Boosting employee productivity is a manager’s top priority. But how do you know when your team is not being productive – and how do you help each member reach their full potential?
The answers are not always clear, but I’ve provided you with a 5-step roadmap to increase the productivity of your team members in 2023, and help you be a more effective manager.
If you’ve decided to revive the lagging performance of your team, I’m about to show you how to create engaged employees who will achieve more with less – and will enjoy doing it.
(Related: How To Improve Team Performance & Cohesion).
What Is Workplace Productivity?
First, let me define what high workplace productivity means:
In other words, your team is hitting its most important goals without being overwhelmed with the little stuff.
Conversely, low employee productivity typically means:
What are some commercial and behavioural signs that your team suffers from low productivity?
- Missed deadlines.
- Low revenue per headcount.
- Hidden expenses.
- High employee churn.
- A lot of complaining.
- Unfinished projects.
Does any of this look familiar?
Why Most Managers Fail To Improve Productivity.
The Internet is full of BS advice about employee productivity, written by self-proclaimed “workplace experts” or journalists who have never built teams, or struggle to be productive themselves.
Listen to their platitudes, and instead of improving your workforce productivity, you’ll end up drowning your team in a blizzard of unnecessary meetings and HR fads:
- Conducting “pulse checks” that focus on “employee experience”.
- Identifying instances of “gaslighting”.
- Preaching about the importance of “sleep hygiene” and “work-life balance”.
- Reminding people to eat the free healthy snacks in the break room.
While all those have their merits, they also oversimplify the issues your team is facing – and will distract you from the real causes of underperformance.
Moreover, they’re often based on flimsy and contradictory evidence, taken from poorly designed “studies”. For example:
Steer away from the fads and gimmicks. Listen to people who have been in your shoes.
How To Increase The Productivity Of Your Team.
You can boost employee performance in dozens of ways, but the following five factors will provide maximum impact.
1. Create Clear Company DNA.
One of the biggest challenges at a growing company is keeping each employee excited about the work they’re doing.
When people understand how their work meaningfully connects to the company’s bigger picture, they tend to be exponentially more productive.
You do this by having clear and distinct company DNA that stems from your company’s vision, mission and values.
- Vision: defines your business’s impact on the world and gives it purpose
- Mission: quantifiable description of how you’ll achieve your mission.
- Values: principles that define what behaviours are rewarded and punished.
These are not marketing slogans that you write down once and lose in your bottom drawer forever. Rather, they’re evergreen principles that use to inform your recruiting, managing and firing decisions.
2. Hold People Accountable.
Defining workplace productivity standards and holding people accountable is a manager’s main responsibility.
Instead of setting and maintaining expectations, they’ll try to appear ‘nice’ – while complaining about how terrible their employees are behind their backs.
Worse, they’ll often set bad precedents by providing recognition for substandard work.
Shown above: Accountability is the glue between commitment and results. No accountability = no traction.
Think of accountability as the connection between your team members’ commitment and their results.
A strong manager will raise everyone up to the right level by setting clear expectations, and then hold them accountable using consistent feedback.
Ensure that each member of your team knows:
- Where they’re falling on the spectrum between low performance and ideal performance.
- What they need to do to make it higher.
3. Fire People Who Don’t Belong On Your Team.
You may have people on your team who are preventing others from achieving maximum productivity and are not responsive to coaching.
You’ve either inherited them from a previous manager or made a poor hiring decision yourself.
How do you know the person needs to go?
First, assess them through the lens of Vision, Mission and Values you created in step #1:
- Does the employee support the pursuit of the vision?
- Is the employee engaged in the mission?
- Does the person embody company values?
The answers are not always clear-cut “yes” or “no”. Employee engagement is always in a state of flux, so get comfortable with operating in grey areas.
I assess my hires through an additional 3-part checklist, which I borrowed from Naval Ravikant. In his view, you can’t compromise on:
To paraphrase Naval:
- You need someone smart, or they’re headed in the wrong direction.
- You need someone with drive because the world is full of smart, lazy people who don’t have big goals.
- Integrity is important because without it, you have a smart, hard-working crook who will eventually cheat you.
(Related: How To Write A Formal Warning Letter).
4. Upgrade Your Systems And Processes.
Growing companies need to continuously rebuild their processes. As a rough guide, you need to change all of your processes each time your headcount increases by 30%.
Where to start? Each company is different, but the two biggest culprits are:
- CRM: Do you have a sufficiently powerful CRM that acts as a “single source of truth” for the entire business? Hint: if your team members are hoarding information on their own spreadsheets, checklists and hard drives, the answer is probably ‘no’.
- Manuals: Does each role have a manual that a new hire can pick and learn from, or does the knowledge live in someone’s head? Manuals needed to be very detailed – to the point of describing where the light switches are on walls.
5. Eliminate Poor Time Management Habits.
Let’s shift gears and focus on personal productivity.
Highly productive people have certain productivity techniques that differentiate them from underperformers, and you must instil these in yourself and your team members.
Yes, these vary (e.g., some people like to get up early while others start late and finish late), but you can significantly boost productivity by eliminating a number of behaviours that almost universally let people down:
- Don’t start your day with email. I start my workday at 630, but I don’t open my inbox until at least noon – sometimes later. Focus on strategic work or most commercially tangible work first.
- Be more decisive. You’re much better off making an imperfect fast decision than deliberating forever to make a very, very, very good one. The 80/20 rule applies everywhere, including in decision-making.
- Don’t work on multiple tasks. Easier said than done! You prevent this by creating very clear objectives for your day. For example, I create a to-do list the night before, which states my non-negotiable goal for the day, plus 1-2 optional goals. I don’t finish until at least the primary goal is complete.
- Get better at saying “no”. Everything time you say “yes” to an opportunity, you’re saying “no” to another. Minimise distractions and focus on achieving one big goal.
- Welcome the grind. Boring work full of repetitive tasks is often a good sign. The journey to success isn’t Instagrammable, but temptation of “shiny object syndrome” is often the #1 killer of business success.
(Related: Top 21 Ice-Breakers For Zoom Meetings).
Bonus Productivity Tip 1: Offer More Support To Your Remote Workers.
Doo WFH or hybrid arrangements decrease or increase employee productivity?
The jury is officially still out, but I’m willing to wager that without the best practices I described above (DNA, Accountability, People, Processes and Habits), your remote workers are exponentially more likely to struggle with productivity than their in-person counterparts.
Recognise this and provide remote members of your team with additional support.
Shown above: why do most remote workers prefer to take their “WFH” days on either side of the weekend?
Bonus Productivity Tip 2: Upgrade Your Office.
Highly motivated employees happily endure shabby office environments in pursuit of their goals.
(In fact, founding legends of most successful startups have mentions of dilapidated apartments and dark garages).
Conversely, unmotivated employees remain unproductive even when showered with free food, Aeron chairs and ping-pong tables.
When your business is at the right stage, consider things like:
- Layout. Create an office layout that facilitates employee productivity through smart design choices. Cubicle layouts are great for service companies, while open plans are better for SaaS.
- Lighting. Daylight through big windows is amazing. Soft light from multiple sources is second best.
- Standing Desks. A nice perk that encourages movement throughout the workday.
- Ergonomic Chairs. An easy upgrade to your work environment that sends employees a message that you care about their long-term health. Mesh chairs improve the productivity of teams working in hot climates by preventing the dreaded sweaty back.
Final Words About Improving Employee Productivity.
When we do things that align with our values and our sense of our best self, we’re more likely to stay focused, more fulfilled and more productive. In fact, nine out of 10 people say they would be willing to take a pay cut in exchange for an opportunity to do more meaningful work.
A productive workplace begins with strong leadership. You must choose the right people, set clear targets and hold people accountable for achieving those targets, helping them save time and minimise distractions along the way.