I study meaningful work, right? And so I measure well being through this lens of meaning because you think about well being and there's many different models and one of them is to think about well being as happiness or just positive emotions and smiley faces. And that's also somewhat of a misconception because while positive emotions are a part of our well being, they're not the only part and all emotions belong in happiness.
Welcome to the managing mid simple podcast. I'm Lia Garvin, your host and team operations consultant through this show and my signature Ops Playbook. I condense a decade of experience driving team operations in some of the most influential companies in tech to save you time, money, and stress. It doesn't matter if you're a business owner who realized that running a team isn't as easy as you thought it would be, or a new manager looking to learn the ropes or are a seasoned manager ready to up their game.
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Welcome back to the show. Today, I am so excited to have Tamara Myles with me. Tamara is a speaker and author with over two decades of experience helping leaders improve business performance.
She leverages her expertise on productivity, wellbeing, and meaningful work to help leaders create systems and cultures that enable teams to thrive and their organizations to grow. So right up my alley, as you can tell. Tamara's experience includes KPMG, Microsoft, and Google. So a lot of familiar faces I've worked with and her work has been featured in Fast Company, Business Insider, and Forbes, among others.
She is the author of The Secrets to Peak Productivity and is writing her next book, More Than a Paycheck, How Leaders Can Answer the Growth Demand for Meaning at Work, which will be published in early 2025. Now, when I talk about efficiency on teams and optimizing team operations, a question I often get from teams and businesses that I support is, okay, I like it, I get it, but how do I do it?
do this without burning people out. And so this is why I was thrilled to be able to talk with Tamara about this today, about exactly this topic, right? How do we create highly productive team while keeping a focus on meaning and wellbeing? So Tamara, welcome to the show. Thank you. I'm so excited to be here.
So I'm sure you get this question a lot, right? Like how do we strike that balance? And as an expert in productivity, I'd love to dive right in by talking about, you know, how do managers contribute to. Increase productivity on a team, but at the same time, like what are some of the pitfalls they run into that inadvertently reduces productivity?
That's such a great question. And it's something that people are really interested in. And the way that I think about it and talk about it is the difference between true productivity and toxic productivity. So When managers do things like micromanage, you know, fill the time with meetings, don't have clarity on goals and communication and transparency, these all end up leading to toxic productivity.
True productivity is about doing more. Of what matters in the time that we have toxic productivity is about doing more in less time, right? And so when we think about productivity, as it's very often talked about in, you know, popular culture and articles, it's about doing more in less. time. And so really kind of trying to fit more into our days.
So we end up totally burnt out and we can't focus the quality of our work suffers. And most importantly, the quality of our life suffers when we can focus on doing what matters first and what matters most. That's when we have peak performance, highest productivity, more well being. And so managers get in the way Of our true productivity with things like productivity paranoia, right?
I think it was, uh, researchers from Microsoft that coined that term that managers were so worried about what their people were doing that they were tracking their productivity and tracking their time on screens and what they were working on and all of that. And nobody really likes to be micromanaged to that extent.
And then leaders enable true productivity. through clear communication, goal setting, caring for their teams, providing autonomy, all these best practices that we know about. Yeah. I love that. And I mean, it's something I talk a lot about as well with, with clients I work with in small businesses, you know, everybody's got to do more with less right now, as you say, but it doesn't just mean adding more work.
What I share with folks are tools around building. Clarity and priorities, as you call it, clear expectation, right? Connecting the dots between, you know, priorities, expectations, and performance, which is what I've talked about on the show in the past. And so I love that distinction because it's not just doing more for the sake of it.
And I think that's why potentially the productivity, well, we know we want to achieve it. I think it also makes people nervous when you say it's like, uh, like what does that mean? Um, And so for leaders listening, you know, using, I think even describing what you mean when you're saying, Hey, I want to help folks be more productive.
It doesn't mean I want to actually monitoring your eye tracking on your monitor or like your keystrokes as you call it out. It's that I want you to feel like you can accomplish what you set out to. I love that. And, and so you talk about, you know, focusing on the most important thing first. You know, how do folks come up with that?
Is that a matter of understanding the priorities of the team and business plus their, you know, folks skill sets? How do you suggest folks come up with that? So that's something I think where the managers can play a big part in helping people come up with that. You know, often we feel so overwhelmed with competing priorities and demands that it's hard, right?
It's hard to prioritize when everything's important. And so I think that's one of the biggest. pieces of the leadership puzzle and enabling excellence is clarity around that and making sure you're talking to your people about what is the true priority, when is the deadline, being really clear in those communications.
And then I think from an individual perspective, if you're trying to decide, you know, what is truly most important, I think going back to, and hopefully you have that in your, you know, job description and yearly goals, going back to those and figuring out if how you're spending your time every day is building up.
to those big goals, because what ends up happening is that people spend time on their goals once or twice a year. Right. And then they're so busy in their day to day. So taking a step back to be able to really assess progress is really important. Yeah. I love that call out. And, and as you said, I think managers play such a key role in connecting the dots for their team members on their professional development goals and what their job is about.
And finding opportunities. I mean, I think this is the importance of building a relationship with your team members. Understanding their stretch goals, understanding development areas, what they're really good at, their superpowers, because then you can sort of help them chart that course. And they can see that the most important or the highest priority and the thing that's really in line with where they want to go, they're not in conflict.
And I think that's where we can start to create a stronger sense of purpose and meaning for folks and, and we can show them that they're not a cog in a machine, that we see them in their... You know, we're supportive of their aspirations of their goals, and we're really helping them do that. And I think it's also okay for managers to say, Hey, right now, this, this is the highest priority thing we're going to name.
We're going to call it out. We're all going to rally around this and we're going to kind of go through this sprint right now. And then we're going to have time to go back through this. So I think neither of us are talking about, you know, sort of having. To not having, you know, if there's a competitive need, or you have to move fast or sprint something that it doesn't mean that, but it's about really being clear on what that is.
And I think a lot of teams with priorities run into two pitfalls of having a really vague priority of like, You know, we want to save the world or something super abstract, or there's 37 priorities and you don't know which is which. And so I love to, you know, help map out for teams, what is the company and team priorities and what are individual tasks that every single role can really attach to like, Oh, this is how my job supports this business goal.
I see. Okay. This is how my work is directly contributing to that goal. Um, and so that you don't feel disconnected to it or you don't feel like, Oh, that's what the team's doing, but I'm just going to do my job over here. It's, it's not related. Yeah. And I mean, and that's where the two topics that I study really overlap, right?
Productivity and meaningful work. You talked about connecting the dots and finding where your contribution impacts the goals. And that's such a huge part of what makes. work meaningful for people is understanding your contribution, the impact that you have. Often we're drowning in our day to day work that we don't know that impact.
We don't feel appreciated. We don't know the value that we're adding. And it's really important for leaders to do that, to show people that, to tell stories of impact, to show how what they did led to something great that really fuels motivation and, you know, productivity. Yeah. And so this points to the, you know, the feedback conversation.
And, and as I talk a lot about in the show, feedback's not just criticism. It's, it's actually recognition and appreciation and positive reinforcement. And I mean, I see as you call out what a strong connection that is to helping people be more quote unquote productive, right. Actually getting more done, but doing it in a way where they see, Oh, okay.
Like this way that I did, this was recognized and celebrated. And I think right now, a lot of what we're seeing in data from Gallup around employee engagement and definitely in the Lean In and McKinsey Women in the Workplace report around women leaving the workplace, the lack of recognition is causing a lot of folks to rethink, do I want to be here?
And it was a huge driver to great resignation. And I think a lot of the sentiment on quiet quitting and bare minimum Mondays and all these trends around like not really caring about your job anymore, because if you feel like it doesn't care about you, why would you care about it? Exactly. I mean, the lack of recognition ends up causing us to feel like we don't belong, right?
If we are not cared for, if nobody cares about us, why would we care? It's a vicious cycle that ends up happening. And we, we often think Think about belonging in like big acts of, you know, like inclusion and those are important. Inclusion is the action and belonging is how we feel when we're included. But often the little acts of omission, the missed thank you, and the lack of acknowledgement for our contribution, those add up to, to destroy.
Our belonging over time. Yeah, absolutely. And I think we're seeing, it's disappointing. I think there was a bigger focus on that in the beginning, you know, leading up to the pandemic and the beginning of the pandemic, and now there's a backlash and I think it's so belief that productivity has gone down. I don't know, I, I don't agree with it myself.
I'm sure you don't around. I think people are really burnt out and they've gone through this trauma that we still are kind of reconciling. What's our relationship with work and you know, where we want to be and where are we most productive and effective. And there's a lot of, there's a lot of differing opinions in that space, but I think as you call out, I completely agree.
Recognition is one of the most important factors there. And to show people meaningful recognition, like, you know, I see you and the way that you did that thing was great because. And using those feedback frameworks like situation, behavior, impact, whatever, to really get specific so folks don't feel like it's just Um, you know, a generic thank you note you're sending because you have to, but you really see them.
I mean, I think this devil dovetails into wellbeing. So, you know, also I know that's one of the areas that you study and I think a lot of us can worry that, well, okay, if I'm more productive, if I'm doing more with less than how does this really, you know, reconcile with wanting to give. folks more balanced and, and, you know, really still cultivate a strong sense of wellbeing.
That's a really good question. And again, productivity, not always about doing more with less. It's about doing more of the important things right in the time that we have, because time is a constant and we have the amount of time that we have and we're trying to get the things that matter. done first.
And we've known for decades that the link that there's a strong link between happiness or well being and productivity. But recent research from the University of Oxford and MIT is the first one. It just came out a couple months ago, and it's the first one to provide actual causal evidence for this relationship.
And they found that workers are 13 percent more productive when they have higher well being. And what they found is that these people that are happier, you know, they're not working more hours, but they are more productive with their time at work because they can focus. They're not worried and ruminating on whether, you know, am I going to get acknowledged for my contribution?
I'm going to do all this hard work and they're going to take credit for it. They're not in a toxic environment where, you know, where they're going to get undermined. Or somebody is going to take credit for their ideas. And so it really productivity and wellbeing really compliment each other very well.
So the higher wellbeing we have, the more productive we become, but the opposite is also true. When we feel truly productive, we get a huge boost in our wellbeing. Like think about a day you had at work. where you did something hard that maybe you were dreading, but you got in there and you did the hard thing.
And for me, the hard thing is always writing. And I'm, I'm writing now, but when I get to the end of the day and I feel really good about my writing, I was able to focus and be productive. I feel great. I show up for my family better. My dinner that I cook tastes better, you know? So it really is a virtuous cycle and one feeds the other.
Yeah, I have to underscore that because you know, this is something I think we can really get wrong, especially in sort of the fast paced environments of a corporate or a fast paced startup that's really trying to scale that we think wellbeing is days off or something like, Oh, it means people get to work less.
And it's like, as you call it, that is absolutely not what you're talking about. It is, you know, not sort of overextending people to the, to the point where they're, you know, they're working 20 hours a day. That's not what I mean, but. Like you say, you can actually do more work. You can accomplish more in a better quality way when you feel good about the work.
And it was funny because I was noticing this in the beginning of the pandemic and calling it out quite a bit. And it wasn't always that way. I was like, you know, the wellbeing is not solved by one random Friday off. Like what, like it's solved by clarity and priorities. Everyone's frustrated because we don't know what the expectations are.
We don't know what success looks like. And, you know, well being has... It's been treated as this adjacent benefit of mostly wellness or self care, right? And that's not well being. Well being is not a chair massage on a Friday afternoon, you know, or a yoga class that you take. Well being really works best when it's integrated.
Into the work and not an adjacent benefit, but part of the work so that the culture in where you work helps you feel a higher sense of meaning of purpose of connection and all of that. I'm I study. Meaningful work, right? And so I measure well being through this lens of meaning because you think about well being and there's many different models and one of them is to think about well being as happiness or just positive emotions and smiley faces.
And that's also somewhat of a misconception because While positive emotions are a part of our wellbeing, they're not the only part and all emotions belong in happiness and wellbeing. And so if you think about meaningful work, that is the upstream factor that unlocks. Well, being at work that unlocks productivity that, you know, increases engagement.
And so I know that there's a lot of focus from leaders on like, we need to increase productivity. We need higher engagement scores. But if leaders go upstream and focus on making work meaningful. All those things that they care about and measure will increase as well. And, you know, there's evidence that when we find our work meaningful, our performance increases by 33%.
Our productivity increases by as much as 10, 000 per individual per year. And so really it is the path to unlocking. excellence and performance is through doing work that we find meaningful with people who care about us while we learn, grow and develop. Yeah. And I want to call out that it doesn't mean the work has to be, you know, like curing homelessness or feeding, you know, start, I think I think one place people can get, get stuck is thinking, well, you know, we're just a company that paints fences.
Like what is the meaning there? Or, you know, I just work in a target. Like what's the point? And it's like, it's, you can find meaning and you can show your team members meaning as a manager with anything you're doing. And as we're talking about that comes through things like recognition, appreciation, building psychological safety, which is allowing people to really, you know, Be candid, be vulnerable, ask questions, you know, challenge things without being, you know, what, while still being respectful, building trust, all of that creates meaning.
And so it's not about the nature of the work. So folks listening were like, well, that works if you work at NASA, whatever, but not my company. Yes. That's such a great point. I'm so glad you brought that up because there is this huge misconception. I call it a myth of meaningful work, right? That meaningful work is only for people in helping professions or non.
Profits or social impact work. And it's, that's simply not true. My research proves or shows points to evidence that that while some jobs are kind of engineered for meaning that every job in any job can, and I believe should be meaningful, and so there are many ways that managers. can impact meaning and, you know, through the research I've done with partners, we unlock a suite of six domains, six practice domains that fall under a framework that we put together.
That's called the three C's of meaningful work. So there's three main areas that leaders can impact. One is contribution. And that is, you know, the sense that your work adds value to your team, to your organization, to the. customers to the big mission of the company. And that goes back to what we talked about, about the managers connecting the dots between people's day to day work and the difference the organization is making, the goals you are reaching.
And so that's the external contribution, but then there's the internal contribution, and that's what we've been talking about being acknowledged, being thanked and appreciated. So that's contribution. The second one is. And, you know, research shows that when we're not being challenged to learn and grow, we quickly get bored.
There's this term called bore out, which is burnout that comes from feeling like we're working hard without seeing our own personal growth and development. Yeah. And so a lot of burnout is, is due to the lack of development rather than just because we're working too hard and what leaders can do there is to really believe in people's potential and give them challenging opportunities to grow the, one of the best ways that I think to express that it comes from Bob Quinn at the center for positive organizations and he says he likens it to One leader, your leader, having one hand on your back, pushing you to be the best possible version of yourself and the other hand is under your arm, supporting you to navigate the trickiest terrain.
So it's a combination of like push and support push and support that really creates this unlocking of potential. And then the third C is community. And we talked a little about belonging, but we are wired to connect and we crave belonging, and that's such a critical part of meaningful work. Some of the same alarms that are activated in our brains when we're hungry or thirsty.
Are activated when we feel disconnected or lonely. And so when we do feel a sense of belonging at work, when we're included, when our opinions matter, when we're listened to, when we feel like we can add value, when, you know, people ask about our personal lives and give us opportunities to form friendships, our performance increases by 56 percent and we are half as likely to leave and 18 times more likely to get promoted.
So huge effects. And so those are the three C's it's contribution, challenge, and community. Oh, wow. What an incredible framework. And you see, by listening to the examples you shared that you can be in. Work of service and not experience those, right? So it's not a directly like if you don't have those three C's and folks listening that have been in a job where they say Well, I love the mission.
I care about the company Why don't I feel that sense of meaning and that's why because it's an absence of those things and I think a lot of us Have been there. I've been there where it seems like all the pieces are there But is there something wrong with me? Am I not able? It's like, no, it's something here is missing and how important those are.
I love that framework. Absolutely. I work with nonprofit organizations that, you know, you see every single employee was drawn there because they truly believe in the mission. And so their sense of contribution is usually really, really high. And yet they don't feel a sense of meaning at work. They don't find their work meaningful because they don't.
Don't feel like they belong. They don't feel cared for. They're not challenged. They're not developing. And so really meaningful work lives at the intersection of the three Cs. You need all three. Yeah. So again, leaders listening to this, if you have a really mission driven organization, it doesn't come for free.
Meaning doesn't come for free. And that's a invitation to think about, are you really supporting folks across these dimensions? And like you say, maybe there's. One of them, maybe even two. But if we don't have all of them, something's gonna feel outta balance. And the last piece that you called out, I mean, that's a huge cost savings area, lower turnover, faster promotion, you know, high, you know, better quality work.
If we're looking at, you know, how all of this comes together to affect the bottom line? There you go. I mean it. It's one of the most costly things to have high turnover all the time is spent recruiting and onboarding and training. And then that institutional knowledge goes out the door. It's a huge impact on other team members.
When people are leaving, they're looking around like, should I be leaving? Cause this looks like there's something going on here. Right? So it is, all of this is not only drives to, you know, the productivity lens, but it also to, you know, overall business growth. Absolutely. I mean, there's, there's some debate in the positive psychology community about, you know, do we draw these benefits to, you know, do we, do we draw the connection to the bottom line or is it just the right thing to do?
And I think it's both. It is the right thing to do because leaders bear a huge responsibility for, you know, for the wellbeing of their people, but it is also. Great to tie it to the bottom line because leaders also have the responsibility for the well being of their organizations, right? And so we, when you do it for both reasons, I mean, humans have like a huge BS detector.
And so if you think your leader is, really doesn't care about you, but is really only trying superficially to create more meaning at work because of the benefits, you're going to know and it's not going to be genuine and it's not going to work. Yeah. And at the same time, I think for, for small business owners that feel like they've got to carry the weight of growing the business on their shoulders and it's all to them.
This is, I think this is a way you can create more accountability around growing the business with your team members. And you can see, well, what are ways in which I can fuel that across the team? And if a stronger sense of meaning results in, in, you know, actually growing the business and reducing things like we said, turnover and other issues that are expensive.
Then essentially it's a strategy for, for growing and scaling really is, is focusing on this. And I think a lot of the concerns I hear from small business owners is, you know, we're moving so fast. I don't have time, you know, all the kinds of questions that come up around, you know, I just need people to get this kind of stuff done.
Like we'll figure that out later. I think driving team operations within small businesses, I think a lot of concerns folks have are, you know, when's the right time to be focusing on these kinds of things. And the answers I'm guessing all, both of us would say is now it's yesterday. It's, you have to be doing this because all of this is expensive.
And if you do not have clarity in expectations, priorities, processes for recognition, you know, people can see how they can be, you know, rewarded and evaluated and compensated for the work that they're doing. All of that, you know, I call it chipping away at, you know, operational effectiveness. You call it chipping away at productivity and meaning.
And that's what slows down a business. That's what slows on a team. So it is all deeply connected. And I think, you know, as you said, it's these kinds of conversations aren't things to think about later. Once there is a major problem, like, you know, many people have left the team or the business has. You know, significantly, you know, declined or scaled back.
That's not the time to figure it out because it requires a very different solution if you get to that point. It's so much easier to steer the ship in the right direction from the beginning than to have to redirect it once you see the iceberg, right? It's like change, culture change efforts and cultural transformation is.
a very slow and iterative process, and if you are scaling a company, a growing company, and you can kind of get it right from the start, it's, it's much easier, I think, and much more powerful. And I think You know, one of the great ways for leaders to think about this is to do it in small ways every day, right?
When you do things in small ways every day, that kind of becomes the way things are done around here or part of the culture. So instead of saying, Oh, well, we'll deal with that. Like once we do this and do that and do that, how can we integrate that into small things that happen anyway? So how can you change a meeting?
to, you know, that you have every day to include some of these three C's and, you know, a couple easy ways. One is to start a meeting. Vivek Murthy, who's the U. S. Surgeon General, shared this, something he did with his team to combat loneliness. And he has, in their bi weekly meetings, he chooses a person to come in and that person brings in a personal photo and spends the first five minutes of the meeting talking about picture and why they brought it.
And, you know, when it really, when you see a different side of someone, when they're the person who maybe has like really great critical thinking skills, which means they're questioning everything in a meeting, and maybe it's a little bit annoying. And you're like, Oh my God, I just want to get to the meeting.
Why are they asking all these questions? Right? But then they come in and they show a picture of them scuba diving in the great thing. Barrier Reef and they talk about their passion. You see a whole different size. It like really humanizes people and it only takes five minutes and it's such a powerful way to increase the sea of community of creative belonging and helping people see each other more deeply and more, you know completely and then another one that many of my clients Use is gratitude and appreciation, just building that in.
One of my clients put a reminder on her calendar every Friday to send five real appreciation notes to team members for contributions they made that week. And what happened is that it just kind of created. This culture of gratitude where it's spread like people receiving the gratitude email. We're so grateful that they started thanking their team members and their team members.
So we really, these behaviors spread negative behaviors, positive behaviors, negative emotions, positive emotions. They all spread. And so what do you, what virus are you trying to spread? Right? Yeah. Oh, I love both of those. I'm going to try those with the teams I work with. Well, before we wrap, I want to hear about the new book, you know, share a little bit what it, what it's about, you know, what you're excited about, about the process and when folks can get it.
Yeah. Well, thank you. I am deep in the writing process. The manuscript is due in a few months and it is about the research that I've been doing with. some incredible and brilliant research partners over the past almost five years. And it's the first rigorous empirical study to link certain leadership behaviors to the experience of meaning at work.
The academic paper was just published, but you know, most leaders are not out there reading scientific journals and academic papers. And so the book is taking all that academic language and the research and making it really. actionable for leaders. And so we have the three C's framework and the book is full of stories and real life examples from the organizations we work with.
And the working title is more than a paycheck, how leaders can answer the growing demand for meaning at work. And the date is tentatively coming out early 2025. We don't have a final date yet, but early 2025. So I'm really excited. Awesome. Well, I will include your website in the show notes so folks can follow along and keep up to date.
Thank you. And another great way to stay connected is LinkedIn. I post updates there. I posted the research. There was an article that was published today about the study. So if anybody's interested in learning more, LinkedIn's a great, great place for that. Yes. And I strongly advocate following you. You have such great content.
I love it. I love all the stuff you post. So I will also include it to LinkedIn in the show notes. So anything you want to leave our audience with before we wrap? You know, I truly, truly believe that our workplaces hold the key to human thriving. And in that it's a leader's responsibility and obligation to help their teams thrive at work.
Because we spend about 10 years of our lives At work, and I know that I want my work to be meaningful. Don't you want it to be meaningful? Don't you want those 10 collective years that you spend that work to mean something for you to have people that you care about to be doing work that matters, that makes a difference to know how you impacted something.
And so that is, I think my parting thought is leaders embraced That big responsibility to help unlock human flourishing. We are at a time in life that people are not thriving and we can make a real difference. Well, thank you so much. I could not agree more. What a, what a perfect way to end and thank you so much for coming on the show.
Thank you so much for having me. That's all I have for today. Thank you so much for tuning in to the Managing Made Simple podcast, where my goal is to demystify the job of people management so that together we can make the workplace somewhere everyone can thrive. I always love to hear from you, so please reach out at Liagarvin.com or message me on LinkedIn. See you next time.