Updated: Jan 14
People are unquestionably a business’s most important asset in determining its future success. The potential for greater productivity per head is always there but how do we tap into it successfully without alienating, exploiting, and losing our people? Our success depends entirely on how much effort we invest in understanding and responding to our people’s real needs as much as our own. Here are recommendations to increase productivity:
1. Act in real time
If we want our people to be more productive, we must act now and decisively. Never mind about tomorrow’s leaders and managers – what about today’s? Strive to understand them better, engage with them as equals, inspire purpose, encourage development, provide motivation and practical coaching to help them achieve more than they ever thought possible.
2. Cumulative marginal gains
Instead of trying to make an instantaneous quantum leap in your people’s productivity overnight, apply the principle of marginal gains theory. Plan and implement small but significant improvements in every aspect of your business that will have a positive impact upon your people’s daily working lives. The cumulative effect of this investment will get noticed, be appreciated, and rewarded in productivity benefits
3. Become a purpose-driven organisation
Organisations must become purpose-led businesses so their employees can see they actually “walk the walk” not just “talk the talk”. To convince and motivate them, companies must make sure their practices are fully aligned with their stated purpose. There are five steps to becoming a purpose-driven business. These are -
• Get the owners and directors on board. Change the articles of association to reflect that the business is now about benefiting all stakeholders with a clear stated purpose.
• Embed purpose at all levels of the company so it is communicated from the bottom up, not top down.
• Give employees permission to challenge their leaders if they feel that they have moved away from the purpose of the company.
• Base hiring and promoting on values so your employees can have confidence in your decisions.
• Be transparent in your annual reports and in relation to the measurement of your values. Employees crave fulfilment by working for purpose-led organisations. Give them meaningful work with purpose and they will reward you with loyalty, motivation, and enhanced productivity.
Let every voice be heard in the company. Engagement means asking for input and opinions on key issues and listening to the replies. Employees must be encouraged and allowed to question and challenge their leaders more. Not just about the purpose and direction of the company but also more practical matters like workspace, working hours, holidays, etc. We need to involve our people and be involved with them and their lives.
Actively foster more flexible work arrangements, greater remote and home working. Be more flexible about working hours and holidays. Provide more digital communication to reduce meetings and implement more family-friendly policies. This makes organisations more attractive both in terms of recruitment and retention because this is what workers want. It also cuts the number of lost days due to stress related sickness and reduces tiredness from excessive commuting. It even alleviates traffic congestion and helps the environment through reduced pollution and carbon emissions. A win-win all round.
6. Strength-based culture
Develop a strength-based corporate culture that focuses on, builds, and celebrates people’s different strengths, while identifying and marginalising their weaknesses. Abandon the outdated annual review in favour of frequent, constructive interventions, regular appraisals, and informal two-way feedback sessions. Demonstrate that the company has a policy that listens and acts on what it hears. Add to that a clear indicator that no judgment will be passed, and you have the foundation for a truly loyal and empowered workforce.
7. Welcome to the team
It is time to change the traditional workplace. Tear down the conventional corporate organisational structures and hierarchies and rebuild new, more equitable team structures. People are naturally creative problem solvers. People like people, and they need to be together. They want to work together and to spark off each other – it is the essence of collaboration. These new teams will thrive in the positive collaborative environment leaders create to improve their organisation’s productivity.
Probably the single biggest demonstration of empowerment for companies is to give its employees the freedom to manage themselves. Self-management encourages teams to go beyond basic task and performance management metrics such as OKR (Objectives, Key Results) and exceed their organisation’s expectations. Apart from the message of trust this sends out, it encourages workers to take ownership of their own work and its delivery. It has the added advantage of avoiding micromanagement. Corporate cultural barriers are more important than technological ones and harder to overcome but through empowerment this need not be insurmountable. Workers will often identify their own skills gaps, such as digital communication or other technology skills. Given the freedom to address this, they will undertake such training willingly. Empowerment coupled with access to relevant learning and development programmes is therefore, both highly effective and productive. It is also more cost effective because it does not require constant supervision.
9. Recognition and benefits
Recognition is the simplest and yet often the most effective motivator across workforces of all ages. Sincere appreciation, be it public acknowledgement in front of their peers or just saying: “Thank you” can leave an impression, not just upon the recipient but also all those around them. It is important and makes a positive impact upon employees’ attitude and therefore their performance at work. In addition to recognition, companies should run positive feedback and inclusive brainstorming sessions to demonstrate how much they value their employees’ input. In this way they can encourage them to see, work towards and become part of their organisation’s bigger vision, rather than just carrying out their day-to-day tasks. Leaders must deliver on their corporate promises promptly and be seen to be doing so by all their employees. Benefits remain a tangible expression of appreciation towards employees for their hard work. It boosts morale and productivity. Whether it is a company car, income protection, health or life insurance, these benefits are highly valued and relatively cost efficient to provide. The secret is to get the balance right. These are rewards for great service and as such a privilege not an automatic employee entitlement.
40% of long-term absence from work is due to mental health problems. Supporting employees with the right benefits can help reduce stress levels significantly. Dr Margaret Heffernan says treating people with human compassion, dignity and respect is the key to true workplace wellness and with it, productivity. She says you can’t manage people with engineering precision. Goals, targets and KPIs now systemic in business, education and the public sector just make everyone feel like an insignificant, unappreciated cog in the machine. Vitality has been running Healthiest Workplace Awards for the past 6 years in the UK. 2018 winners, Nomura and Adidas state that by prioritising and elevating employee engagement, health, and wellbeing within their organisational strategies, they can achieve better employee health outcomes as well as tangible business benefits. They clearly believe improved employee health drives enhanced productivity and performance. This in turn gives these companies a stronger competitive advantage and of course builds a healthier society for all.
11. Improved work/life balance
Recruitment interviews are now a two-way process because it is a seller’s market. For this and other reasons, the employer brand is very important. Therefore, organisations need to clearly demonstrate that they really understand their employees and their needs. Supporting a healthy work/life balance with flexible hours, help with children, flexitime and support with general everyday life problems are highly attractive qualities new recruits and existing workers are both looking for. This not only reflects well on the company but also reduces external pressures on employees, which in turn ensures they remain more focused and productive when they are working
But most important of all of these is…
In the Deloitte Report 87% respondents stated that learning was important, or very important in driving employee engagement but 15% described their company’s learning culture as inadequate. Gosling states that leaders need to act now in order to re-skill their workforces to future-proof their businesses. Artificial intelligence is not new, but the pace of change is and organisations risk leaving swathes of society behind. Faced with longer careers and a multi-generational workforce, employers need to invest more in their people’s development and to do so more frequently. They must be more flexible to attract, develop and keep teams that can deliver. Organisations need to induct and develop new people more quickly to retain their interest, their motivation, and their loyalty. Some will still leave, and organisations need to accept and even embrace this. Former employees can be excellent advocates for others to join a company and may even return themselves. Leaders must have the courage to implement frequent learning interventions and blend these with other self-driven development so that all new skills gained are idea rich, practical, and useful. We also need to measure the softer skills employees learn too. Digital communication skills, awareness and the use of technology will undoubtedly play an important part, but they are not a solution in themselves or an easy option. Given the emergence of new team structures, manager development has now become a vital catalyst for growth. There is a greater need than ever before to upskill and develop effective managers who can maintain motivation and retention. They will lead rather than drive their teams to achieve greater performance and productivity by acting as coaches and mentors. These new managers will also play an instrumental role recruiting new talent – identifying it early on, nurturing it and keeping it. They will also be responsible for their development - both in terms of depth and breadth of knowledge and experience, as well practical applications of their newfound skills. This is very important because if employees consider their existing skill set too niche and see no opportunity to address this where they are, they will leave. Creating this new generation of “Millennial Managers” requires a fundamentally different approach to manager learning and development – one that is more interactive and based on mutual respect for all. It’s true that “A bad manager is expensive, a good manager is priceless”
To get started in developing the managers/supervisors on your workforce, SNEF offers a bespoke E-Learning course called Managing People Series that covers 72 key management/supervisory competencies. Click the button below for more details!
Pete is the CEO of Upskill People, the forward-looking online learning company that helps people shine. Upskill People has been producing engaging courses that works since being found in 1995. The learning and development sector has changed a great deal in that time and Upskill People have always been at the forefront of that change. The enduring principle behind the company is that if businesses are going to pay good money to upskill their people, the outcomes should be measurable.