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The one desired outcome that cuts across all verticals, roles, and management styles is great work. Leaders try to predict who will do great work when hiring, and they often grapple with how to maintain high levels of productivity throughout an employee’s time with their company.

After analyzing 1.7 million cases of award-winning work, O.C. Tanner discovered that great work isn’t the result of an employee’s particular traits. Instead, great work is produced when teams come together around one common intention or goal and then perform five specific activities.

Let’s take a look at what those five activities are:

1. Ask Questions to Drive Productivity

Curiosity and a willingness to ask provocative questions ignite the imagination and drive people to attempt the seemingly impossible. Good questions – especially those that promote meaningful employee feedback – spark innovation, push employees to be their best, and expose issues before they become problems that impact profit, costs, or performance.

Good questions positively impact productivity when coupled with the shared intention of a team. According to O.C. Tanner’s report, 88 percent of great work projects involve asking the right questions. Such questions usually take some variation of the form, “What would really make a difference that people would love?” Questions such as this relating to the common goal of a company inspire employees to continually improve their product or service.

2. Discover What Works

Great employees don’t always share the same traits, but they do try to see things for themselves. They are driven to understand what works and what doesn’t. In doing so, these employees understand the effect their work has, and their minds engage with the task on a different level. This makes it possible for employees to innovate and create the changes that have the greatest, and most appreciated, impact of all.

3. Widen Your Perspective

By discussing the task with people outside their inner circles, employees gain a wider perspective on the task and its associated issues. Great workers enjoy conversations that disrupt their own ways of thinking and allow them to consider the world from new perspectives.

FireworksIn 72 percent of great work cases, people talked to others outside of their usual teams about the changes they were trying to implement. In doing so, employees were able to identify otherwise unforeseen hurdles or knock-on effects and mitigate them before they became larger issues.

As one of the workers interviewed by O.C. Tanner noted, “We’re all creative, but not any one of us has all the answers. So it’s important to involve different points of view in order to get the creative solutions you need.”

4. Shake Up the Process

Employees can more easily improve projects when they see things as open to change. In fact, 84 percent of great work cases involve someone “shaping and experimenting with ideas to make an improvement or add new value,” according to O.C. Tanner’s report. When workers see products, projects, and processes as mutable, it gives them the confidence to tinker and test new ideas. Most innovative ideas that drive great work aren’t big or grandiose; they are simply small improvements to existing products or processes.

5. Own the Difference

Sticking around to see the connection between the actions taken and the results delivered is the final commonality across all instances of great work studied by O.C. Tanner. When great workers witness the changes they’ve made in action, they can measure the difference they’ve made, analyze exactly what their contributions have improved, and fine-tune the results to create further impact, if necessary.

As one worker interviewed by O.C. Tanner said, “We gain satisfaction from helping others and accomplishing something — we’re wired that way. But we have to build or create something. We need to make things happen.”

When employees perform all five of these activities, they are more likely to deliver great work. It takes a combination of feedback, new strategies, and a change in perspective in order to unlock a team’s productivity potential.

Rae Steinbach is a graduate of Tufts University with a combined international relations and Chinese degree. After spending time living and working abroad in China, she returned to NYC to pursue her career and continue curating quality content. Follow Rae on Twitter



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