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Unlocking staff productivity in 2021

Jan 08, 2021

Coming back to work after the holidays is always challenging, this year especially. How can we inspire our staff to be more productive amidst the January blues? Anne Phillipson explains.

Crack! That’s the sound of the spines of new 2021 diaries being opened across the island as employees face the new year with the same determined optimism that students embrace (at least for a few weeks) at the start of every term.

In business, we may set new strategic objectives aligned to corporate strategy at this time of year, asking our team members to set personal objectives for 2021. But the start of this new year is unlike any other. As leaders look at the challenging landscape, they will understandably want to ensure – now more than ever – that everyone in the organisation is as productive as possible.

Productivity describes various measures of the efficiency of production. Back in the industrial revolution, this was much easier to measure. It was easy to count the widgets coming off the line, or the number of units produced per person per year. But productivity is a noisy measure when it comes to knowledge workers. If productivity used to mean getting more things done each day, it now means getting more important things done consistently. As the great business guru Peter Drucker said, “There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.”

How can leaders unlock their employees’ productivity and create the best possible environment for them to thrive? Here are three suggestions that should help.

1. Prioritise

Make sure that your team knows what is most important. This might seem straightforward, yet I am willing to bet that if I interviewed ten of your employees, I would get a range of answers to the question: “What are the three most important priorities right now?”

For everyone to be crystal clear on the priorities, leaders must communicate consistently. It is always tempting to do the ‘urgent’ at the expense of the ‘important’, so make sure that important activities get priority. Regular check-ins with your people will help, as will progress updates on priority objectives.

2. Remove friction

Ensure that people have the resources they need to get the job done. Find out what your employees need to make it easier for them to do their job, and then act on the responses. Maybe a process slows people down, or a clunky system could be simplified. Or perhaps they need a computer upgrade or training. Whatever the friction, it’s imperative that you take action to make your employee’s life easier, thereby removing a barrier to productivity and building trust with the team, so they know that you take their feedback seriously.

3. Agreed measurement

Too often, bosses equate hours in the office with productivity. Those same bosses are now anxious that nobody is in the office – if they can’t see people, they feel that it is impossible to know how productive they are.

However, if people are clear on the priorities, with clearly defined and agreed outputs, and have the tools and resources to do their jobs, bosses will have to trust their people to get on with their work. Isn’t that why you hired them in the first place?

Anne Phillipson is a Director of People & Change Consulting at Grant Thornton NI.