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Among the many goals of good leaders is helping their teams and employees realize their full potential. Effective managers are always focused on helping employees grow and ensuring that they achieve their short and long-term goals. A key component of doing this is helping individuals and teams become more productive.
Obviously, productive employees are able to accomplish more in less time. This leads to better outcomes for teams and reduced stress for employees. While everyone strives to be as productive as possible, it’s important to remember that productivity doesn’t just happen.
I spoke with John Fieldly, CEO of the popular beverage company Celsius, for his perspective on what it takes to build productivity. “Set clear expectations and revisit them often. No need to waste time on the issue of whether expectations are being met or not. Outline expectations and check-in for 10 minutes every two weeks. This is a two-way street. Team members need to know expectations of them, and also of you as their leader.”
In the context of management during the pandemic, I sat down with the media agency TeamWorks Media. Founder and CEO Jay Sharman explained his own views on productivity:
“I’m not sure there is one go-to strategy for increasing productivity, however, we’ve benefited when we focus on breaking down results into digestible, attainable component pieces. While easier said than done, goal-setting and regularly scheduled check-ins to address green/yellow/red progress are helpful in surfacing obstacles on the journey.”
Sharman added, “From a management perspective, it helps individuals and teams focus on the results and only rabbit holes into tactics when the colors change from one week to the next. During COVID-19, I believe the myth of work-life balance has been exposed. It’s forced me to include the personal side of colleagues’ lives into the equation. By being forced to be remote, the personal side of check-ins has become crucial to understanding one another’s worlds, perspectives, and optimal ways to work.”
With that in mind, managers should proactively work to build productive teams. Here are some practical ways leaders can do this.
Create a healthy work environment
Creating the right work environment is the first step towards helping teams be more productive. Research has shown that one’s work environment plays a major role in their overall efficiency and productivity. While it’s something that’s all too easily overlooked, the work environment impacts the way employees think, feel, and perform at work. This includes both the physical setting and workplace culture.
To help create the right environment, take the time to think about both physical spaces—is your work setting comfortable and inviting? Does it encourage collaboration? Whether your team is working in person or remotely, a healthy culture can help to improve performance. As a leader, you set much of the tone of what office dynamics and communications look like. Thus, leaders should consciously work to build teams where healthy and respectful interactions are the norm and where good communication is part of the culture.
Provide meaningful and regular feedback
A key to improving productivity is knowing areas where growth is needed. If your employees don’t know where they’re falling short on specific areas of growth, it’s difficult for them to address these issues. As a result, an important foundation for making your team more productive is conducting regular, constructive performance reviews and giving employees consistent feedback. Doing this will give you and your employees specific areas to focus on to improve their performance.
Seek feedback from team members
As part of your regular communications with employees, ask for their feedback about what they need. When seeking feedback, make sure that you’re asking specific questions, including what you can do to help employees and whether there’s anything they need to do their best work.
Often managers assume that employees will ask for anything they need, but often this isn’t the case. Asking for feedback allows your team to know that you’re there to help them in any way possible and that you’re there to collaborate. At the same time, it encourages healthy channels of communication that further build a healthy work environment that managers want.
Give teams ownership of their work
Micromanaging teams generally leads to decreased motivation and performance for employees. Instead of falling in this trap, let teams take ownership of their work and allow them to make their own decisions about how things get done. Doing this empowers your employees to find ways to improve their performance and lets them use their specific skill sets to complete tasks. While leaders obviously need to hold employees accountable, giving teams ownership of their work will improve their morale, motivation, and, ultimately, productivity.
Providing incentives for employees gives them something to work for and lets them know that their good work is noticed. A 2018 study by UK recruiting firm Genisis Associates indicated that as many as 85 percent of employees are more motivated to do their best work when an incentive is offered. There are many different types of incentives that leaders can offer, for example, an afternoon off, cash incentives, extra vacation time, or a lunch out. Managers should get creative about what incentives look like but should find ways to offer incentives to help further motivate their teams and recognize good work.
Notice and acknowledge great work
While incentives are helpful, sometimes the simple act of noticing and acknowledging excellent work can help drive employee performance. When employees go above and beyond and no one seems to notice, it has a negative impact on their overall morale and performance. In contrast, noticing excellent work and meaningfully acknowledging it can help to motivate all employees.
While privately letting employees know that you appreciate their work is helpful, public acknowledgment is also a great motivator for teams. These acknowledgments can be formal or informal, but managers should notice when employees are performing at a high-level and publicly celebrate that great work.
I spoke with Sarah Apgar for her perspective on this topic. Apgar is CEO and founder of FitFighter, a strength and conditioning system adopted from the fire service training regiment.
“Foster curiosity,” Apgar told me. “Every question and every conversation is an opportunity to get better. Call team members out to ask questions upon every gathering. Require the team to have inquiring minds and set this example yourself.”
Great leaders are able to help their teams constantly grow and become more effective. One key to this growth is improved productivity. As important as team productivity is, it’s something that doesn’t happen on its own. Instead, it’s the result of strategic actions by leaders and employees to help regularly improve performance and overall productivity. With this in mind, leaders should always be working to find ways to help their employees and teams become more productive.