Superchickens Need Not Apply

In her TED talk on how to increase productivity in the workplace, Margaret Hefferman tells the story of a flock of superchickens. It was a research study designed to look at productivity and genetics. One flock of chickens was left alone while the other flock was selectively bred based on the productivity (i.e. egg laying) of the hens.

After six generations the control flock was flourishing and had higher egg production at the end of the experiment than at the beginning. The other flock, the one filled with superchickens, had only three survivors. The superchickens had pecked and clawed their way to more food and more productivity with the result being intense competition that ended up making things far worse.

Productivity versus Performance

Superchickens, and their business world counterparts, have historically been the models of success for one simple reason, productivity. Chickens are meant to lay eggs, therefore the more eggs a chicken lays, the better the chicken must be. Business people are meant to produce, therefore the greater the production the better the business person must be. Or so the logic goes. But such evaluations ignore the performance of the individual chickens and the productivity of the team.

Instead of focusing solely on individual productivity, businesses like Planar™ are learning that it is better to look at performance as well. That’s not to say that productivity isn’t something to be measured or a goal to work toward, but rather that the path from work to product isn’t an individual one, but a group one.

Better Together

One of the key differences between the flock of superchickens and the other flock was in the helpfulness of the individuals. The superchickens were only out for their own benefit, but the control flock worked together and improved together. They were helpful to each other.

“Helpfulness means I don't have to know everything, I just have to work among people who are good at getting and giving help,” said Hefferman. And Planar has embraced this attitude by moving to a coaching model of management so that the managers aren’t seen as the bosses and those they manage the workers, but that both are collaborators working together.

Through decades of innovation Planar has “figured out” what Hefferman learned from the superchickens, “that when the going gets tough, and it always will get tough if you're doing breakthrough work that really matters, what people need is social support, and they need to know who to ask for help. Companies don't have ideas; only people do.”

Not Superchickens but Courageous-Chickens

Innovation and progress take courage: the courage to have a bold, new idea and see it through, the courage to try new things, and the courage to admit past mistakes. Planar is a leader in the display and digital signage market because they develop courageous-chickens not superchickens.

“[F]or years, we've thought that leaders were heroic soloists who were expected, all by themselves, to solve complex problems,” said Hefferman in applying her superchicken ideas to the world of business, “Now, we need to redefine leadership as an activity in which conditions are created in which everyone can do their most courageous thinking together.”

Coaching provides a path to greater productivity by giving individuals support, help, connection, and the courage to perform. Greater productivity, innovative ideas, and “breakthrough work that really matters” are the ends that Planar is striving for; coaching, support, and connection are the means to those ends.