A Sigil That Increases Productivity – Once upon a time, there was a factory where the workers just wouldn’t produce. Even though the company had already tried everything on the workers, they just remained lazy. Many capable managers came and went, but things just didn’t improve. Suddenly, a business maestro came up with a brilliant idea. All he did was draw a strange symbol on the floor, and the productivity shot up immediately.
American steel magnate Charles M. Schwab (1862-1939) was renowned for his brilliant management skills. During the early 1900s, one of his steel mills was always producing much less than it were supposed to, and even though Schwab had already switched a couple of managers of the mill, there wasn’t any sign of improvement. Therefore, Schwab decided to visit the plant personally.
(Click here for a voice-over of this article)
“How is it that a manager as capable as you can’t make this mill turn out what it should?” Schwab asked the manager of the mill.
“I don’t know,” the manager replied. “I’ve coaxed the men. I’ve pushed them. I’ve sworn and cussed, and I’ve threatened them with damnation and being fired. But nothing works. They just won’t produce.”
So Schwab asked the manager to show him the way to where the people worked. When Schwab visited the place, it was right at the end of the day when the day shift workers were about to leave for home. Schwab grabbed one of the workers, and asked him:
“How many heats did your shift make today?”
“Six,” replied the worker.
After hearing that, Schwab wrote a big number “6” on the floor, and soon left the plant.
When the night shift came in, they were surprised by the “6” on the floor, and asked what it was about. And the day shift told them, “The big boss was in here today. He asked us how many heats we made, and we told him six. He chalked it down on the floor.”
The next morning Schwab visited the mill again. To his delight, he found that the “6” written by him was already rubbed out by the night shift, and was replaced with a triumphant “7.”
And the day shift people saw that too. They immediately got the message that the night shift people were more productive than them, so they decided that they didn’t want to lag behind. As they finished that night, the “7” written by the night shift was replaced by a victorious “10.”
The competition heated up between the two shifts in no time, and their enthusiasm was instantly reflected in their output. As a result, this mill was transformed into one of the top producers in the company in just a very short time.
This story comes from a best selling book by Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People. How did Schwab manage to so easily solve a management problem that had troubled many of his best managers? As Schwab explained it himself:
“The way to get things done is to stimulate competition. I do not mean in a sordid, money-getting way, but in the desire to excel.”
This sentence could be boiled down into a very simple concept: social comparison. It is one of the most powerful ways to motivate people. As early as when we were little kids in school, we liked to compare ourselves with others. We admired the classmates who did better in exams, and envied those who came from a wealthier background. The feeling of being inferior to others is a very powerful force to prompt us to do better.
Schwab’s ingenuity in the story is that he got the job done without any punishment or reward at all. He simply showed the workers that their peers were doing better than them, and that alone drove the workers to beat the other shift. This idea is now widely applied in many corporations, especially in their sales departments. Salespeople can see each other’s results on an eye-catching scoreboard inside the office, just like the giant number written by Schwab on the floor. The idea is the same: to stimulate competition through a direct comparison among the team members.
This idea is also applicable on a personal level. In a 2005 interview with the Harvard Business Review, World chess champion Garry Kasparov once commented that his biggest secret of success was that he had a great rival who constantly threatened his throne so much that he always had to improve his game. While you may not have an “enemy” who keeps pushing you, you can think of a successful person in your field as an opponent. For example, if you are a cook whose recipe books are not selling well, then you may “imagine” a successful cook like Jamie Oliver as an “enemy,” and try to sell more copies of your books than he does.
To learn more about how to motivate people effectively, please get a copy of my book, the Art of Influencing Anyone.