Poor productivity management is one of the biggest drivers of lackluster employee performance and engagement. Gallup research found that only about half of employees fully understand what’s expected of them and that their confusion alone lowers productivity by 10-20%.
Many teams that lack clear expectations also don’t have the tools, training and other forms of support needed to work efficiently. Given this, it’s no surprise that managers account for 70% of the variance in employee engagement.
If you’re a manager under pressure to increase productivity, this is great news because it means that you can have a drastic impact on your team’s performance.
This article will teach you how to do that by diving into:
- What most leaders get wrong about productivity management
- The components of an effective productivity management system
- How to create an environment where productive employees thrive
By the end of it, you’ll have an actionable plan to boost your team’s efficiency.
The Challenges of Measuring Knowledge Worker Productivity
The root issue of poor productivity management is that the average leader lacks self-awareness about their own performance. A McKinsey study including 14,000+ firms found that there is zero correlation between the management competency scores that companies give themselves and the scores they received through an independent assessment.
If you’re reading this article, you’re at least self-aware enough to know that you have opportunities for improvement. However, you may be blind to your organization’s core issues.
Many leaders focus on initiatives that directly increase output or lower costs while neglecting other aspects of total productivity management including operational improvements that have an indirect, but significant impact on employee performance.
How to Create a Productivity Management System for Knowledge Workers
The first step of total productivity management is holistically addressing the factors that are holding your team back.
- Audit your tech stack and integrations. Do any tools have overlapping functionality? Are all the systems that each team uses integrated? How often are those integrations updated? Aim to minimize the number of tools and maximize how much data is shared between systems. This allows employees to quickly get access to the information they need.
- Review your top employees’ recurring tasks. If they’re doing any repetitive activities like data entry, coordination, following well-defined workflows, etc. offload them to a junior employee or virtual assistant so they can focus on the core projects they were hired to do.
- Investigate small failures to identify underlying process/system issues. Often the small mistakes that reduce day-to-day productivity can easily be eliminated with simple changes or training.
- Revisit expectations on a regular basis. As mentioned earlier, lack of role clarity hinders productivity. As projects and systems evolve, check-in with your team to ensure everyone knows exactly what they need to focus on.
- Adjust to your employees’ skillsets. Not every person can do every task productively. Consider your team’s strengths as you’re assigning projects and outsource to experts as needed.
Depending on how often your team’s systems and projects change, you may want to run through these checklists monthly or quarterly so you can catch and resolve new inefficiencies as quickly as possible.
Maintain the Support Systems Needed for Maximum Productivity
These systematic evaluations serve as the core of total productivity management, but they can’t solve all your performance challenges.
The consulting firm, Advanced Workplace Associates, reviewed numerous studies and found that there are six conditions that are strongly correlated with increased productivity.
Here’s how you can facilitate each of those factors within your team:
1) Be available to provide advice and other support.
Most workers love the creative freedom their job gives them, however, they often face doubts about whether they're taking the best approaches. By making yourself available to provide casual advice, you can alleviate their anxiety and help prevent them from wasting time on a poor idea.
2) Facilitate and promote information sharing.
Your employees are constantly learning new info and discovering solutions to problems. Ensuring that info is shared with your whole team enables everyone to do their work faster. If your team doesn’t already have a wiki, create one and instruct your team to write entries for approaches to solving new problems, general info that’s potentially relevant to other members of your team, new processes, project documentation, etc.
To make it easy to find answers, break your wiki into sections for different types of information and have your team create titles that clearly indicate what the info they’re sharing is about.
In addition to saving your team time, having a robust wiki also minimizes the impact of turnover since it gives new hires access to tons of info that will speed up their on-boarding.
3) Ensure every employee understands and is committed to their goals
A Harvard study found that only 5% of employees fully understand their company’s goals and the role they play in achieving them.
To bridge it, it’s vital that you directly tie their employees’ projects to the larger company goals that they support. Not only does this help keep employees focused on the right metrics, but it also increases goal commitment since people are able to see the positive impact that their projects have.
If you lead workers who create their own projects, ask them how their work contributes to your company’s goals. If their answer doesn’t reflect your organization's ambitions and/or they lack enthusiasm, coach them to become better aligned with and committed to the right goals.
4) Encourage them to seek insights from sources outside your company
To be successful, workers need to stay up to date on all the emerging trends and technologies in your industry. To do so, encourage them to spend time gathering knowledge from outside your company.
Paying attention to industry news provides a solid baseline of knowledge. However, to stay ahead of the competition, you should urge your employees to also seek inspiration from unrelated fields as well. Research shows that highly creative people pursue a range of intellectual interests. Doing so allows them to think more divergently and make connections that people who are singularly focused are unable to.
5) Foster strong social bonds on your team
According to Gallup, employees with at least one close friend at work are twice as likely to be engaged than those who don’t. Not only do friends make work more enjoyable, but they also make it easier for employees to work together during challenging times such as when unexpected problems arise or they’re struggling to meet a big deadline. Since they know each other on a personal level, they’re able to communicate more effectively and, often, experience less stress as they work through difficult situations.
To foster strong social bonds, encourage employees to take their lunch breaks together, host quarterly social events like team dinners and volunteer events, encourage employees to form recreational sports teams and engage in other activities to spend time together.
6) Build mutual trust between employees and management
Research shows team performance is strongly associated with trust in leadership. Here are some proven ways to build trust with your team:
- Use logic to drive your feedback and decisions. Using a calm, practical leadership approach proves to your team that you’re fair and can be relied upon.
- Show vulnerability. Though all your decisions should be driven by logic, there are times when you’ll face challenges that impact your productivity. Being vulnerable in those moments creates a team culture where your employees know that it’s okay to go through temporary rough times.
- Get to know your team and personalize their work experiences. Everyone wants to feel supported and valued at work. An easy way to do that is to get to know your team’s interests, goals, work preferences etc. so that you can take reasonable actions to accommodate their preferences.
Supplementing your productivity management system with these tried-and-true leadership best practices will give your team the structure and support to work as efficiently as possible.
How to Gain Buy-In from Employees on New Productivity Metrics
The last step of creating a productivity improvement plan for your team is the messaging.
Studies show that businesses’ change efforts fail when they don’t make efforts to effectively communicate how the changes affect employees.
To minimize employee resistance, you need to have a clear plan for how you’re going to roll out the system.
Here are three ways to get your employees on board:
1) Be transparent about what kinds of issues you’re looking for and why
If you suddenly start auditing systems and investigating small, recurring errors without an explanation, you’re likely to inspire rumors about cuts. To avoid this, host a meeting where you explain your objectives for implementing a total productivity management system.
If you focus on how the forthcoming audits and changes will make their work easier, you can use the initiative to boost morale in addition to efficiency.
2) Empower your team to identify and solve productivity barriers
Even with rigorous audits, you’re likely to miss issues that are hurting your team’s productivity. Plus, numerous studies show that empowering employees to improve their work environment increases productivity and engagement more than solely top-down approaches.
Encourage your team to pay attention to anything that slows them down and, within set parameters, solve them. If their desired solution requires a budget or other forms of approval, make it easy for them to put in requests.
3) Celebrate improvements with your team
One of the challenges of the total productivity management approach is the results of all the small improvements often aren’t obvious. For example, adding new fields to an integration or delegating a routine process to a virtual assistant saves time but may not have a noticeable impact.
To maintain buy-in for your productivity management systems, monitor KPI improvements and share how the operational efficiencies allowed your team to focus on the strategic tasks that boosted performance.
By creating a productivity management system that helps your team excel, you’ll be able to boost performance while maintaining a positive company culture.
About the Author: Emily formerly led Prialto's content production and distribution team with a special passion for helping people realize success. Her work and collaborations have appeared in Entrepreneur, Inc. and the Observer among others.