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What Have You Learned About Employee Productivity in the Past Year?

A much vaunted phrase repeated by politicians and others in authority is something to the effect that lessons were learned. Quite often, this claim is made in situations where it’s obvious that anything but that has occurred, or that the lessons one individual or group “learned” were common sense to everyone else.

Nevertheless, it’s a timely reminder to periodically reflect on the lessons you have learned over the past year, instead of waiting for a crisis to occur first.

With that in mind, see how many of these lessons you have learned and revisit them often.


Employee productivity increases when you focus on outcomes

Have you learned that employee productivity increases when you focus on outcomes instead of process?

Many have known this for years, but new managers who are keen to make a good impression and to show that they can make a difference often try to dissect every little thing that people do in order to find a one best way to do things. And the truth is that there is no best way because everyone is different. A method which is productive for one is counterproductive for another. And that’s because of the variations in personality and skill. No doubt you have noticed this yourself as an experienced manager.

Micromanagers struggle with this. They believe that the only way to achieve the outcomes they want is to control the process, and that’s due in part to the fact that when they don’t, they feel redundant.

Employee productivity depends on mutual trust. People need to be convinced that you trust them to deliver what you want, and you need to trust them to do it.


Employee productivity increases when you hire the right people

Have you learned that employee productivity increases when you hire the right people for the job?

How do you know if you’ve done that? Leaving aside the skills required, the right people will also be a good fit for your organization’s culture and have a healthy work ethic, too.

For instance, did you know that those who are trustworthy with a little will be trustworthy with a lot? That’s because magnitude is unrelated to principle.

You’ve heard people talk about the thin edge of the wedge. The wedge itself doesn’t change. It’s always a wedge. What changes is the thickness of it. But whether it’s a big or little one doesn’t change its essence.

This cuts both ways. When companies respect the people who work for them in the little things and not just the big things, then employees are also more respectful.

For instance, in the work-from-home climate, do you respect the private time of your employees? Or are you emailing them, or phoning them, or expecting them to respond to you because you know that they’re home?

When you respect the private time of your employees, then those employees will be more respectful of the company’s time. And so you need to establish and honour work/life boundaries because when people work from home, it’s even harder to separate the two. There are some organizations that do this by prohibiting meetings on Mondays and Fridays, and email on the weekends.


Employee productivity increases when communication channels are improved

Have you learned that employee productivity increases when communication channels are improved?

It would be rude to say that this is a no-brainer, but there’s a ton of evidence to show that rigid hierarchical structures inhibit productivity. That’s because they make it harder to get the job done. If you always have to go through someone else to get to the person you need to speak to, then your ability to do your job is subject to the demands and the whims of that person. At the very least, a lot of time is wasted, and when that happens costs go up. Entire processes can come to a standstill because a decision needs to be made, and the expertise of someone outside of the normal chain-of-command is required to make it.

It’s vital that you remove all of the internal barriers to effective communication within your organization.


Employee productivity increases where relationships are strongest

Have you learned that employee productivity increases where relationships are the strongest? You probably noticed this when people came to work. You saw how people who interacted comfortably - who just got on with each other - also got more done.

Why is that? It’s because it makes them happy to be at work.

Research has shown that people expect the workplace to be enjoyable. When it isn’t, they become demotivated which makes them feel badly about themselves. In one study, happy employees showed a 12% increase in productivity, while those who were unhappy exhibited a 10% decrease.

And happy employees also work better with others. If teams are important in your organisation, then you’ll want to make sure that everyone on them is happy.

Whether you’re at a place of work or working from home, relationships matter. And that’s why remote working is so difficult for some people. There’s a palpable loss of human connection.

When you speak on the phone or by videoconference, each interaction is deliberate. There’s almost no serendipity. Both of you have to be available and usually that means planning for it. Casually meeting someone at the proverbial coffee machine can’t happen, and you can’t just drop by someone’s virtual desk. That means that you have to make a special effort to connect on a more regular basis.

And all interactions can’t always be just about business. You have to look for ways to create the informality that you had in the workplace. In other words, there has to be some virtual banter. Banter helps people to relax and to get to know one another, which strengthens relationships.

There’s also room for a lot of compassion on your part, which is essential to a strong relationship with your employees.

Military commanders know that even in wartime, their troops need rest, not only for their bodies, but also for their minds and emotions. It’s because of this that they’ll take them into “quieter waters” - away from the heat of battle whenever that’s possible.

As a manager, you have to learn to do the same thing. Your employees can’t function effectively in a heightened state of activity forever. Build in some downtime on company time.


Employee productivity increases with certainty

Have you learned that employee productivity increases with certainty?

Especially in times of great uncertainty, people need it more than ever. That may seem like an impossible conundrum. How can you provide more certainty in the absence of it? By emphasising the things that you are certain about.

It’s a bit like the half-full, half-empty mindset. If all you do is harp on about what you don’t know, then you’ll make people more anxious about their future, but if you stress the things that you do know, then it gives people a sense of what they can rely on. When they know what they can rely on, then it stops them from worrying too much about it. But it’s unreasonable to expect them to ignore the anxiety. You can never ignore; only replace. And so you need to replace the uncertainty they feel and the anxiety that occurs as a result with facts so that they can stop worrying and focus on their jobs.

That doesn’t mean that you invent falsehoods or create unsupportable hope, as the Government has. Instead, it means that you don’t hide the truth from those who work for you. It also means that you demonstrate that you’re on their side and will do all that you can to help them. You see, people need predictability in their lives. And although there is much in life that isn’t, if that’s all you think about, then you’ll never get anything accomplished. So in order to increase productivity, you have to create certainty.


Employee productivity increases with validation

Have you learned that employee productivity increases with validation?

Nearly everyone wants to make a difference in their work. They don’t want to just give up some period of time every day to do nothing that matters. That’s what convicts of old did: Break rocks. If your employees feel that what they do is as important as breaking rocks, then they’ll also realize that the organization doesn’t need them; that they don’t matter.

Validation, however, extends beyond the feeling that they’re making a difference in their work. You see, it’s one thing to believe that what you do is important; it’s quite another to have your boss tell you that that’s the case.

Think of the convicts again. Their “job” was to break big rocks into smaller ones. The rocks weren’t going anywhere. The guards were there only to make sure that they kept breaking them up, but there was never a goal or a target.

Now suppose the warden came round one day and explained that all those rocks they were breaking up were going to be used to build a motorway and that there was an ideal size that they needed to be. Then at least some of those whose job it was to break them up would take a little more care in what they did. Of course, not all of them would, but no analogy is perfect in every respect.

Think of your own organisation. Do people just feel like they’re breaking up rocks? Or do they know specifically that not only the work they do, but the fact that they are doing it matters?

When you validate the work that someone does, then you validate them.

On the other hand, if you say that anyone could do it - even a dumb 18-year old, then you not only invalidate the work, but you denigrate the person who does it. The two are inseparable.


Employee productivity increases when they’re happy

Have you learned that employee productivity increases when they’re happy?

Research has shown this to be true, which means that you need to teach your employees how to be happy in the moment. Within the context of ongoing uncertainty, you can’t pin your hopes on things getting better. You set yourself and others up for disillusionment and despair when you do, and that’s because no one can predict the future.

One way to teach people how to be happy at work is to focus on what Stephen Covey calls your Circle of Influence - a term that describes what you can do. Most people live within their Circle of Concern, which are all the limitations their situation imposes on them.

When you focus on the things you can do, then you inspire people to do more within their current reality. It also removes the artificial emphasis that has been placed on some undefined day in the future when everyone hopes things will be better.

Former US Navy Vice Admiral James Stockdale, a prisoner of war during the Viet Nam hostilities, noted that those who thought they’d be home by Christmas fared much worse than those who believed it would be longer and adjusted to that reality.

And so instead of framing everything as a temporary glitch, you need to do so in the longer-term. Explain not just how to cope, but also how to thrive within the current circumstances, whatever they are. If things get better sooner than expected, then that will be a nice surprise for you and everyone else.


Employee productivity increases when there are backup plans

Have you learned that employee productivity increases when there are backup plans? It’s true. When things don’t go according to plan, then they need to have a Plan B.

Armies always have a Plan B, and usually many more than that. No army wants to retreat, for instance, but you can bet that they have a plan to do it in an orderly fashion when it becomes necessary. The casualties that come with that are far less than they are in a rout.

Right now, it’s a bit like musical chairs. You never know when the music will stop, and so you have to be ready for when it does.


In this article, we looked at eight lessons that that you can learn which will increase employee productivity. If that’s your goal, then you need to take them to heart. You also need to carefully consider how to teach them to each manager in your organisation.

Change isn’t going away, and as recent events have demonstrated, the pace is likely to accelerate. Just because things seem relatively calm at the moment doesn’t mean that there isn’t another calamity just around the corner.

Use the time you have to prepare yourself and others for when that happens.


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