Six steps to improving employee productivity

Productivity is an important measure in business. In its most basic form, it measures the ratio of outputs to inputs.

money on graph

There’s more to it than that, however, especially when we talk about people and their productivity.

In many cases, people are not being asked to produce multiples of the same product as a machine would be. They can’t be programmed with specific instructions that will yield maximum output.

People are more complex than machines, and the output they produce is often harder to measure.
Still, we can take steps to improve the productivity of employees. Consider these points:

1. Give clear instructions

There’s an old quote that has been attributed to many politicians over the years. It goes like this: “I know you believe you understand what you think I said. But I am not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.”

Too often, that describes the outcome of instructions given to employees. Providing clear instructions means thinking about them from the receiver’s point of view.

From your vantage point, your instructions may seem clear because you know things that your employees don’t. You have the context around the instructions. Perhaps you’ve even performed the task before, so you have experience to draw from. Think about how the other person needs to receive the instructions, and that may help you to be clearer.

2. Use examples

They say “A picture is worth 1,000 words,” and often that is true. When possible, provide a visual example of what you’re asking the employee to do. This could be a diagram or a finished report format. If a visual representation exists, share it. If nothing else, it may spark questions that will help clarify the assignment to the assignee.

3. Provide appropriate tools

This could refer to machining equipment, ladders, computer software and hardware – any tool that the employee needs to do the job. We often delay updating equipment because of the cost involved.

Outdated or poorly functioning equipment may significantly hamper the output your employees can deliver. Part of the problem is that we sometimes don’t know what equipment advances are available to make our employees more productive.

Do some research. Ask others in your industry what tools they use. Then evaluate the benefit of purchasing or upgrading equipment.

4. Hire the right employees

If you have an employee in a position who is unable to produce, take a step back and evaluate why the employee was hired. Did you carefully evaluate the skills, knowledge, experience and temperament needed to do the job in question before you ever started looking at candidates? If you didn’t, it’s possible you have a square peg in a round hole.

We often set people up for failure by placing them in jobs that are not suited to their strengths. For example, if we need someone who is detail and research oriented, but hire someone who prefers big-picture concepts and engaging with the public, we’re likely setting this employee up for a tough time at best and a disastrous failure at worst.

Analyze the positions in your company before you hire. Then, be diligent about hiring people who are most likely to be successful in the position. Productivity will improve as a result.

5. Reduce turnover

Some turnover in companies is a good idea – new blood can be helpful. Extensive turnover can result in lower productivity because of increased training needs and a lack of efficiency in processes that results from new people figuring out the systems.

If you’re finding it difficult to keep people in jobs, take a look at your hiring processes, your onboarding and your management. Use exit interviews to help determine why people are leaving on their own, and debrief your managers to find out why people are being involuntarily terminated. You may detect patterns that will help you know where to start to fix the problem.

6. Train your managers

Employees sometimes struggle because of inadequate management. Several issues come to mind including managers who give conflicting instructions and others who are unapproachable for questions.

When these two traits combine, it is very difficult for employees to be productive. They spend time trying to decipher the conflicting instructions AND they are afraid to go to the manager for clarification. The result is a lot of wheel-spinning and little output. Yet, it is often the employee who gets blamed.

Take a look at the managers in your company. Ask for feedback from employees regarding the support and direction they get from their managers. Then train your managers as needed to help them do better. The result could be greater employee satisfaction AND better productivity.