Business leaders who hold themselves accountable for the productivity of their organizations are constantly challenged to make sure the right things happen on schedule and on budget. From inboxes that are out of control to meetings that seem to go nowhere, every small-business owner wrestles with keeping people productive, while wondering if it is possible to get everything done with the resources at hand.
How do you keep your people focused on what is most important? Here are some thoughts.
Busyness is not productivity
Just because people are busy and actively working on things doesn’t mean they are working on what matters most. Oftentimes, employees think they are doing the right things but may not understand that priorities may have shifted. Keeping employees informed of changes in priorities is essential to keeping them focused on the tasks that matter most. Failures in communication of changes in priorities is a huge productivity drain that is 100% preventable.
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Tasks get results
A list of tasks that need to be completed is often the best way to keep employees productive. Once a task is done, it can be crossed off the list. This provides a sense of accomplishment that can accelerate productivity for some people. Breaking a major milestone down into a series of smaller tasks makes the work seem less daunting and makes the progress seem more real.
Deadlines create urgency
Every assignment needs a deadline. Conscientious employees don’t like to miss a deadline. Meeting a deadline is a victory, particularly for teams. Many tasks will languish until there is a need for them to be completed because there is always something more important. Every task should have a deadline. Employees are happier when they know what the expectations are before they receive an assignment. Happier employees are more productive.
Recharging is necessary
After a major push or a particularly stressful series of circumstances, people need a chance to recharge. Learning to recognize the beneficial stresses that make people stronger and the destructive stresses that break people down is an important leadership skill. Understanding that everyone has different capacities for stress is another capability leaders can develop to enhance productivity. Constantly stressed employees are not as productive as employees who come to new tasks with fresh energy. Make sure employees have a chance to recharge after particularly stressful projects.
Compliments have a huge ROI
After a deadline has been met, even though it is part of the job requirement, a show of appreciation for the effort involved creates a positive atmosphere and attitude for the next task. Employees know that when one task is done there will always be something to do next, but they will start that next task with more energy if they know their work is valued and appreciated.
Courtesy of Flickr user Sarah Reid licensed under CC BY 2.0.
Plan for the unexpected
No matter how much you plan, there will be unexpected things that happen. Someone will have a personal emergency at a crucial time in a project’s lifecycle or something unforeseen will impede progress. Experienced managers know to expect these events even though they don’t know in advance what they will be. Assess the situation, make a decision on how to handle the unexpected event and move on.
Agonizing over why it happened will not help the project move forward. Understanding why it happened and whether it might have been prevented only matters if you’re going to be doing exactly the same thing in the future. Keep your focus on the desired outcome and make sure everyone understands the required results.
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When it comes to employee productivity, past behavior is generally the best predictor of future behavior. After an employee has been on staff for a while, business leaders and managers know the employees they can count on to produce results.
Trying to change the behavior of employees who are not productive is almost always a waste of time. Everyone deserves at least a second chance to succeed, but sometimes an employee is simply not a good match for the job or the company.
If you’ve tried these techniques and can’t seem to make productive progress with an employee, it may be time for a new hire. One thing that saps productivity more than anything else is when great employees feel like they are carrying the load for slackers.