For generations, one of the primary roles of managers and supervisors has been to keep their teams on task, to maintain high levels of productivity, and to ensure employees are spending their time appropriately. After all, companies don’t want to pay their staff for personal projects, right?
As it turns out, employees spending paid work time in pursuit of personal projects is exactly the idea behind the 20% Project. As the name hints at, the 20% Project refers to companies allowing employees to spend 20 percent of their paid work time on projects of a personal interest. Of course, these projects still need to be work related, but they don’t need to reflect an employee’s specific job duties or job responsibilities.
3M is one of the best-known advocates of this concept, embracing their 15% project in the wake of the Second World War. The idea was that creativity thrives in unstructured time, and that giving the smart scientists at 3M ample time to think and create on their own could lead to new innovations to help the company maintain its cutting edge.
Tech Companies Lead the Way
Another well-known company, Google, has one of the most high-profile implementations of the concept in the form of their 20% Project, writes Bill Murphy Jr. in an article for Inc.com: “The idea is pretty simple: It’s that you, or a team, or a company—anyone, really—should divide your time working, so that at least 20 percent is spent exploring or working on projects that show no promise of paying immediate dividends but that might reveal big opportunities down the road.”
Murphy writes that the concept has paid genuine dividends for Google in the form of Google News, AdSense, and Gmail, all of which the company attributes to embracing the 20% principle.
While it’s critical for businesses to maintain the productivity of their workforces, insisting that their focus be solely on job-related priorities isn’t always the best solution. For positions that require or even just benefit from productivity, providing staff with some time to spend on work-related projects that are near and dear to their hearts might be a great way to spur some profitable innovation.
How could you put the 20% Project idea to work in your organization?