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15 Ways To Improve Employee Productivity

With the global economic and financial challenges, and the attendant toughening business environment in almost all jurisdictions around the world, organizations or teams must operate in the most effective and efficient ways in order to remain relevant, avoid business failure, and in fact have a good chance of gaining the competitive edge.

Great organizations are built by great people. Every organization recognizes this; hence, the popular saying that “our people are our greatest assets”. But whether these organizations match their words with actions leaves much to be desired.
Smart and forward-looking organizations all over the world pay close attention to ways they can improve the productivity and performance of their employees. When people are effective, well-motivated, and properly engaged, productivity improves, creativity and innovation flourish, and business objectives are better achieved.
Productivity may be defined as an economic measure of output per unit of input (Investopedia). And labour productivity (output per worker or per hour worked) is one of the simplest and most commonly used measures of productivity – especially in service firms. When human capital is considered, productivity is a function of a refreshed and energized brain, heart, and mind, among other factors.
With my almost two decades of work experience in world-class organizations as well as my deep personal studies of both prosperous and not-so-prosperous organizations, I offer here a few quick suggestions on ways business or team leaders can improve the productivity of their people, and drive greater business success.

1) Share Your Vision: Well-articulated and shared visions provide great direction and inspiration for team members, and hence, drive improved productivity. To ensure that employees or team members are aligned with the purpose and direction of the organization, a clear understanding of the vision is very key. And vision statements need not be complicated. They must simply state where the organization or team desires to be in the medium to long term; or what they want to become.
It is important that employees share in or buy into the organization’s vision. This can be facilitated by involving them in the development of the vision, or in regular reminders and discussions about this vision in most interactions within the organization – team meetings, performance review sessions, project committees, etc.
The vision statement must not just be a fashionable stuff hung at important corners in the organization. It must be translated to a living document guiding organizational behaviour, attitudes, work processes, policies, structures, and even job descriptions. Timely reviews are also very important.
When employees do not share in a vision or simply do not align properly with the vision, success would be far-fetched.

2) Set Inspiring Goals: Goal-setting strongly supports and flows from well-articulated vision statements. Every employee must understand clearly what is expected of him or her everyday at work. Goals must be specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound (SMART), and must support the achievement of not just short-term business objectives but also the long-term vision.
Again, employees must be made to participate actively in the goal-setting process to ensure everyone takes ownership of his or her own goals, and understands the rewards that follow their achievements or otherwise. With clearly set and inspiring goals, no employee is in doubt what is expected of him.

3) Promote Sound Organizational Culture: Organizational culture captures the subtle, elusive, and largely unconscious forces that shape a workplace. An organization’s culture usually flows from its core values, belief systems, basic assumptions, and behavioural patterns which may or may not be written down. In fact, most organizations deviate from their desired standards of behaviour enshrined in their corporate philosophy, and end up creating an environment where staff are fearful, abused, and demotivated.To be effective, organizations must regularly assess their pervasive culture and their impact on business results. Sound organizational culture must include the enthronement of merit, fairness, honesty, accountability, friendliness, and a host of other positive attributes that promote good team work, and the building of healthy relationships.

4) Develop Employee Capacity: Every organization seems to understand the need to train and equip employees with the right skills, knowledge and competence to execute their jobs effectively, but not every employer has the guts to make the right investments in this direction. Various research works have clearly proven that organizations which properly train and develop their employees achieve greater success – sustainable performance, operational leadership, improved results, and so on.Yet, many CEOs or team leaders fail to make the right investments in employee development for various flimsy excuses. Budget cuts or cost-cutting measures usually start from the training budget, quite unfortunately. Poorly trained employees lack the power to out-do competitors even in the face of economic uncertainties.
Developing employee capacity must involve a combination of various activities and practices, including: regular team or in-house training and reviews; external training interventions (local and international); sponsoring employees to attend seminars, conferences, workshops, and networking events; secondments to other companies; granting study or sabbatical leaves; encouraging professional certifications; and volunteering employees for training and education activities; among a host others.
When you fail to develop your employees, you have no moral obligation to demand the best from them.

5) Deploy Appropriately: There is nothing as unproductive as deploying employees to roles or functions where their major strengths cannot be utilized. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses, and most people perform better in roles where their strengths are most easily deployed to get things done.For proper deployment of employees, business leaders must ensure adequate interactions with prospective and existing employees in order to better understand their core talents and  competencies as well as their key development areas.

6) Reward Innovatively: In order to drive employee engagement through adequate motivation, organizations must be innovative with their reward systems. While paying competitive salaries and allowances remain a very critical aspect of good employee motivation, smart companies must adopt other uncommon but effective reward systems depending on the culture, personality types and the prevailing needs of their people.Performance-driven bonuses; surprise bonuses; allowing days off work; sponsoring family trips and holidays; having lunch or dinner with the CEO; appreciation letters; awards and recognitions; as well as sponsorship to foreign seminars, workshops and trainings are all smart new ways to reward today’s employees and enhance productivity.

7) Create A Friendly Work Environment: People generally spend most of their active days and hours at the workplace. So, fostering a work environment where people feel happy, accepted, safe, inspired and positively challenged helps energize the mind and the heart of employees, and hence, enhance productivity. Teamwork and team spirit are important elements of a friendly work environment. Team leaders must ensure everyone does real work and are held mutually accountable for the collective work product. They must also ensure fair and reasonable distribution of resources in the team.Team building activities must include ways to make employees bond effectively as well as some family events that enable employees’ families get together in a fun environment. This promotes friendliness amongst team members, reduce conflicts, minimize feelings of vulnerability, and empower employees to be the best they can be at work.

8) Empower Them: Giving employees the authority or some level of freedom to take certain decisions or actions without management intervention could make all the difference in promoting operational leadership and service excellence – especially in service organizations like hotels, hospitals, financial institutions, restaurants, telecom companies, etc. This does not only reduce unnecessary bureaucracies, redundancies, and delays but also improves the ability to recover bad service situations – allowing responsive approach in dealing with customer issues.Empowering employees is, however, not a decision that must be taken carelessly. It requires trust, confidence and belief. It must follow a proper selection, orientation, training/coaching, and motivation of employees. An engaged employee who is empowered is a driving force for progress and prosperity of any organization.

9) Encourage Annual Leaves: Many companies make it difficult for employees to go on their annual leaves, and, in fact, sometimes pay them allowances in lieu of their annual leave days. This is not only a killer of productivity but also a poor risk management practice in organizations.  Human beings are not machines; even machines take time off for maintenance! Working for a long period without leave days or rest is really a sure way to encourage mediocrity and ineffectiveness – stifling innovation and creativity. The human brain needs some recreation and relaxing in order to produce great ideas and solutions.
Smart companies ensure every employee takes his or her annual leave. No carry-overs – except in rare or peculiar circumstances which must really be an exception. Other kinds of leave days (exam leave, sick leave, maternity leave, casual leave, etc), when appropriately used would also enable employees be their best whenever available at work.

10) Improve Work Style: In pursuit of excellence and market leadership, employees are expected to work hard, no doubts. But working long hours and weekends must not be a regular stuff. Many organizations drive their employees crazy (like slave-drivers) by making them work long hours every day, and even during weekends. This is a recipe for ineffectiveness.Ironically, various studies and reports have proven that the world’s most productive economies (like Germany) actually work less hours per day than most other economies. The key issue is: how much work is really involved in the working hours? When an employee is at work, they should be doing nothing else apart from their work. And the work being done must be meaningful – connected to the overall business objectives of the firm.
Many organizations where workers “sleep” in the office may be shocked to find out that the work hours are actually seriously interrupted by frivolous activities like facebook and other social media activities, office gossip with co-workers, private stuff, faking work, phone calls, playing of computer or card games, among others. And the work systems are powered at high energy costs while these unproductive activities fester.
Smart organizations and their leaders must encourage employees to have some life outside of their work. Work hours must be work hours, and off hours must be off hours. Adopting flexible work hours is also becoming common as a means of encouraging employee engagement and improving overall productivity.

11) Resolve Conflicts Promptly: Conflicts are common with every human system. Due to the divergent interests, goals, and demands by different teams, people and groups in an organization, conflicts are bound to occur. Differences in values, beliefs, and culture; work intensity; scarcity of resources; high stress levels; uncertainties; inconsistent leadership; and poor communication are among a few other factors that escalate conflicts in organizations.While conflicts may have some positive effects, in an organization’s work dynamics, improperly resolved conflicts can result in reduced productivity, among other negative effects. It is therefore important for team conflicts (intra and inter) are resolved promptly and properly in order to eliminate the negative effects on productivity.
Whether corporate leaders choose to resolve a conflict by competing, collaboration, compromising, avoiding or accommodating, it is important to separate people from the problems, and also to focus on interests, and not on positions. Promptness in resolving conflicts helps improve their positive effects in building organizational capabilities.

12) Make Meetings Effective: One of the key challenges faced by many organizations in managing their time and improving effectiveness is in the management of meetings – especially team and company-wide internal meetings. Many organizations spend a lot in organizing meetings – travel costs, travel time, meeting hours, entertainment cost, etc. And while some of these meetings may be necessary for driving performance, many times, people who are not necessary in meetings are invited. Not to talk about the unnecessary long hours spent in internal “rantings”. Many companies spend time “engaging” themselves instead of the customers, and yet expect to build customer intimacy and improved business outcome.Smart companies and leaders must ensure meetings are necessary, and that only important personnel are invited to relevant meetings. Prepare and circulate an agenda for meetings, and stick to these agenda. Encourage active participation of all invitees, and close meetings timely to enable employees get on the real job of serving customers and getting things done.
Where necessary, adopt virtual meetings through tele/video-conferencing or via other technology-enabled meeting platforms.

13) Encourage New Ideas: Many organizations spend a lot of money in acquiring key talents but unfortunately these talents are not encouraged to bring up new ideas. When employees are not allowed to share their ideas freely – perhaps, due to fear of being victimized or rejected – innovation and creativity take the back seat while mediocrity and backwardness prevail. Without injection of fresh ideas and solutions in an organization, productivity suffers.Business leaders must foster an environment where employees are encouraged to speak up at meetings or strategy sessions – especially on issues that affect the work they do.

14) Enable Technology: In today’s business environment, technology has continued to be a major driver of productivity and process improvements in organizations. From information systems, data mining and analytics, big data, automations/robotics, simulations, systems networking, digital platforms, and a host of others, smart companies or organizations are deploying technology in assisting their employees to achieve much more with less efforts.

15) Provide Great Leadership:  Everything rises and falls on leadership (John Maxwell). Many organizations fail due to ineffective management of people and resources occasioned by bad leadership. Leadership challenges include: developing a vision; motivating others; setting agendas and timetables; securing resources; and the need to follow-through; etc

Leadership development and the institution of management best practices are critical to enabling employees perform better and become more productive in their work. Great leadership inspires people to do more, achieve more and become more.

Overall, no organization can be at its best without improving employee productivity. While productivity improvement depends on several intrinsic and extrinsic factors, I strongly believe that the ideas shared in this article, when properly applied in any organization, would surely lead to improved productivity, and the achievement of the firms’ overall business objectives.


Written by 

Orji Udemezue, CEO of Flame Academy & Consulting Limited

September 2017