A recent Harvard Business Review (HBR) blog notes that
tough workplace environments bring out the best
performance in people. In fact, the blog mentions
research from Germany that indicates that “nasty”
environments produce the best results related to “complex
Now, before anyone runs off to start “abusing” employees
in an effort to improve productivity, let’s drill into
this a bit.
I have worked in a few “nasty” environments. What made
these environments difficult was not the pressure to meet
high expectations, but rather, the bosses that wore their
emotions on their sleeves. In these workplaces, people
knew immediately when there was any deviation from what
the boss expected because it was heard loudly and
Now, let’s contrast the “nice” environments, where
managers are willing to take the good with the bad and
make excuses for people who don’t perform. Usually in
these “kinder and gentler” workplaces, the employees are
in a better mood because there is little pressure to
HR POINTER: By definition, work is “exertion or effort
directed to produce or accomplish something.” Work is not
a place to go to relax from a hectic lifestyle.
This is not to say that work has to be “drudgery for the
sake of it,” to quote the nephew of Ebeneezer Scrooge.
There can be a happy medium between the two extremes above
and Toyota has found it.
An article in HBR magazine a few years ago identified that
the secret to Toyota’s highly productive workplace was an
oxymoron – the high flexibility and productivity of the
Toyota system was a direct result of the rigidity of its
That’s right – the rigidity of a system is what allows it
to be flexible and productive.
A similar article about Toyota notes that managers are
regularly challenging employees to generate ideas to
improve quality, reduces costs, and increase throughput.
This article describes this idea generation challenge as
the ultimate sign of respect that intimately involves
employees directly in their jobs.
As such, if you want to dramatically improve productivity
and show the ultimate respect to your employees, teach
your supervisors how to pinpoint processes, specify
expectations, measure results, and regularly challenge
employees to improve their work.