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Mastering Workplace Productivity: Essential Strategies and Tips

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If you google "how to improve productivity in a company," you'll find numerous articles promising that you can increase productivity in the workplace if you apply these 10 random productivity hacks.

However, it is often unclear how these tips relate and work together to increase productivity across the organization.

In this article we take a different approach. We begin with a definition of organizational productivity and how it is measured, then present best practices for HR and leaders to create a culture of productivity. We also present practical examples to help you get started.

What is productivity and why should you measure it?

One of the reasons productivity is so elusive for a company is that there is no consensus about what makes a company productive.

In a factory, productivity can be measured by how much employees can produce in a certain period of time. However, this is less straightforward in a knowledge economy where workers typically produce services rather than products.

One way is to calculate company productivity as revenue generated based on hours worked. The more money you make in less time, the more productive you are.

Although this is a logical metric for an organization, it can be difficult to translate this type of measurement to the employee level because a knowledge worker typically evaluates their personal productivity based on the number of tasks they check off their to-do list. However, for a company to classify this employee as productive, the tasks on this list must create value for the company.

If we define productivity as a way to optimize sales, you can understand why companies are interested in measuring it. Increasing revenue (and therefore higher productivity) is a sign of a healthy, growing company.

How to measure productivity

When considering how to measure productivity in your company, you should focus on the results that help you achieve company goals.

Depending on the type of business you have, you can measure sales, customer satisfaction, or time to production.

Determine what you want to measure

The first step is to determine what you want to track and, most importantly, why it's important to track it. How does the productivity indicator you choose relate to the company's goals?

To ensure your productivity metrics aren't just a shot in the dark, work with company leaders to establish a clear goal-setting process.

This process should align departments with desired goals and how they will evaluate progress toward those goals.

By setting goals and key results (OKRs), or SMART goals, companies are also accountable for making progress toward established priorities.

Employees can then see how the work they do every day connects to the mission and supports key milestones.

Develop a method for tracking metrics

A common mistake when setting OKRs is choosing key results that are too difficult to measure.

For example, if your stated goal is to track customer satisfaction, but assessing that satisfaction requires aggregating data points from various sources, you may not be ready for a key result in this area. Your time would be better spent cleaning up the various data sources to streamline the data collection process.

Alignment with cross-functional stakeholders could include developing and documenting a metrics glossary. Think of this as a data dictionary that gives stakeholders a common definition of what you are trying to measure and where the data comes from. For example, who counts as a user or subscriber? What time period will you use to measure engagement?

Although creating a glossary is a lot of work, I have seen companies achieve greater productivity through it.

Because the more time your team spends measuring, the less time they have to achieve business goals. The preliminary work to clean and organize your data and agree on common definitions will pay off in the long term.

Analyze the data and use it to identify possible improvement actions

Track results from quarter to quarter and use the data collected to identify opportunities for improvement and optimize your processes.

You can experiment and test hypotheses on a small scale, and if your tests are successful, you can scale the process change across the entire company.

For example, a recent study found that the use of generative AI could increase the productivity of knowledge workers by up to 35%, especially among entry-level and novice workers.

How you can improve productivity in your company

Some companies are tempted to judge their employees' productivity based on how long they work per week or how busy they appear to be (e.g. how many hours they show up at the office or what events they attend after work).

We saw this as many knowledge workers transitioned to remote work during the COVID-19 pandemic. Managers were no longer able to measure performance based on attendance, and the debate about how to define and measure employee productivity became lively again.

But does it matter how many hours employees work as long as they add value? Is it even possible to work productively for 8 hours a day?

IMHO probably not. Compare a factory worker who makes widgets to a product designer.

If you judge the designer by the number of designs he produces during a working day, but none of those designs are good, then you are wrong. All it takes is one successful design for a company to outperform its competitors.

But how can you predict how efficiently team members will complete their tasks? What is the difference between a superstar on the team and an average employee?

How do you create a healthy company culture that unleashes superstar potential in your workforce?

Provide clarity, responsibility and accountability

Define clear roles and responsibilities so that it is clear what priorities are set and who is responsible and accountable for what. This includes developing thoughtful job descriptions when hiring new employees, ensuring the hiring process is as fair as possible, and creating career paths for existing positions so employees know what they need to do to perform well and advance within the company. For advice, see The CRA of Leadership.

Show your employees that their work is important

Team members quickly become discouraged when they feel like their work is in vain. However, if they see how their daily tasks contribute to the company's goals, they will be more motivated to perform every day. Setting goals using OKRs is an effective way to achieve this.

Promote employee well-being

It almost goes without saying that ensuring mental and physical well-being through time off, dependent leave, wellness benefits, etc. will help team members reach their full potential and prevent burnout.

Additionally, research shows that employees crave intellectually stimulating work and have the freedom to choose how they want to do that work. Think about it: If you knew you had no control over the work you were given, why would you worry about how to do it better?

Remove impediments

Creating a productive work environment also means removing potential barriers to success and optimizing systems.

HR teams can create guidelines for how employees should use a company's technology stack (e.g., email or Slack) to limit context switching and use surveys to determine whether employees have the tools and resources that you need to work effectively. You can also create and maintain an information repository to support employee onboarding and minimize the time spent retrieving information.

Recognize your team

Recognition doesn't just mean monetary rewards - although appropriate compensation certainly helps! Recognition also includes career development opportunities, performance awards, or even just simple praise for a job well done. Here are some great ideas for employee recognition.

Finally, it is almost impossible to increase employee engagement and minimize the risk of burnout when there are no leaders.

You translate management priorities into operational plans and ensure coordination at the working level. They are also key to team development and retention.

And without proper training, you cannot have effective middle managers. Human resources must help your company develop a solid leadership training program so they can practice effective communication and develop into successful leaders.

Case Study: Improving Employee Productivity

There's a lot you can do to improve employee productivity, even if you're not a manager.

During my time as a strategy consultant, I led a team of 15 employees and focused tirelessly on employee engagement. In a 200-person pyramid, my team earned more than 50% of the promotions.

This is what my team did successfully:

  • I implemented a monthly motivation survey to gauge the pulse of employee engagement and leadership satisfaction and discussed the anonymized results with the team monthly to 1) normalize receiving feedback and 2) shorten the feedback loop for learning and action .
  • I prepared a weekly recognition email to recognize team members for their accomplishments and copied the entire leadership team. I made sure to recognize high-quality work, but also instances where team members delegate tasks, support each other, and care for their mental well-being.
  • I conducted regular weekly meetings with each of my direct reports to understand their concerns, coach them to improve their employee performance and build trust.

Employees felt supported without micromanaging, and they were incentivized to perform better because they felt their contributions mattered.

Join the conversation

How has your company implemented strategies to increase productivity? What challenges did you encounter?

Let us know in the comments or join the IceHrm, a supportive network of HR and business leaders committed to building organizations of the future.

Elevate your company's productivity with actionable strategies. Join IceHrm for more insights from HR and business leaders shaping the future.

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