Improving Employee Productivity |

How to Improve Employee Productivity

Posted by Luke Thomas

In a previous post, I wrote about the issues with the employee engagement industry. If you haven’t read the post, there are a few major, structural issues outlined below:

  • Everyone (mostly vendors) defines employee engagement differently, it’s a squishy metric that isn’t tied to the balance sheet.
  • Employee engagement purportedly drives performance & revenue, when in reality, the exact opposite occurs. Operating at a high-level drives satisfaction.
  • The engagement market is driven by vendors who have created a system to ensure that they have a consistent demand for their products. They are incentivized to keep EE scores low.
  • There’s very little innovation in this market, primarily driven by HR organizations who have been trained to avoid taking risks.

In this post, I’m going to present a framework for how I think about improving work productivity and subsequently, happiness.

The People Required

First up, let’s talk about the people we need to make this happen.

Leadership is most important

First (and most importantly), who is driving the vehicle? Inside the organization, who is prioritizing improving performance/happiness?

Frequently, the notion of measuring engagement and performance falls on the HR department. When I first started Friday, I assumed that the product would be a home-run as one of their responsibilities was to measure engagement.

I was very wrong.

Human resources (by design), is one of the most risk-adverse departments inside the organization. These departments were created to mitigate risk, handling things like compliance and payroll. When people say that HR departments exist to protect the business, they are right! I’d like you to think of this as the “default state” of HR.

With that being said, I’ve experienced empowered HR organizations who are beloved by people inside the organization. What gives?

Company leadership.

HR departments are a conduit for the priorities of the leadership team. If the CEO and other CXOs care about creating a great place to work, HR will feel empowered to make this happen.

Put simply, company leadership needs to care about this. If they don't, things won’t change (no matter how many engagement surveys HR run).

Team Leaders are the ones who execute the strategy

With the right priorities coming from the top, the next important piece of the puzzle is the team leader. Buried in the Gallup employee engagement reports is an interesting stat (keep in mind I’m skeptical of “employee engagement”):

Managers account for 70% of the variance in employee engagement scores.

This suggests what you probably already know – that managers have a big impact on the productivity and happiness of their teams.

The questions that need to be answered

Now, let’s talk about the process for driving performance. The sections below focus on answering a few simple, but critical questions. These are questions that everyone in the organization needs to be able to answer, but is especially true for people responsible for leading a team.

Who do I work with?

I strongly recommend using personality models to answer this question. People are different, but there are underlying themes and mental models to help navigate these differences.

My personality profile.

If you’re trying to answer these questions, I strongly recommend using Crystal (I used to work here), to learn a bit more about your personality (and others).

Growing up, I played a decent amount of FIFA – I think the same should exist for work. I want to see this (below) for my coworkers.

Why do you work here?

I also believe it’s important to understand why someone works at a particular company. This could be a result of believing the “company mission” or maybe the reason exists on a micro-level (“I want to be the best accountant I can be” or “I want to provide for my family and have a life outside of work”).

From my perspective, the company mission as a contributor to the “why” is massively overrated.

What is actually going on? What work is being completed

This is where Friday is currently focused. Right now, we try to help leaders complement observation with hard data about what is actually going on inside an organization (through structured regular check-ins and 1-1s).

Our goal is to improve the feedback loop between team leaders and their team, while also saving time (as this is done asynchronously). It’s less about project management and more about understanding strengths, challenges, and priorities on a regular basis.

Far too many leaders think they know what’s going on, when in reality, they don’t have a clue.

Where are we going?

I used to work at O’Reilly Media and Tim was notorious for saying the following quote when it came to financial performance:

“Money is like gasoline during a road trip. You don’t want to run out of gas on your trip, but you’re not doing a tour of gas stations.”

Performance can be improved when people know where they are going on the trip. This exists at the following levels:

  • Where is the company going? What is our mission/vision for the future?
  • Where is the team going? What journey is the team/department on? What are we trying to achieve as a group?
  • Where am I going? What are my career aspirations and goals?

How can I help?

Finally, there’s the question of – how can I help you? This last section is a little ambiguous and hard for me to explain, but organizations can improve performance by proactively identifying ways for employees to help others.

One of my favorite activities at work is when you identify an aspiration/interest of a coworker and help them explore and pursue it with more vigor. For example, if a friend is working on a side project at work, I can put in some time to help.

I’m going to add more detail to this post in the future, but I believe that answering these questions are the key to unlocking a high-performing organization (that’s happy too).

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