Leadership

These 6 tactics will improve the team's productivity

Layoffs and bad news can bring down any team's productivity. In this blog, leadership coach John M. McKee provides tactics for leaders looking to ensure their team remains focused and positive.
"There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all."

The comment above was made by the great management guru, Peter F. Drucker. I shared it with a client a few weeks ago as we discussed his team's performance and the differences between being efficient and being effective. The last is all about making a genuine difference to outcomes - something particularly important in these times when layoffs abound.

While they're lessening each month, the US unemployment levels are forecasted to continue to grow at least until the first quarter of 2010. Some states, like California, will probably top out at +11% unemployed by that time.

Keeping team members motivated and performing at the top of their game is especially difficult right now. If you're feeling overwhelmed, or that the job just keeps getting harder, it's particularly important to keep in mind how some of your team members may be feeling through all the bad news. If they're worried about their own job, paying bills, or the fate of a loved one, it's unlikely they are doing their best work. That reduced effectiveness could, ironically, create a worse situation for them if it results in fewer jobs or reduced pay.

It's to the benefit of all concerned that you help them to keep working at full steam. Here are a few "best practices" we've seen used successfully by strong leaders across a wide swath of industry and organizations. If you or your team could use some new approaches, I suggest you add some of these to your own management toolbox:

1. Lead by example - You send messages to your team members with every action and statement. If you're seen to be giving extra, it will inspire and energize others to do the same. The same holds true for the opposite by the way: showing fear or frustration will only fuel similar results within the team. 2. Focus on communicating objectives rather than defining roles - With fewer human resources, now's the time to re-assess your key deliverables. Which of them make an immediate impact, and what can be punted to a time later? Engage as many of the team as possible on the most important goals; even if that move takes them outside their old job definitions. 3. Sense of urgency - Keep goals, both individual and team, front and center to ensure focus. Broadcast and talk about results and achievements. Especially if you've had to reduce headcount, you want each individual performing at optimal levels. Note I say "optimal" and not "maximum". The former is good management practice, the latter results in burnout and negativity. 4. Celebrate individual contributions - Sports teams are clear about the fact that certain players make a bigger difference, so they recognize those people appropriately. For high performers, hearing only about the "team's performance" can actually demotivate and cause them to slow down to the "norm". 5. Provide guidelines to reduce uncertainty - Trusting your team to do the right thing is well and good; but in uncertain times even your best team members can make improper decisions. Help them with frequent reviews of goals, new or successful past approaches, and preferred outcomes during regular team meetings. 6. Recognize that your emotions affect outcomes - Remaining visibly cool in difficult periods or demanding environments serves to help your team maintain their balance and performance. People are de-motivated by constantly cranky or negative bosses. If you have a disappointment, or a major goal was missed, it's fine and appropriate to say so; but don't make it personal.

Being a leader is more than being a manager. It requires empathy, attitude, and skill. The effort is worth it.

john

Leadership Coach

About

John M. McKee is the founder and CEO of BusinessSuccessCoach.net, an international consulting and coaching practice with subscribers in 43 countries. One of the founding senior executives of DIRECTV, his hands-on experience includes leading billion d...

12 comments
Borok007
Borok007

Good write up. Efficiency and productivity can also be managed through help of certain tools and techniques. Like in project management we have options using the best tool to save time, communicate, collaborate and coordinate with our peers. Such tool so far has served as blood and bones to redefine stress, workload and intercommunication.

Aseks
Aseks

Great staff. Nice one.

sboverie
sboverie

I liked the lead off with the information about efficient vs effective as well as the information about optimal vs maximal. My team has to deal with a lot of uncertainties and stresses and most of the time the work is a burden; our morale is very low. It is an employers' market at this time, employers tend to take advantage of the fear of unemployment and run rough shod over the employees. When employment conditions improve those who can will leave. The article is good advice to employers to treat their employees better to maintain a good team.

teoiling
teoiling

I think its important to celebrate individual contributions but it is also important to also recognize team effort. It depends what outcome you wish for the team.

jck
jck

Don't make team members who hate meetings go in and sit through the lovefest. Some programmers want to do their job, not sit through a 1-2 hour positive stroke session. That's what team/project leads are for: communicating direction to those who can't/don't want to be involved in the meeting hub-bub. Sitting down for a design meeting is one thing amongst a team, but when it involves management coming in for the "atta boy!" talk then let those not interested stay away. Nothing says strife more than that "shove if someone is better than me down my throat in front of everyone" feeling.

weising
weising

yeah yeah yeah~ I bet most of the managers know about these, but how many bosses can really appreciate that? I don't think there are many

steven.taylor
steven.taylor

All of these objectives, such as leading by example, focusing on objectives, yada yada yada, are leadership principles that should be practiced in good times, as well as bad. But it is not enough to boost morale. You have to get rid of the dissatisfiers as well. Don't kill compensation programs, but continue with merit raises and other programs that maintain a sense of rewarding acommplishments. Turning up the thermostat (so it's too hot to work), not spending that 25 bucks for a ram upgrade, etc, are not ways to motivate a staff.) We all realize we have to control costs, but these measures should have already been in place, not just when things go bad. In my mind, when management runs around crazy looking for ways to save, they haven't done their job in the first place. A pat on the back ain't enough. When the economy recovers, you'll lose employees based on a bad experience.

jkameleon
jkameleon

You know, that old "OK guys, situation is getting serious. The top-notch innovative research we are doing here is making the big players nervous. My sources told me, that Microsoft is already panicking, because our product might force M$ out of the market. Industrial espionage from abroad is not entirely out of the question either. So, unfortunately we are forced to introduce certain counter espionage measures. Electronic locks will be placed on all doors, surveillance camera behind each screen, and microphone above each watercooler. Most important of all, if you are dating any hot 007esque women, you must report them to me, for a thorough background check. Keep up the good work, guys!" fad. (inspired by #3, "False sense of urgency")

CareerCoach
CareerCoach

Reduced numbers or reduced morale can each play a part in reduced results, but one is easier to deal with.

jkameleon
jkameleon

Generally, morale in IT hit a rock bottom years ago. It can't get any lower than this, and there will be no chance of improvement for at least a generation. It therefore makes no sense to bother about employee morale anymore. We'll just have to learn how to live without it. Let's face it- running rough shod over the employees is still the best, most profitable course of action for employers. When employment conditions improve those who can will leave, you say. But where are they going to go? Most of other employers run rough shod over the employees as well. It's the path of least resistance. Besides, employment conditions will not improve for the foreseeable future anyway. The last economic depression lasted a couple of decades and a world war. The coming one looks even worse. When people have to cope with serious life's problems like making ends meet, losing their homes or paying medical bills, "focusing on communicating objectives", "celebrating individual contributions", or "providing guidelines to reduce uncertainty" is as good as nothing, or sometimes worse than nothing. Creating false "sense of urgency" when there's plenty of real urgency to go around, is outright stupid.