow’s hierarchy. Interestingly, according to their research, the workforce emotionally connects evenly across these five (about 20% to each one).
2. Let the employees have input into the direction. You can do this by letting them state what matters to them and revealing how they believe it ties to the mission. Nothing is more powerful than this as their personal choices carry the highest motivational value. According to psychological research, people are five times more committed to what they choose, than what others choose for them. There are some good examples of how to do this in the attached link.
3. More small rewards are better than a big one. Much research in this area has proven time and again that small rewards are very powerful. In fact, one study by the Federal Reserve showed how big bonuses were actually demotivating. The impact of small, well-timed instances of praise have an outsize effect, and create a deep connection to the business.
Flow takes more than a deep connection, but it cannot occur without one. You must also eliminate the interruptions, and create some background noise (about 70 decibels) so that your emotionally connected employees can concentrate. Only then can the emotional connection lead into a state of flow. Studies have also shown that it takes 15 minutes of undivided concentration to achieve a state of flow.
So, you must work to create emotional connectedness, and couple that with an environment where your employees are supercharged on the job. Don’t let your competitors outcompete you. Dig into this and the other human factors so your workforce is the one to beat!