8 business leaders on how to improve employee productivity

4 minute read
Maximising productivity in the workplace is a holy grail for businesses and never more so than in times of economic downturn. The People Space asked eight business leaders for their top tips on how to increase workforce productivity
Sian Harrington
Eight leaders on improving productivity
From left to right clockwise: Ryan Niddel, Michael Alexis, Shauna Moran, Jesse Meschuk, Zach Smith, Julia Voloshchenko, Pankaj Srivastava and Shaun Martin

Workforce productivity – the amount of goods and services that a group of employees produce in a given amount of time – is always at the fore in business but in challenging economic times leaders tend to question even more whether their employees are being productive.

Add to this the recent pandemic-forced move away from full-time, on-site working and subsequent introduction of remote or hybrid policies in many sectors, reducing leaders’ visibility into the work of their employees, and productivity is once again in the spotlight. 

According to a study by tech giant Microsoft there is a stark gap between how leaders and employees perceive workplace productivity.  While 87% of workers say they are productive at work, 85% of leaders say they the shift to hybrid work has made it challenging to have confidence that employees are being productive. According to Microsoft: “Many leaders and managers are missing the old visual cues of what it means to be productive because they can’t ‘see’ who is hard at work by walking down the hall or past the conference room.”

Worryingly, the research finds that 48% of employees and 53% of managers report that they’re already burned out at work. So how can leaders improve employee productivity without detrimentally affecting the wellbeing of their people? We asked eight top leaders for their tips.

1. Have fewer meetings and ensure those you do have are based around desired outcomes

As I have helped grow my company MIT45 from $5m to $75m a year in revenue and 10 employees to 100 employees, productivity is paramount. Productivity began for us by having fewer meetings and by ensuring that the meetings we were having were supported by agendas, timelines and desired outcomes that were strictly adhered to. Then we started recording the meetings both audio and video, having them transcribed with AI, and then shared with participants and non-participants with the action items that were created in the meeting. Another pivotal change we created was using asynchronous communication for internal dialogue. We use Voxer (a two way walkie talkie app) to communicate throughout the day. This allows for fewer interruptions and fewer misunderstandings that happen through email.

Ryan Niddel, CEO and founder of Ryan Niddel Strategies, is a principle in a private equity group, the CEO of two 8-figure companies and sits on the board of directors for several other companies

2. Manage in four-week cycles

My number one tip for boosting worker productivity is to manage in four week cycles. At the beginning of the period you assign the priority tasks that must be completed. Any other projects that come up in the interim are secondary to these mandatory ones. At the end of the four weeks the requirement is that all mandatory projects are completed to the expected standard. The reason this method is so effective is that it provides full clarity on what the priorities are, otherwise it’s easy to get lost in day to day distractions or other projects that come up.

Michael Alexis is CEO of TeamBuilding, #15 on the Inc 5000 list of the fastest growing private companies in America in 2022 and #1 for business services with clients including Apple, Amazon, Google, Johnson & Johnson, Netflix and Chipotle

3. Focus on quality over quantity and output over input

The key to productivity is understanding that our focus should be on quality over quantity and output over input. One of the most important skills for productivity is our ability to concentrate and focus – to work without interruptions and distractions. This is defined as deep work and although it sounds simple many working professionals aren’t getting dedicated time to deep work. Why? Oftentimes they are stuck in shallow work – endless meetings and emails, preventing them from doing the creative, strategic work that will actually move the needle on their output. Setting healthy boundaries, workload management, prioritization and blocking off specific times each week for focus time and deep work is a great starting point. Over time these habits become easier and productivity increases because we’re less proactive to the constant noise of the workplace and the world.

Shauna Moran is founder and managing director at Operate Remote, an award-winning executive coach and author of the Managing Employee Burnout, published in December

4. Reduce manual work by better utilizing existing technology and systems

Many companies are bracing for a recession amid financial authorities' efforts to corral stubborn inflation across a number of sectors. To get the most out of the team you have and keep them engaged and retained during this potentially turbulent time I suggest you:

  • Reduce manual work by better utilizing existing technology and systems, and allow existing staff to be better utilized 
  • Eliminate work or deprioritize efforts that have low value so staff is focused on what matters most
  • Break down organization barriers and think less about ‘roles’ and more about what work needs to be done – provide opportunities for people to stretch into new responsibilities (and provide the right rewards to do so)
  • Spend time with your team regularly: understand their concerns, communicate on the strategy and priorities, and solicit their ideas

Jesse Meschuk is a career and human resources expert and the principal and senior advisor with Exequity, which provides compensation consulting services to boards of directors and management teams

5. Set realistic goals

One of the biggest productivity killers is setting goals that are either too large or too small. If your goals are too large you may feel like you're never making progress. On the other hand, if your goals are too small you may get bored or feel like your work is pointless. To avoid these problems it's important to set realistic goals. This means breaking down larger goals into smaller, more manageable pieces. It also means setting deadlines so that you have a sense of urgency and don't get too complacent.

Shaun Martin is the owner and CEO of The Home Buying Company, which helps clients find, build, buy and create their dream homes and financial freedom

6. Let people drive decisions within their individual jobs

Every employee should be considered as a creator, and companies must encourage ‘imagining beyond work’ as a core component of culture to improve job satisfaction and productivity. Additionally, companies must learn to adapt by providing contextual knowledge and purpose while letting their people drive decisions within their individual jobs. Finally, the rapid pace of technological change and high customer expectations will drive the need for continuous reskilling and learning, which will also drive productivity among employees.

Pankaj Srivastava is CEO at people development platform MentorCloud.com

7. Implement more engaging employee motivation programmes

As the pandemic began, we saw a drop in employee motivation as well as employee attrition. We moved employees to a remote work format on an expedited basis, but the lack of personal communication, an unfamiliar work format for many, had a negative impact on work processes. Having analysed global practices we implemented a loyalty and motivation programme based on gamification. The employee performs actions that are not part of their direct duties and receives points (internal currency) for doing so, which they can spend on equipment or branded items in the company's internal store. Thanks to this programme, the company's corporate life has become brighter and the emotional and corporate cultures have also become brighter. Employees get positive emotions, which in turn is reflected in their productivity. There are three incentives in a gamification-based program: play, purpose and potential and these in turn increase productivity. The game element arises because people are motivated by the work process itself.

Julia Voloshchenko is PR manager at software development company Usetech

8. Develop your emotional intelligence
Emotional intelligence is more important now than ever. It has become significantly easier to miss the signs of disheartened employees, overworked teams or increased burnout rates. It is important to improve and hone your ability to observe areas of decreased morale, common struggles your team experiences and overall culture. Maintain close communication with your team through frequent check-ins to keep a pulse on everything. Ensure your team feels safe and comfortable bringing struggles or concerns up with you. If you feel that you’ll receive a more authentic, honest response anonymously, then hold monthly feedback surveys to ensure you remain up to date on areas of improvement for the team and culture. 

Zach Smith is chief activation officer at Activate 180, which helps people find meaningful career paths and create lives fuelled by passion and intention

Published 9 November 2022
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