6 ways to lead your team to maximum productivity

In tough economic times, organizations must focus on getting the highest possible return on their workforce investment.

To achieve that goal, it’s more important than ever for supervisors to motivate employees, challenge them to peak efficiency and create an environment that helps them grow not just as employees, but as people.

Here are six ways managers can help employees maximize their productivity and improve retention, as explained in the new book, Fifth Wave Leadership:

1. Question employees relentlessly. A big part of creating a growth-oriented workplace is to constantly question your employees. Examples:

  • “Did you notice what you did there?”
  • “Why do you think you said that?”
  • “I noticed that when your position was challenged in the meeting, you didn’t defend it. Why?”

Creating a “question culture” will help raise performance expectations throughout the company. It will train employees to think carefully about how they do their jobs and ensure that they have sound reasons for every decision.

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2. Encourage conflict. Yes, that’s right. The purpose of the workplace is not to make everyone happy; it’s to grow people to their maximum potential. Avoid groupthink by encouraging employees to ask questions of co-workers and play devil’s advocate on important decisions.

Conflict and confrontation are rarely pleasant, but they are the very definition of teamwork. They are also necessary to foster relationships.

3. Focus on relationships. Monetary incentives go only so far in creating employee loyalty. They tie people to a company the same way a dog is trained to stay in the yard. It’s fine until the company across the street offers a bigger, juicier bone.

Instead, work to create a culture in which employee enrichment and relationships are valued. That gives employees a more rewarding reason to come to work every day.

4. Provide honest, caring feedback. You should be constantly telling employees how they’re doing. Honest feedback can be painful for both parties, but it’s the backbone of a growth organization. A relationship without honest feedback is simply a “mutual toleration society.”

5. Practice the art of self-disclosure. Feedback cuts both ways. You want your employees to provide it to you as well. It’s a risk worth taking because you can learn a lot from your employees. Self-disclose often and you’ll teach by example the kind of relationships you expect to flourish in your department.

6. Form an accountability group. Some people fear receiving or giving feedback. But put them in the right setting and they may be willing to provide compelling feedback. Accountability groups are one way to foster such feedback.

In these groups, people give and receive feedback, create action plans based on that feedback, and hold group members accountable for implementing their plans.

Bottom line: People who are personally and professionally fulfilled are better employees … and they’ll stick around longer. That’s reason enough to foster a growth-oriented workplace, especially given the current economy.

Dealing with underperforming employees: The 3 C’s to success

Productivity and morale are the main casualties when organizations retain people who clearly aren’t doing their jobs. Even worse, underperforming employees drag down top performers, who ask themselves, “Why should I work hard if that guy is just skating by?”

While it’s never easy confronting individuals about poor performance, tolerating it is a failure of leadership.

The Harvard Business Review suggests managers follow these three C’s to effectively deal with an underperformer:

1. Converse. Before you address the issue of underperformance, find out the employee’s side of the story. Explain in concrete detail where the employee isn’t meeting the performance standards. Then listen.

In some cases, an employee will explain that a personal issue is distracting him or her from devoting full attention to work. If the employee has a history of good performance, find a way to work around the issue. Those employees are worth saving.

2. Coach. Employees often underperform because they lack the necessary tools and/or training. It’s the manager’s job to provide on-the-job coaching. The process is very straightforward.

Discuss the issue so that the employee understands where he’s falling short. Ask him to devise solutions for improvement. Talk about those solutions and agree on a timetable for improvement. Hold the person accountable by following up. Document your decisions—and the employee’s actions—along the way.

3. Can. If there’s no improvement over the prescribed timetable, then you must deduce that the individual is not right for the job. (Note: Managers shouldn’t pawn off underperformers on another department; that simply kicks the issue over to another boss.)

Before making any termination decision, discuss it with the human resources department. Terminations are the biggest trigger of employment-related lawsuits, so certain key steps need to be taken to avoid legal trouble.