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6 ways–beyond ‘fixing’ the employees–to improve productivity

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in Centerpiece,Leaders & Managers,People Management

by Mark Royal

When productivity dips, it seems logical to blame the employees for not engaging in the job. But that might not be what’s going on.

Even capable employees who say they’ve never worked for a better company and feel optimistic about what they can achieve won’t perform at their peak if there’s something standing between them and their success.

The problem: Identifying what that “something” is that’s sapping productivity—and getting rid of it.

The solution: Stop blaming the employee and start correcting conditions in the workplace that are preventing even your brightest stars from shining.

Here are six productivity factors to examine:

1. Performance management. We’re all pretty good at handing out work, but we’re not so great at helping employees prioritize tasks or at pulling away nonessential work.

Tip: Tell pressured employees which tasks are the most critical, have the greatest impact on the organization, should be done first or absolutely must be done. Don’t make them struggle to determine that on their own.

2. Authority and empowerment. If you think you’re empowering your employees by stepping completely out of their way, you could be wrong. The absence of boundaries is not empowering; it’s limiting. Employees who don’t understand how far their authority reaches will be fearful of overstepping it.

Tip: Specifically designate the level of influence each employee may have. That way, employees can make decisions without the fear of going too far.

3. Work structure/processes. They’re meant to help employees accomplish their routine work as efficiently as possible. But as business conditions change, those work processes might not work anymore.

Tip: As conditions, products and goals change, update your organization’s work processes—and constantly train em­­ployees so they know how to put those changes into practice.

4. Resources. Managers might believe there’s nothing they can do to increase the resources available to their em­­ployees. And while their hands might be tied on the size of the budget or the staff, there’s plenty of leeway elsewhere.

Tips: Fill staff vacancies as soon as possible so you make use of all of your allocated positions. Cross-train employees so they can cover for each other.

Evaluate whether you have the right people on your team. Employees who don’t have the skills, attitude or work ethic to move the company forward can drain the productivity of their highly motivated co-workers.

5. Training. Organizations tend to emphasize training for new hires and those who are changing roles. Too often, they overlook the value of ongoing training for all em­­ployees. Your organization is changing and evolving—fast. Without training, employees will not learn the new skills they need to keep up with changing work demands.

Tip: Consider the idea that the skills and knowledge that made an employee successful in the past might not be what makes him or her successful today.

6. Collaboration. It might seem like it’s all a manager can do to meet his or her own department’s goals. It’s hard to focus on bigger, companywide needs or helping another team.

But hunkering down and focusing only on the goals of your own team robs the organization of the effort it needs to reach its broader objectives.

Tip: Encourage your organization’s leaders and managers to wear their “enterprise” hats and to keep a collaborative perspective.

We’re all demanding that our employees do more with less. So they hear: “We need you to work harder, and we’re also giving you fewer resources.”

Wouldn’t that sap your productivity?

Back away from the message of doing more with less.

Try a more proactive positive approach: To sustain the new level of performance over time, optimize your work environment. Take advantage of the motivation levels you already have by creating a work environment that enables those motivated employees to work.


Author: Mark Royal is senior principal for Hay Group and co-author of The Enemy of Engagement: Put an End to Workplace Frus­­tra­­tion—and Get the Most from Your Employees. Contact him at mark.royal@haygroup.com.

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