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6 savvy steps to improve work productivity this year


It’s a new year, and that means it’s the perfect time to step back and get a fresh perspective of your team’s work productivity.  

After all, there are always areas for improvement. Utilize this slow period in the year to evaluate your work relationships, processes and procedures. After taking a retrospective view, you can implement incremental changes that will set the pace for the year to come.

As you consider what’s worked (and what hasn’t), here are some steps for thinking through how you can motivate, encourage and inspire the best from yourself and your team.

Step 1: Take ownership

Managers can fall into the trap of analyzing their team’s productivity without considering their own liability in the team’s successes and failures. Take ownership of the fact that you have faults, and focus on overcoming those shortcomings.

This shouldn’t be an exercise in beating yourself up. It’s about learning from your weaknesses and being open to self-improvement. Said another way: compare yourself to who you were yesterday, and strive to be a stronger leader tomorrow.

Consider which of your habits sap your productivity. Are you setting a poor example for your team? For instance, if you persistently multi-task and run from meeting to meeting, you may be spread too thin. You may not be allotting sufficient mental bandwidth to properly address your business’s needs.

Quality of work can suffer, and you can burn out.

By focusing on yourself, you breed success elsewhere. Incremental improvements in a manager can create a significant ripple effect among your team, because you’ve created an atmosphere where vulnerabilities are accepted. This leads to creative breakthroughs and coworkers being more supportive of one another.

Step 2: Allow healthy conflict

Be honest: Do you or your team members argue without listening to what others are trying to say? Tend to think you have all the answers? Take secret pride in a trigger temper that discourages discussion? Retreat into silence if your idea doesn’t win over the team?

This type of behavior wrecks productivity in the workplace. Working together requires healthy conflict. If you or your employees don’t know how to keep conversations productive, then your team’s ability to succeed will be squelched.

If you suspect you or a team member has some bad habits where conversation and conflict are concerned, don’t hesitate to get help for yourself or encourage better communication skills among your employees. Listening and productive conversation are learned skills that can be acquired or improved through coaching.

Step 3: Get buy-in for new goals

When it comes to setting specific goals for your team, it’s wise to avoid making unilateral decisions 100 percent of the time. Sometimes getting consensus about team goals can build buy-in and enthusiasm for what lies ahead.

If you’ve dictated all goals in the past, consider a change: Ask how your team thinks things are working before setting new targets. Find out if they feel like they’ve got the tools, training or experience they need to do their jobs well.

Listen and try to understand the points employees are making so that any new goals address their concerns.

Consulting your team about process improvements may also uncover areas for improvement that aren’t on your radar.

For instance, your accountant may have ideas to fine tune your invoicing system that will improve how quickly invoices go out. You’ve gathered vital information on a key process that impacts cash flow and can work with the accounting team to set defined, realistic goals for improvement.

Step 4: Be open to change

It can be difficult to admit when an investment in the business or a new process isn’t working and needs to be changed. It’s especially hard when large amounts of time and money have been spent.

But, if you’re committed to better productivity, it’s important to recognize failure and take steps to correct the situation.

Consider that open office you invested in just three years ago. Everyone loved the idea of more natural light and casual gathering spaces. But is the reality of working with no walls killing employee productivity? Has coworker conflict increased?

Rather than digging in your heels and insisting your employees work in an unproductive environment, offer solutions to appease their concerns. Maybe a third of your employees need walled offices for quiet, while others thrive in the open spaces.

Maybe those casual gathering places need walls so impromptu meetings don’t disturb the whole office. Being open to change will improve productivity.

Step 5: Trust your people

Trust is probably the most important element needed to improve employee performance. Employees want to feel like their leader trusts them to perform the assigned tasks to the best of their ability.

A strong manager sets clear standards, communicates goals and removes roadblocks. But they also trust their staff to accomplish what needs to be done. If you feel like a glorified babysitter, consider whether the real problem is your micromanagement.

Say Taylor comes in at 9:15 a.m. rather than 9:00. Do you write her up for tardiness? Or, do you stop to remember that you were copied on a batch of client emails she spent an hour answering from home before coming into the office?

Some managers find it hard to look at the quality and quantity of someone’s work, rather than whether the person is sitting at their desk at 9 a.m. sharp. However, if you focus on the work getting done, you’ll find that trust is the foolproof productivity hack you’ve been looking for.

Step 6: Review the basics

Business trends ebb and flow over time, but the basics of good management don’t change. This requires that you pay attention to the most common reasons why productivity suffers:

  • Do employees attend meetings all day, leaving no time to get work done? Can some meetings be eliminated? Can you give employees permission to skip meetings if they have a more pressing deadline?
  • Do multiple meetings leave staff with blocks of time too brief to get meaningful work accomplished?
  • Are employees thanked for their hard work and accomplishments?
  • Does your staff have the equipment and training that they need?
  • Are your productivity apps really helping?
  • Does your onboarding process support a new employee’s ability to ramp up quickly?
  • Are you measuring the right things?

A solid internal review of your own work habits, combined with a review of team productivity, can spur year-long results for you and everyone around you.

Learn how to be a better leader today. Download our free magazine The Insperity guide to leadership and management.