This Three-Pronged Strategy Can Create More Productive Employees

The benefits of an engaged workforce are easy to see.

Team productivity

For a number of years, I served as a turnaround CEO — a specialist whose job was to parachute into troubled companies and fundamentally turn the organization around, going from losing money to making money in the process. Every company had its own unique set of circumstances, but there were two things almost all of them had in common: a productivity decline and an epidemic of disengaged employees. Gradually I put two and two together and learned to fix one by fixing the other.

The benefits of an engaged workforce are easy to see. Companies with highly engaged employees are known to have less turnover, experience lower absenteeism, deliver a better-quality product, and report more profit than their peers. What else? You guessed it — heightened productivity.

The question is, how do you encourage employees to actively engage?

What I learned is that productivity dips when employees are uncertain. That can be about their current role, about what they're supposed to be doing at the moment, or about whether they're going to be laid off, among other things. Provide answers — or at least take the focus off of their doubt — and they reengage.

The method that has been most reliable and successful for me (or more accurately, for the companies I've worked for) consists of three simple steps that you've probably seen before. But doing one or two of them is not enough — you have to trust the process. If you're looking for a way to boost productivity inside your organization, here's where to start:

1. Decide on an Outcome

This is not always as easy as it sounds. In the best-case scenario, what you want to get done is clear and obvious, but you need to translate that to each employee so they understand it. If it is clear to you but not others, then it is not clear at all. There are also multiple ways to solve challenges, so it is important to be clear about your choice. The clearer you are, the less uncertainty the path forward will have. As you determine your desired outcome, you can then turn to the team and individuals to set goals that will make the outcome a certainty.

Quick tip: Have your employees write down daily, weekly, monthly or quarterly goals (or a combination of those) in a format and place that encourages accountability.

2. Set Up a System

Now it's time to figure out how to achieve that outcome. Essentially, this step is about breaking down the overall goal into smaller ones, which has a number of benefits. For starters, it gives you an outline or a schedule to work from (or both). It also brings rewards into short-term focus. A little bit of gratification for making some amount of progress beats the socks off stressing about something you either haven't started or feel bogged down by.

It's important that these incremental goals are easily achievable as well as measurable. Anything short of that defeats the purpose.

Quick tip: Have your employees create written action statements or step-by-step systems for reaching their goals. Add them to a schedule if possible.

3. Commit to the Action

The main thing left is to follow through. In some ways, you've done the hard work already by clearly stating your goals and making a plan to achieve them. It's the difference between being vaguely interested in going somewhere and actually setting a travel date and location. At that point, the plan is in motion -- you're not there quite yet, but arrival is inevitable.

Quick tip: Implement an accountability system to keep track of whether employees are sticking to their action plans.

Bottom Line

When these three fundamentals — a clear outcome, a structured plan for making it happen and a strong commitment to putting in the work — are in place, the future takes on some additional certainty. It may be a marginal amount, but in my experience, that's typically enough to curb fear and apathy while raising productivity in the process. With a methodology like that, very little is left unachievable.

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