Tips on how leaders can navigate productivity paranoia in a hybrid world

4 minute read
Only 12% of leaders have full confidence that their team is productive while 87% of employers report that they are productive at work, according to a study by tech giant Microsoft. A new leadership style is required to enable leaders to deal with this ‘productivity paranoia’ says Jeremy Campbell

Productivity paranoia

The workers think they’re doing just fine in the new hybrid world. Many bosses don’t. Activity metrics may have increased – hours worked, number of meetings, targets met. But 85% of bosses fear that productivity is not what it used to be in this ‘out of sight, out of mind’ new world of work. That is productivity paranoia in a nutshell.

Dig deep and at the heart of it all is a fundamental shift in leadership. Command and control is dead. A new style of leadership is required for the post-pandemic world. This new era is built upon empowerment, delegation, flexibility and the ability to trust and inspire. It’s a new way which challenges the styles of many leaders and makes them uncomfortable – especially those who thrived seeing teams together in the office and rallying the troops around stand ups and walking the floor.

So, how can we help leaders to deal with their productivity paranoia? How do they need to adapt to the hybrid world? Here are some tips.

  1.  Let go
     Leaders need to let go much more than they did in the past. First, they need to ask themselves “What does productivity paranoia tell me about my own insecurity?”. They need to become more comfortable about not being over their people. For those who might get a nosebleed at the very thought, there are several coping mechanisms. 

  2. Communication
    In a way there is now even more need for regular, effective communication with individuals and teams. The key is to get your team to take more responsibility for keeping the leader in the picture, rather than the onus always falling on the boss. It’s the trade off for flexibility in the hybrid world. Technology can help. Individuals and teams need to take charge of keeping their leader informed about triumphs and challenges. There is a vacuum which they have a responsibility to help fill. The dialogue and information flow needs to increase.

  3. Everyday actions
    It is the leader’s role to help the team define the big goals which you need to deliver. Once this is done the focus needs to shift to each individual defining the everyday actions they need to take to help the whole team move towards their targets. Clear everyday actions aligned to transparent measurement and reporting are the pillars of the hybrid world. We may not be able to see the people, but we’ve agreed the small actions they need to take, and we can see how they are progressing. It’s no longer the time that  is spent on a task which matters, it’s the results which are being delivered by hybrid teams. This is not only the medicine to cure productivity paranoia, it’s also the heart of performance improvement.
  4. Trust
    Trust is at the centre of productivity paranoia. Essentially, it says we don’t trust our people to do what they are supposed to do.  Trust is a two-way thing – whether it’s in our personal lives or our professional lives.  Leaders are wise to explore how to rebuild trust in teams in this hybrid world. It starts with keeping promises. Meeting deadlines. Delivering what you’ve agreed to deliver, both for the boss and for the team. Actively, work on building trust and then not only might the paranoia vanish but you may also see a step change in team performance.

  5. Get a coach
    Being a leader post-COVID is not the same as it was before the pandemic. The world has changed. In this new world the ability to trust and inspire is the key one in leadership. If this is not what you are used to, you need help to navigate your way too. Get a coach. The coach can work with you on how to adapt. No one should underestimate the degree of change in leadership that’s required to maximise performance in the hybrid world compared to the office life we used to know.

At Black Isle Group, we’ve been focused on helping leaders and their teams to navigate their way through the new working world. The more we do on this, the more we’re convinced that the answer to productivity paranoia, and many of the other challenges, lies in the focus on everyday actions.

We enlisted the help of Sarah Broadhead, a psychologist to elite athletes, including the double Olympic gold medallist in taekwondo, Jade Jones.  She told us that their key had been to focus on the process and not the big goal at the end of it. In other words, you take the dream of Olympic gold and break it down into the everyday actions needed to get there.

In the lead up to the London Olympics in 2012 this meant that Sarah and Jade would compile a list each week. It would cover what the teenage athlete would need to do around sleep, diet, stretching, strength, technique and many other things to move towards her dream of gold. It meant around a dozen specific actions each week. That translated into more than 50 small steps each month, more than 500 every year, and between 2,000 and 3,000 across an Olympic cycle.

At the end of each week, athlete and coach would review their progress and agree the small steps for the following week. On this eight-year journey to double gold they were constantly being distracted by things which could push them off course or break the new habits they were embedding. But the everyday actions brought them back on task.

We decided to take that methodology of our Olympic athletes and support it with an innovative, easy to use technology called Nudge. It sits on the smartphones and PCs of team members. Through the tech we nudge our clients to carry out those everyday actions which will take them closer to their goal.  It is constantly working to help individuals avoid distractions and stay focused on the key things they need to do.

We blend the Nudge tech with 10-week focused sprints and give everyone in the team a coach. We also use the tech and the coach to connect people. Through a highly sophisticated reporting suite we bring comfort to the bosses, giving them a real time view of what’s happening out there in the crescents and cul de sacs of the hybrid workplace. Those everyday actions and the visibility and accountability of the reporting tools are powerful cures for any productivity paranoia.

Take, for example, the managed IT and solutions provider, VCG. Following an acquisition they were faced with the challenges of bringing together two teams and two cultures while coming out of the Covid pandemic. They wanted to accelerate sales, increase employee engagement and deliver several behavioural changes across the business.

We brought the VCG team together to establish clear goals and to motivate and inspire them for their 10-week sprint. We worked with them to help create the right “everyday actions” to achieve their goals. We coached senior leaders and helped them peer coach their colleagues in the business.

We rolled out our Nudge technology so that the VCG team got daily reminders to keep them on track. They described our reporting suite as “gold dust”. Most of all it helped everyone maintain connection.

The results even took us by surprise. They put a stretch target on attracting new business into their sales pipeline and over-achieved that by 360%. Employee engagement went through the roof. They created a performance coaching culture, just like Sarah Broadhurst and Jade Jones.

The group head of sales at VCG, Jeff Wheeldon, said: “The numbers were superb. But the standout for me is seeing the inter-team coaching and support. That is what makes a team succeed together. There is no doubt this approach achieved much more togetherness.”

It is far too easy to dismiss productivity paranoia as the insecurity of leaders. It is much more than that. It points to a need to reinvent the way we lead and the way we maximise performance in the post-Covid world. It reveals that the tools and styles we used before are not fit for the future. Maybe they weren’t fit for the past.

With a focus on trusting, inspiring and concentrating on everyday actions leaders can move forward with confidence and release the potential in their teams and banish productivity paranoia once and for all.

Jeremy Campbell, pictured below, is people & business transformation expert and CEO of Black Isle Group

Jeremy Campbell, people & business transformation expert and CEO of Black Isle Group

Published 9 November 2022
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