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5 Tips for Business Leaders to Improve Workforce Productivity

Workforce productivity includes leaders, so make sure you’re modeling the behaviors you’re asking employees to adopt for changes to take hold.

Gabriela Mauch

By Gabriela Mauch

2 women standing at a conference table. One holds a pin with both hands, the other uses a pen to point to words on a notepad.

The beginning of January marks a new year and a fresh start. During this time, most people optimistically plan out new routines and habits, and set ambitious goals to make this year different and better than the last. 

Sadly, research has proven that most optimism and commitment to New Year’s resolutions fades before February. For this reason, I’ve developed the following, actionable tips to keep your 2021 workforce productivity improvement goals on track.

1. Be mindful of the Halo Effect 

According to the Nielson Norman Group, the Halo Effect is a well documented social-psychology phenomenon that causes people to be biased in their judgments by transferring their feelings about one attribute of something to other, unrelated, attributes. In other words, people are likely to agree with your idea because they already think you’ve got great ideas. Sounds nice, doesn’t it? It’s actually more likely sabotaging healthy debate, creative thinking, and suppressing diverse ideas.

How do you avoid the halo effect? Start by holding back on your opinion and instead, encourage others to share first. Challenge other people’s halos and push them to challenge yours. When the entire room agrees with the leader without pushback or further exploration, see this as a red flag.

Try it out: In at least one meeting, ask only questions — don’t share your own thoughts or opinions until the end (if at all).

2. Prevent the Bandwagon Effect

People often grow uncomfortable with having a contrasting opinion to the one held by the majority in a group. As a result, many employees will go along with the majority’s opinion or plan of action, while deep down, they remain hesitant. Before you know it, you think you’ve gained alignment when in reality, you’ve got dissenters reluctant to express their perspectives.

This is not only a major workforce productivity roadblock, but also poses larger risks to the organization. Look up any recent data breach, for example, and you’ll often read about employees who warned others in the organization about potential risks, or were aware of issues, but didn’t speak up for fear of backlash - and you’ll understand the potential, severe impact the bandwagon effect can cause.

So, how do you prevent the bandwagon effect? Enable employees to individually share their unique ideas. You’ll acquire interesting and honest insights into everyone’s opinions and understand where you may need to surface those varying opinions in a forum.

Try it out: Distribute questions to meeting attendees in advance and ask for shared opinions beforehand. This accomplishes two things: 1) it allows team members to put in thought prior to the meeting and 2) it captures the spectrum of opinions that can be highlighted at the start of the discussion. 

3. Care about the friction, not about the fries

I first heard this saying while learning about operations at McDonald’s. In one exercise, I was challenged to figure out how to fry french fries faster while maintaining their consistent quality. The answer, as it turns out, was to stop looking up at the quantity of fries and instead start looking at all the things happening in the process before the fries were dropped in the oil. This included shortening the distance to the freezer, eliminating the double packaging that took more time to open, introducing a second timer to reduce the need to stop the process while resetting the first, and other factors. As a leader, you must focus on the friction that’s getting in the way of your team’s productivity to effectively enable employees to carry out the work they were hired to do.

Start by writing out the process that you’re asking teams to work through to achieve a desired outcome. Identify where the friction exists. Talk to your team leaders. Focus on understanding what slows things down and  what causes errors. Listen for the use of specific words within employee feedback like “annoying,” “frustrating,” or “waste of time.” Brainstorm how to solve for existing friction. When you focus on removing obstacles or streamlining inefficient operational processes, your team is better able to achieve desired outcomes faster while also enjoying their work. This is a true win-win for the organization and employees.

Try it out: Host two 15-minute 1x1 meetings with any two individuals in the organization who you’ve identified as being highly productive. Understand what they’re working on, inquire about what’s making them feel motivated at work, and ask what roadblocks may be in their way. Make sure to thank them for their input.

4. Be human

Share your own productivity struggles, and share them often. It can seem daunting to ever admit that on some days, even you as a leader struggle to be productive. It could be due to a bad night's sleep, a teething toddler, or a pending marathon. Whatever your personal productivity inhibitors are, they make you real like the rest of us.

Sharing your productivity struggles requires being in tune with them. Start by writing a few words down in the middle of the day about your current productivity levels. Are you tired? Do you feel disengaged? Do you feel overwhelmed? Do you feel motivated and focused? By focusing on your own productivity at work - the good, the bad, and the ugly - you’re able to better connect with your employees and relate to them about theirs.

Try it out: Don’t skip over the opportunity to genuinely answer the question, “How are you?” at the start of every call. Share with employees your real answer. They’ll appreciate it.

5. Celebrate progress

Acknowledge, praise, and reward exceptional productivity. At your level, you captivate team calls, organization-wide distribution lists, and have access to top executives. The endless mediums are at your disposal and you should leverage all of them. But I warn you - be sure of what real productivity looks like first (psst..there’s an app for that).

Avoid lifting up imposter productivity behavior: long hours, high email volume, meeting dominance, etc. Instead, reward effective and focused work, dedicated problem solving, and creative collaboration that leads to real results. 

Try it out: Recognize at least one employee who is modeling ideal productivity in their role. This can be as large as a formal promotion or as small as a team or company-wide shoutout via a messaging app like Slack or MS Teams. What matters is that you lift up the behavior that you’re asking others in the organization to model.

Workforce productivity is about momentum

While it is the responsibility of each employee to consider how they manage their own productivity, workforce productivity ultimately depends on committed leaders to reach its full potential. Like any worthwhile goal, this means taking consistent action by enabling an environment that accepts a diversity of perspectives, frequently measuring productivity, eliciting feedback, and rewarding positive improvements. Workforce productivity includes leaders, so make sure you’re modeling the behaviors you’re asking employees to adopt for changes to take hold. 

Shortcuts to improve your workforce productivity today 

About ActivTrak and The Productivity Lab

ActivTrak helps companies unlock productivity potential. Our award-winning workforce productivity and analytics software provides expert insights that empower people, optimize processes, and maximize technology. With data sourced from more than 8,000 customers and 250,000 users, ActivTrak’s Productivity Lab is a global center for ground-breaking workforce productivity research and expertise that helps companies embrace and embody the future of work.

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