The Biggest Lie in Organizations Today: Productivity = Value

I have a confession that hurts to write: I don’t have much appreciation for people who aren’t useful to me.

When someone works hard and improves their results over time, I’m invested in the relationship. When they aren’t demonstrating the activity I expect, I distance myself from them and consider ways to “fix” the situation.

You might be tempted to minimize this confession by saying that I treat people well and by reminding me that I’m running a business, not a charity — that the company can’t make money unless everyone is doing their part.

And that may all be true. But it’s also a gross oversimplification.

I realize this when I look at my own career. The best metaphor to describe how I’ve approached my career would be a race. It hasn’t been a blatant, well-publicized race but more of a subtle and nagging question in my mind. I’ve identified my hidden competitors — the person in the cubicle next to me, my college peers, my wife, my friends, my same-level colleagues across the business, and on and on — and I’ve asked myself: am I getting ahead or am I falling behind?

My answer has always depended on whether I feel I am more or less productive than the others — how many clients I’ve picked up, friends I’ve gained, problems I’ve solved, money I’ve accumulated.

The biggest lie being perpetuated in organizations today is that people are most valuable when they increase their productivity.

It’s a lie because this race is exhausting. It’s not making me creative or bold or unique. It’s making me busy and judgmental. Where’s the value in that?

Increasing productivity creates short-term utility. Increasing commitment is what creates sustainable value.

And the only way we can get there is to live, work and appreciate others (and ourselves) from a place of intrinsic value rather than productive value. This means that before we look at how much someone did or has, we observe, discuss and appreciate who they are and all that entails — their strengths, uniqueness, brokenness and fears.

Dale Carnegie Training and MSW Research have studied this dynamic and have found that when people feel valued for who they are more than what they do, they will be:

  1. Empowered: Thinking like an owner of “outcomes” versus “tasks” and willing to take risks to accomplish them.
  2. Enthusiastic: Consistently energetic, positive and proactive in working toward goals.
  3. Inspired: Motivated from the soul to be creative and sacrifice for the vision.
  4. Confident: Secure in one’s self, role and ability despite changes in circumstances or performance.


Have you worked with someone, lived with someone or seen someone when they feel those four emotions?

That’s what I want for myself, my team, my clients and my community. That will drive us toward our business objectives, and it will change the world.

So, what will you value in yourself and others? What you do or who you are?



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  • Bryce Kramm
    February 26, 2015 at 11:38 am

    Thanks for sharing this, Matt. Improving ‘productivity’ yields quick wins and makes some people feel happy. Recently, I noticed maintaining high levels of productivity over extended periods of time can manifest the exact opposite results I wanted to achieve. Sacrificing to reach stretch goals brings value, but ensuring we don’t become transactional or depleted along the way is the key. Appreciate your leadership, radical creativity and hope you get time to recharge (not referring to your cell) soon!

    • Matt Norman
      February 28, 2015 at 6:21 pm

      Bryce, excellent point about how transactional or unsustainable efforts can actually decrease value. Thank you.

  • Mike Norman
    February 26, 2015 at 2:54 pm

    Matt, This is a very interesting perspective. I spent 40 years in the mode you have described and can relate to all of your points. Now, I am in the retirement phase of my life. In the place where we spend our winters, all of the people we associate with are in that same place. All have achieved some level of success in their lives and now are enjoying the fruits of their efforts for those working years. For the most part, people do not care about “productivity”, they only care about determining if the people they meet are people they would enjoy for “who they are” versus what they have accomplished. The result is a high level of commitment to the relationships and leveraging talents to do good things for society. So, your formula and ideas apply even to a bunch of old timers trying to make some kind of a difference in the “second half” of their lives. Thanks.

    • Matt Norman
      March 5, 2015 at 10:28 pm

      Dad, thank you for the insights on how these concepts apply after halftime when the race slows down.

  • Marvin Knoot
    February 27, 2015 at 3:57 pm

    Matt, your blog further illuminates the foundational value of sincere appreciation through strength-centered recogntion.
    Expressing appreciation encourages people to consider themselves “valued”. When recognition is focused not on what a person contributed (that was a compelling presentation), but instead on a person’s intrinsic strengths (you are organized and persuasive), the recipient’s confidence, enthusiasm, empowerment and inspiration will grow, unleashing the potential to contribute more fully toward the organization’s purpose and goals. Thank you for helping me discover these connections!

    • Matt Norman
      March 5, 2015 at 10:30 pm

      Marvin, you are very insightful. I appreciate your specific example of how to recognize someone for their intrinsic strengths and it influenced me to write the subsequent post on performance breakdowns. Thank you!