As a business coach, one of the top complaints I get from the leaders I interact with revolves around the topic of increasing their team’s productivity. “No matter what I say or do, they just don’t hit their goals!” This was what one of those frustrated leaders told me, and for a lot of them, they have had this issue for quite a while before they do anything about it. 

Why is this a problem? Imagine a sales team who consistently falls short of their sales goals. Or a company where the majority of the employees do not meet their KPIs. What will the leaders be facing every single day? How profitable will the company be? Now, with an additional business challenge in the form of a Covid-19 pandemic, all the more we need our people to be as productive as they can be. 

Taking into account the changes in work dynamics since the circuit breaker measures were put in place, with some employees having to work from home and some simply having to stay home as their companies are not allowed to operate, part of the considerations would be this short term to boost the employees’ morale. However, we should also look into the overall employee engagement and culture of the company for a longer-haul strategy. Based on these considerations, I started putting together a simple, actionable guide on how companies can improve their employee productivity beyond the circuit breaker period in Singapore. 

1. Help your people find their purpose within the company

In today’s Human Resource conversations, ‘Purpose’ is often linked to the millennial employees. The Society for Human Resource Management conducted a stud y in which they found that 94% of millennials want to use their skills to benefit a cause. Gallup’s recent report on How Millennials Want to Work and Live re-confirmed that millennial employees indeed want purpose at work and it is highly important to them. 

However, in another study conducted by LinkedIn, it was reported that purpose-orientation is something that transcends generations, with baby boomers in the lead. 

In times of crisis, it is easy for your employees to lose sight about their original purpose. Some of them may not have been clear about this in the first place. In both cases, now is a good time to help them reconnect and find that purpose or meaning in their work within your company. So if you have not already done so, how about calling for a meeting and asking them about their purpose and motivation? 

2. Establish clarity in your vision, mission and culture and communicate this to the team

When was the last time you revisited your vision and mission statements? How about your organisation culture points/core values? 

The more important question is, how well do your employees know and embrace them?

To help people understand, we like to use a simple analogy. If the company is a ship, and the leader is the captain of the ship, and the employees are the crew members, how important is it for the crew to know the destination of the ship (vision), how they are going to reach the destination (mission), and how should they behave within the ship to ensure they can reach that promised land (culture)? 

In the case where you have these crafted, now is a good time to communicate them and what they mean to your teams.

3. Ensure that people are placed where they can excel

One of the reasons employees do not deliver what is expected of them is that they are placed in roles that do not allow them to fully utilise their strengths. I have seen a highly analytical and reflective person being placed into an outbound sales and business development person where the person ended up resigning in less than six months. He came with good educational qualifications, and he might have excelled if he were placed in a different role that let him use his strengths and leverage on his behavioural tendencies. 

At this moment where a lot of businesses have to pivot to adapt to the current market situation, is there a need for you to shift your team members to roles that allow them to contribute in a more significant way to the company?

4. Communicate expectations clearly and schedule feedback conversations

Another reason that holds employees back from delivering what they are expected to is they are not clear about what is expected of them. At times, they are also unsure whether their current level performance is good enough.

This is where the feedback conversations are very important. In the short term, if there is a different set of expectations related to the change in the market situation, they will know how to adjust. In the long run, it will be a tool to forge a culture of continuous improvements. 

5. Create an environment of trust and open communication

One of the most famous companies for having excellent company culture is Google. On the top of their list of company culture, is ‘psychological safety’. Isn’t that interesting? 

As they continue to lead the industry, more studies have confirmed that indeed, when the employees have a strong level of trust and the sense that they can communicate openly, they are more likely to take initiative and be innovative. They are also able to troubleshoot more efficiently when there are challenges, and they genuinely enjoy working together. 

How is the communication flow like in your company? In times of crisis, over communicating may be a good thing. Are you creating opportunities for your employees to voice out how they are coping with the situation and what challenges they are facing? If you have not already done so, how can you initiate that process?

6. Allocate efforts to build emotional connection with the team

This point is related to one of the core human needs – to belong. In a research conducted by BetterUp, they found that if employees feel a strong sense of belonging to the company, it will lead to a 56% increase in job performance, a 50% drop in employee turnover, and 75% less medical leave. As a result, the company could potentially have huge amounts of savings when they can create this environment where people feel they belong. 

How often do you facilitate opportunities for people to connect at a deeper level? Are there conversations about topics outside work? Are your leaders investing efforts in connecting with their team members? You may want to think about facilitated sessions where you can allow this to happen regularly.

7. Build great leaders and empowering managers

Are your leaders well-equipped to inspire and engage performers in the company? Are your managers proving to be effective without micromanaging their team members?

Let’s go back to the analogy of the ship. If you want the ship to be one that is large and going forward fast, do you think there should only be one captain managing the different crews in the ship, or should there be different leaders helping with different teams of people? 

Ensure that you promote people to leadership positions based on their desire to lead and their ability to communicate and engage people. If they do have the desire but need to grow in their leadership competencies, you will still be in a better place compared to appointing people who have technical skills but may not have the willingness and interest to step up as leaders.

8. Develop a strong culture of accountability

We are all creatures of habits. One of the most important habits or culture points that you need to build to ensure productivity, is the culture of accountability. Just like achieving your goals can be a habit, the opposite also applies. 

When someone in the company does not meet their KPI, what happens? The answer to this will determine the kind of culture that you build overtime. Is lack of performance or productivity accepted as part of the norm, shunned with a penalty, or turned into opportunity for learning and improvement?

In some companies, due to long term relationships within the organisations, the management team would close one eye when someone familiar to them does not perform. What message is this sending to the rest of the team? 

What would be the impact on the rest of the employees? 

9. Recognise employees for both efforts and performance

On the flipside, let’s think about the employees who are enthusiastic and engaged when they first join a company. What happens when we fail to recognise and reward them for their contribution? 

In too many cases, one of the top causes for disengagement is lack of recognition. When the employees feel they are not being recognised for their amount of effort, not just their actual performance, they will be less motivated to do it continuously. 

Do note that recognition does not always mean monetary incentives. In a lot of instances, a personal note of appreciation or a special commendation and award will be just as effective as a purely monetary reward. 

10. Invest in your employees’ skills and personal development

There is often a debate on how much you should invest in your employees’ training and development. I get asked from time to time, “What if I train my employees and they leave?” Usually I answer with another question, “What if you don’t and they stay?” This was one of the first things I learnt from my mentor when I started out in business coaching. 

Often, out of fear of ‘wasting’ the training dollars, we end up with less or non-productive employees. If we think about it, won’t the cost of having non-productive employees be bigger than the amount of money that we would spend on those training sessions?

So there you have it, the ten ways you can try to improve employee productivity. These steps are meant as a guide or checklist for you to develop your initiatives. In our programmes that we run with our clients, we aim to achieve the outcomes of these ten steps in a structured facilitated environment. If you have further questions or would like to have a discussion on how these steps may be applied to your team or company, feel free to contact us on our website or email [email protected].