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Research tells us that employees, in aggregate, produce about 40% of their total capacity on an average day.
There are a whole host of reasons for this—unclear expectations, daily chatter, unproductive or unnecessary meetings, misunderstanding of strategy, social media distractions, wandering around, duplicate work, an endless supply of emails to respond to, idle time wondering what to do next, putting out fires, shifting priorities, family situations (especially with home-based work on the rise), and requests for help from others. The list continues beyond this.
As a leader, you can play a role in helping your employees maximize their productivity. Below are three strategies to consider:
Strategy #1: Conduct weekly one-on-one conversations with your employees.
A weekly conversation is an easy way to ensure alignment around the highest priority responsibilities for the coming week, month and quarter. The “Big Rocks” are the strategic assignments. Just as the name suggests, the Big Rocks can be difficult to move. Pebbles and smaller rocks are a lot easier, so employees can easily get distracted kicking them around.
During your one-on-ones, you can talk with each of your employees about expectations and then make sure both you and they are also in tune with the disrupters coming their way.
Strategy #2: Be crystal clear about your expectations.
Most employees juggle multiple priorities.
Without your involvement in helping to clarify the Master Priorities (a.k.a. the “Big Rocks”), many employees are left guessing.
What 20% of their work input will generate 80% of their work output? Do you know? Do your employees know? Are you aligned around the answer?
Ask each of your employees to brainstorm a list of all of the things they do in a day, week or month. Next, ask them to identify the three to five things they see as the most important in their role. Where is the greatest value generated?
Do you agree? If you see something differently, this is an opportunity for discussion and to reach alignment.
It is common for priorities to change within organizations, and at times, the communication systems to disseminate updated information to the front lines fall short. This exercise can be repeated two or three times a year and further supported by regular weekly one-on-one conversations.
Strategy #3: Identify and minimize disrupters.
For most employees—as mentioned at the beginning of this column—the list of productivity disrupters is long.
I encourage you to carve out space for your employees to identify their disrupters and then put some strategies in place to minimize them. It may come as no surprise that most employees don’t pause to analyze what is getting in the way of their productivity. They feel the pain, but they don’t identify what it actually is.
You can ask your employees to answer the question: “What are the things in your day that make it difficult for you to advance high-priority projects?”
Once equipped with a list of disrupters, what can be done to minimize their presence in your employees’ day? Here are a few ideas to get you started. Then feel free to add your own:
Have your employees schedule meetings with themselves to complete project work.
Give your employees permission to be more discerning about meeting invitations and not attend meetings if they are not a key resource and if they can be informed of progress through meeting minutes or an update from a co-worker.
Encourage your employees to check emails three or four times a day and turn off notifications between those time blocks. They can train others to reach out to them through text message or Slack (whatever your internal communication system) if something is urgent.
Have your team—across the board—get a handle on the use of cc: in email chains. Encourage team members to be removed if they’re being cc’d only as a courtesy. Be mindful of how many people are disrupted by the overuse of the cc line.
Identify “must-accomplish” items for the day and for the week. Encourage your employees to manage their schedule to ensure completion of those items.
Accountability for results will increase when your employees are clear about their Master Priorities, when they’ve identified their disrupters and when they’ve put strategies in place to minimize the disrupters. As the leader, you can provide this framework, direction and support.
Your employees will thank you.