Challenging Economic Times Call for Managing Productive Tension
by Steven Shagrin, JD, CFP®, CCP & Thornton Prayer, CCP
June 2010

In these difficult economic times, businesses have shared with us several major challenges they have faced regarding their competiveness – and even their survival.

Our research has found that every day, business leaders in every industry all around the world struggle with profit-eating, productivity-draining performance issues that could have been prevented – and the real problem isn’t what they think it is.

They aren’t paying attention to the most critical factor in management — the crucial ingredient that determines WHAT their employees will actually DO — and WHEN they will do it. That crucial ingredient is the level of “productive tension” in the workplace.

What do we mean by Productive Tension?

It is not “stress.” While stress is certainly an aspect of the overall productive tension concept (and how productive tension is managed), it is just one element.

Productive tension is the level of activity and productivity by your staff for maximizing positive outcomes and minimizing negative impacts. Your ability as an executive or manager in measuring, monitoring, and managing the level of productive tension is key to achieving the results you want most for your operation, your employees, your clients, and yourself.

The statements that follow are six of the most common concerns we hear from executives and managers we’ve worked with. They all relate to and are determined by the level of productive tension. How many of them resonate with you?

1) “My employees are not as productive as I need them to be — and nowhere near as productive as I know they could be.”

2) “Some of my key employees are talking about quitting — or have already taken their talents elsewhere, leaving me with expanding vacancies in a climate of hiring freezes — and worried about what happens when one-of-a-kind employees leave.”

3) “Hours of my management team’s productivity are being lost every day, handling (or trying to avoid) employee issues related more to personal stress and anxiety than to the work at hand.”

4) “My veteran team members have 'retired in place,' becoming increasingly complacent, ambivalent and apathetic about the mission of our organization and their passion for its pursuit.”

5) “Changes in our organization keep coming more quickly than ever before and it's harder to motivate my staff to accept, adapt and make the necessary shifts.”

6) “Our bottom-line focus has shifted from growth to survival, deflating the spirit of key staff members and undermining their resolve.”

How effectively are you dealing with these issues – and others affecting the levels of productive tension – in your organization? Your ability and challenge in doing so is vital to survivability and growth in today’s economy.

We invite you to take an online survey and see where you fall in managing productive tension in the above six situations – and nine others – for your organization. All results are kept confidential, and we will provide you with a complimentary review of the results with no further obligation or commitment. The survey is available at

About the Authors: Steven “Shags” Shagrin and Thornton Prayer are Certified ChangeWorks Practitioners in the East Bay. Learn more about ChangeWorks at