Last week, we went into depth about workplace productivity, the various definitions, factors, and effects of a productive workplace. In this post, we want to focus on the top-level decisions that influence workplace productivity. We’ll cover the main factors to watch, as well as the top strategies to implement in your own company.
The Top Productivity Drivers
What are the main drivers of productivity? To effectively improve workplace productivity, we first need to understand what goes into productivity. We’ve covered five of the top productivity drivers in our guide already, but we wanted to recap these concepts, as well as cover two new drivers:
A 2014 Partners in Leadership study on workplace accountability found that 9 in 10 employees believe accountability to be one of the top development needs of an organization. And yet in the same study, 82% of respondents said they did not have the power to hold others accountable. Without accountability, processes are left unfinished, quality becomes a secondary priority, and companies quickly fall apart.
American author John C. Maxwell once said, “If you’re proactive, you focus on preparing. If you’re reactive, you end up focusing on repairing.” Training your team to anticipate problems before they happen is invaluable in the grand scheme of things. When your team is proactive, you waste less time fixing and explaining things, and more time delegating tasks to the right people. Proactivity is also the answer to why gainful employment is important— individuals that are given pay and benefits consistent with the challenge of their work and the breadth of their experience tend to go the extra mile.
Imagine how much more productive an accountant can be when they have access to high-speed Wi-Fi and a modern laptop compared to using just a pen and a notebook. With the advances in the 21st century, technology has dramatically cut back on the waste and inefficiency of the industrial revolution, from manufacturing to marketing. Ask your team if they have all the necessary tools to accomplish their work.
Despite what some may have you believe, no one made it entirely on their own. At some point, we either had to borrow from others or stand on the shoulders of those before us. Even “self-made” entrepreneurs take inspiration from their predecessors and rely on partners, contractors, and interns to build their empire. Collaboration allows us to save time and money in our pursuit of greatness. It enables us to breed creative solutions by asking the right questions. Collaborative and team-building opportunities and company outings are key to understanding motivation and setting realistic goals.
Startups can only go so far. Eventually, they must develop process documents and organizational hierarchies to maximize their output. Take an advertising agency, for example. At the start, the agency may improvise their approach to design and development, but by the time they sign their second or third client, they should begin to develop guidelines for their creative work, streamlining the overall process and ensuring a higher bar of quality.
Understanding how productivity is calculated
The importance of measuring productivity cannot be ignored— measurement is necessary for understanding how to begin improving productivity. But with so many factors, input and outputs for a variety of business types, planning a calculation may not be as straightforward.
First, all you need to know is productivity is a measure of output against the input. Here’s what the equation looks like:
Productivity = Output / Input
This equation can differ depending on the nature of your business. If you produce and manufacture stuffed animals, for example, your output may be units produced, and your input could be the number of employees at your factory.
But of course, productivity isn’t always as straightforward as that, so we recommend that you use a multifactor view of productivity. So far, we have talked about productivity keeping only one input type in mind, usually labor or capital. But if you think about most businesses, there are several inputs involved. They may include capital, labor, energy (material or gas), materials, and services.
So instead of measuring output against one input, multifactor productivity measures output against multiple inputs, providing a more accurate view of productivity. The greater the multifactor productivity, the higher the efficiency, leading to better client relationships and stronger customer loyalty.
It’s also crucial not to forget who to measure. Breaking down performance management by the individual can paint a more comprehensive view of your organization. You can then determine which individuals need to become more efficient, and which should be rewarded for their contribution.
Be careful not to measure productivity using wages, however. High wages can be problematic as workers may not be producing enough to cover their rates. Instead of using dollars per hour (money to time), use labor dollars per product. Also known as labor cost per unit, this figure can assist you in pricing and managing your margins, as well as observing the variations in your direct labor costs.
Next week, we will go into more depth about calculating productivity.
Top strategies to increase productivity
With the fundamentals and equations in mind, how do we implement these changes within the workplace? Instead of providing just a few general tips, we want to go in-depth with the most effective strategies in use by the top companies today.
Build a system of accountability
Apple had a system of accountability that companies like Flipboard take inspiration from today. Entrepreneur, Dave Bailey suggests creating a system with three main components: clarification, proactive planning, and follow-up. These three components can cut down on “limbo time,” the time in between recognizing critical issues and addressing them. Other companies rely on frequent performance reports from managers or through project management software.
No matter what system you end up developing and using, ingrain it into the mindset of your team. All important tasks begin and end with accountability. Otherwise, priorities are left unchecked, and the team is left in total confusion. Make team employees accountable for every task and project they touch, and to create self-imposed deadlines.
Update technology for efficiency and ease of use
Remember walking into the DMV and seeing a long line of tired, annoyed faces? Don’t blame the people; in many cases, workers are making do with the environment and tools at their disposal. Processes may be dependent on dated, proprietary technology.
Don’t let your team suffer from the same challenges; listen to discover bottlenecks in existing processes, oversights in data, and brainstorm a few tech-oriented solutions. It may require outfitting the office with more modern computers or licensing a productivity tool. Consider using communication tools like Slack that help you message team members more efficiently, or project management apps like Asana that allow you to track time on tasks and provide limits to specific budgets.
Technology can also present potential implications, particularly smartphones and social networks. Each company has the right to handle these topics on their own, but an outright ban is not always the most realistic. Don’t prohibit social media; instead, encourage responsible use through friendly reminders.
Update the office design
Just as technology can make all the difference with productivity, so too can office space design. Observe the spaces you use today. Does it give off a professional appearance? Does it reflect your brand’s culture? Is there enough space for your team to do their work? Asking these types of questions and receiving input from the team members using it can give you a better idea of areas for improvement.
We believe the most effective spaces allow teams to work efficiently. That’s why we recommend spaces that offer flexibility and mobility, allowing your team members to collaborate on a project, or work on their own. It’s essential to maximize the natural light in your office space, especially if you live in more northern regions where winter brings extended hours of dark skies. We cover a few more useful tips on creating more ideal workspaces in our post, Workspace Design and Productivity.
Promote values that lead to productivity
Culture is such a crucial aspect of a company’s longevity. With the right values and vision, both existing and future hires can feel a sense of belonging and purpose. But failure to define or act upon those values, and your team will be less cohesive as a single unit.
At the same time, it’s important not to push productivity as the focus of the culture. Companies that approach business through a “results at all costs” lens can create miserable work environments.
Instead, focus on the values that make your team happy and proud to work each day. Implement a culture of self-improvement and promote wellness and mindfulness. Improve cultural fit by recruiting team members that not only exhibit these values but also add to the overall culture. Social network Bumble’s core values are “kindness, accountability, equality, respect, and growth.” Ridesharing app Lyft writes its core values as “Be yourself,” “Uplift others,” and “Make it happen.” Which of these values most resonate with your own core beliefs? How will you prepare the next batch of new hires to align with your values?
Improve skills with training
Training is the most effective way to instill the importance of productivity. According to go2HR, 40% of employees with inadequate training leave their jobs within the first year. And it makes sense: why struggle through confusing processes and objectives when you barely know what you’re doing in the first place?
Take a look at the roles and responsibilities of your team. Do they warrant further education and training? For example, marketing managers may need a few demos with their CRM software before they can feel comfortable using it themselves. Or new hires may need some guidance on the best practices that are already commonplace within the company.
Delegate, then teach others to delegate
In a restaurant, the executive chef does not do all the cooking; otherwise, orders would back up, and customers would eventually leave. Instead, he has a sous chef that helps him perform tasks while he is away, as well as a crew of line cooks and prep chefs that can carry out each task. As a result, they can take care of more orders at once, with decreased risk.
The same is true for a business. As an entrepreneur or manager, you cannot be doing everything yourself; that is why teams exist. Instead, do your best to keep everyone in check.
Not sure how to delegate responsibly? Look into the 70 percent rule. As Inc explains, “if the person the CEO would like to perform the task is able to do it at least 70 percent as well as he can, he should delegate it.” Of course, it may not be as perfect as the CEO would like, but the resources gained are time and efficiency. Focus on concise communication, and you’ll be able to convey your thoughts more clearly and efficiently.
Decrease the time and number of meetings
Meetings can be useful for initial conversations, check-ins, and reports. But meetings are not always a productive use of time. Many of them can last up to 3 hours long, and with several people in the room, it can result in countless labor hours wasted.
Fortunately, there are a few alternatives to time-consuming meetings. FAQ sheets and videos can help cut down on common questions and concerns. Email threads, phone calls, or just direct conversation can cut an hour-long discussion into a quick conversation. Try remote working meetings too, where people can dial in or video call instead of being stuck in a single room.
No business can ever truly avoid meetings, but if you must have them, make sure you keep them brief and focused. Check out The New York Times’s guide on How to Run a More Effective Meeting.
Start with the people
With all this talk of results and productivity, it’s very easy to lose sight of the most valuable asset: the people in your team. You start to look at numbers and rates and forget about the humans doing the work, with their struggles and aspirations. The knee jerk reaction may be to fire and find a better replacement.
But if you invest in your team, if you genuinely listen to their pain points, then you may find yourself in a position to help them too. Perhaps they may have had a recent death in the family, and as a result, their work has been suffering and may need time off. Or maybe they have a family that has lost a home in a recent calamity. No matter the reason, your company can choose to react humanly or as a cold corporation. You can always increase morale by encouraging self-care or offering a more flexible work schedule, whereas letting go of someone is the closing of a door.
These strategies all share a common thread: engagement.
By engaging your employees and making them feel valued and important, productivity can become a natural process in the workplace. It doesn’t take expensive campaigns or a comprehensive benefits package. Empower and engage your team. Try any of these strategies, and you may start to see a subtle shift in how your team performs.
What strategies do you use to ensure your team stays productive? Let us know on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram, and we’ll share the best responses.