Good News: productivity among U.S. workers is up more than one percent from Q2 of 2013 to Q2 of this year according the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Depending on how you measure, worker productivity is at or near all time-highs even while wages as a percentage of GDP hover near historical lows (we’re at about 43 percent these days). How much more productivity should we realistically expect from a workforce that is working harder, and for less money, than at any point in recent history? Jack Welch famously compared workers and productivity to citrus fruit stating, “There’s plenty of juice in that lemon.” But is he right? Let’s look at three ways to get even more from your current teams.
One of the surest ways to goose productivity is to rethink how we think about work. For many employees, work is a destination; somewhere to spend eight hours or so doing something…anything. Rather than hold employees accountable for hours spent in their chairs, create a culture of accountability for results. It’s a process that starts with the CEO. Start viewing work as deliverable, not a physical location, and measure workers’ output and quality. Best Buy’s “results-only” work environment is credited with improving individual productivity by 35 percent even though employees often leave the office at 2 p.m. or earlier if their “work” is done.
Warren Buffet once said, “The difference between successful people and very successful people is that very successful people say ‘no’ to almost everything.” The same holds true for your employees. One of the keys to helping your employees be more productive lies in what they don’t do as much as what they do. It sounds simple, but part of improving your organizational productivity involves empowering your employees be more productive by doing less of the other stuff.
The idea of “stop-doing” lists is one that has gained traction in many entrepreneurial circles in recent years. Allow your employees periodically to offer ways to streamline their own jobs by eliminating time-consuming or redundant tasks. Set up a box in a common area or break room and encourage employees to submit ideas, consequence-free. It’s not an anonymous process (how could it be?), and you don’t have to approve all of them, but your job as a manager is to put your people in the best position to succeed and produce. Eliminating the redundant reports, e-mails, or meetings from their schedule so they can do more of what matters can be an important step.
Employers can immediately improve organization-wide productivity by adopting software applications that replicate the business processes and behaviors of human workers, effectively growing your workforce without actually adding people. Such innovations are most useful in data entry and maintenance applications where workers tediously enter information into Microsoft Excel or some other system of record. For employees whose jobs include both mundane business processes and high-value tasks like selling, offloading the former to software and allowing them to engage in more of the latter might help increase productivity and your bottom line. Foxtrot from EnableSoft, for example, is designed to help the end user automate the most routine parts of their own job to save time and build value elsewhere. Users “teach” the software how to perform a job by creating a series of steps called a script. The software then executes each step in the process. Other options for automating tasks include VBA scripts, or macros, which are mostly effective but require some technical knowledge to create and run. Whether it’s automation software or macros, removing the more repetitive parts of employees’ jobs and allowing them to focus on more important tasks is an important and inexpensive way to increase productivity without making any major overhauls to your team or corporate structure.
We could add many other tips to this list but the underlying idea here is that they key to getting more quality productivity out of your team is to simplify and clarify their jobs so that there are as few distractions and misconceptions as possible. Productivity is not about working harder, it’s about working efficiently and understanding that work is a product, not a place. As you look ahead to 2015, consider how to streamline your processes and help employees tie productivity to results and make next year a more productive one.