All companies want to improve employee productivity, but how often do they examine their own management practices as a means of attaining it? Studies consistently show that a disturbingly high number of non-management employees are disengaged, not working at full productive capacity. Following are 7 practical suggestions – steps management can take to improve productivity by putting employees in a more productive mindset.
Design economic incentives so employees at all levels of an organization can benefit from them. There’s a natural tendency for management to focus most heavily on senior-level economic incentives. While this is completely understandable, it’s best not to neglect substantive incentives for lower-level employees… that is, if you expect them to be vigorously committed to an enterprise’s success. To the argument that this will be unduly costly, a program has to be carefully structured, of course, so additional payouts reflect clearly defined revenue and/or earnings targets.
Provide meaningful feedback in a constructive manner on a regular basis. Feedback is a foundational management skill; the ability to provide regular, helpful feedback to employees in a manner that encourages, not discourages, is a cornerstone of effective management. That’s not to say feedback is always positive – that wouldn’t be management at all – but that the communication is done thoughtfully… whether the occasion is encouragement for a job well done, or that course correction is needed.
Respect employees as individuals, in addition to the job they do. Respect can be a simple but powerful motivator, just as its unpleasant twin, lack of respect, has the opposite effect. When employees feel genuinely respected (always assuming it’s warranted), they’re much more likely “to go the extra mile” to help a company succeed.
Be sure management at all levels of an organization receives adequate training. There’s a tendency for companies to invest heavily in “leadership training” while focusing far less on supervisors and middle managers. I can readily speak from experience on this one, having received considerably more training and development opportunities in the latter stages of my career than in the early formative stages, when I most needed it.
Provide support for employees when it’s genuinely needed. Valued support can take many forms: equipment when existing is outdated or inefficient; emotional support in the face of (occasionally) unfair criticism; flexible support for a reasonable level of work-life balance. Management support in times of need won’t be forgotten; it builds employee goodwill and loyalty.
Don’t be emotionally stingy. There’s nothing for management to gain by withholding praise and recognition when it’s warranted. A recent employee study I came across indicated that recognition is often a more powerful motivator than money. While this may well be less true at senior levels as financial rewards escalate, this post is focused on general employee productivity…where the broadest gains can be made.
Ensure senior leadership models behavior that makes the rank-and-file proud to be part of the team. Nothing demoralizes employees more quickly than seeing senior leaders act in a way they don’t respect, and few things energize employees more than a senior team they admire. Leaders are always being watched and judged; employees have keen eyes (and are keen data sharers!). When leadership is “walking the talk,” it will be quickly noted – but so will “talking the walk” without actually walking it.
To help boost productivity, employee engagement matters. Ultimately, most employees would much rather be part of a team they’re committed to, not just a member of an organization. Developing and maintaining a consistent management approach that engenders esprit de corps is a key link in the productivity process.
Such management – balancing appropriate levels of results-orientation with understanding of employee needs – is neither easy nor unattainable.
It’s also the thread from which the cloth of day-to-day productivity gains are made.
This article first appeared at Forbes.com.
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