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Seven ways to stop ‘productivity paranoia’ causing stagnation in your business growth

Heard the phrase ‘productivity paranoia’? It’s been in the news this week. Microsoft released the results of a major new workplace survey of 20,000 people in 11 companies worldwide. Their conclusion? 87% of workers think they’re being productive in their work. Yet only 12% of their managers agree. This significant mismatch between employees and employers is most evident when teams work from home.

It doesn’t surprise me in the slightest. It’s like the ‘quiet quitting’ memes doing the rounds. I used to call it malingering. Gallup has said for years that only around 20% of employees are actively engaged. If that’s true, many more disengaged people out there are doing the least they can get away with. They don’t think there’s anything wrong with this and may even feel they’re doing a good job. But their managers think they’re taking the piss.

A lack of clarity around expectations is at the core of this productivity mismatch between team members and employers. And it’s corrosive. If this happens in your business, it will kill any hope you have of growing. Decent people will leave as poor performers surround them, and your culture will be dragged down. So what can you do to avoid it?

1. Use job scorecards

You want all your staff to know when they’ve had a good day. And to do this, they need to know what’s expected of them. This is the first question of the Gallup Q12 measure of staff engagement for a reason. 

We strongly suggest you use job scorecards to help identify individual KPIs (Key Performance Indicators). I’ve written about scorecards before and if you take nothing else from this blog, take this advice. We use them with clients to get to the heart of effective activity in any given role, and they are extremely effective. 

The teams themselves best create them. Essentially, they write down all of their daily tasks, decide which are high, medium or low impact, and filter these down to high impact tasks that take up large chunks of time. Then they work out how to measure these things against a minimum standard for the KPIs. 

2. Get clarity on perceptions of performance

Part of the scorecard exercise clarifies what an A-Player looks like in the role. Once they have this, the manager and individual can agree on what high performance translates into.

When Gallup did their work on engagement, they concluded that without an objective measure in place, C and D-Players in a business would think they are above average. McKinsey recently published a report on team performance that backed this up. They were looking at teams that were doing drug development in pharma companies. 75% of these teams thought they were above average. Interestingly, the top 1% of teams were 10x better than average. There is exponential value in high-performing teams.  

    3. Introduce talent assessment

    Talent assessment needs to be bottom-up. It’s far more powerful if staff can objectively measure their performance rather than being told by their manager that they’re an A, B or C-Player. But it’s not easy. To understand how to manage this effectively, we have a neat exercise we use with Executive Teams. We get them to articulate their performance in front of each other. 

    We ask them to think about the last day, week, month and quarter on a simple grid. For each of those, we ask, ‘Thinking about your current role, were you behaving in a way you’d expect of someone in the top 10% of available talent?’ If they don’t answer A for one of these periods, we ask them why they put B or C at this point. They might say they were distracted, unproductive or working on stuff they shouldn’t have been working on. This is often the first time they’ve shared this with anyone in the room. It can feel quite uncomfortable.

    This exercise forces an Executive team to mirror the behaviours they want to see in the rest of the business. It gives them empathy for how it feels to go through this process during weekly check-ins with their team. At the very least, do this with all your managers. Every one of them needs to be tracked as an A-Player. Otherwise, you’ll have problems with engagement that cascade downwards. 

    4. Use KPIs to measure productivity

    remote work, meeting

    The KPIs you’ve identified for each role become even more important when teams are hybrid or working remotely. They may not have been necessary when managers were sitting next to their team and chatting with them every day. But now they’ll find it hard to keep tabs on what’s happening. This is when perceptions of productivity can get very muddy and may explain the productivity paranoia of the Microsoft report.

    KPIs are key to setting clear expectations, enabling staff to work independently within a highly effective structure. Now that you have job scorecards, you should be able to see the KPIs that will help you pull ahead. Track these as a regular part of your daily huddles and weekly 1:1s. Make sure there’s a good spread in the team. Your staff will find their work far more meaningful if they know they’re part of a coordinated effort. 

    5. Get teams to set their outputs

    Wherever possible, get teams to suggest their benchmarks and KPIs. You’re much more likely to get commitment than if you impose a target on them.

    When I worked at Rackspace, we did exactly this in response to a downturn in sales. I looked at our data and saw that some sales team members were only spending 1.5 hours on the phone when the top salesperson racked up four. Rather than berating them for their lack of effort, I asked the team to devise a realistic minimum standard for the input metric. They came back with three hours, and this became their benchmark. Their tracking data was available in real-time, and they self-managed towards their target.

    6. Insist on total transparency

    Always ensure your teams can see progress against their KPIs in real-time from home. There should be total transparency around team goals and relative performance. It’s much easier to pick this up in an office than working from home, so make sure scoreboards are always visible. 

    This will stop poor performers from thinking they’re better than they are. It will also educate your staff on what productivity means. It’s not working longer hours. It’s meeting specific targets and creating the right outputs. 

    7. Recruit Culture Champions

    Here’s a final thought if your business is hybrid or fully remote. You will need to work harder on maintaining your culture to keep productivity high.  

    I interviewed Darrin Jahnel recently for our Melting Pot podcast. He’s the founder and CEO of Jahnel Group, a rapidly scaling software consulting company that’s won multiple best workplace awards for its amazing culture. Half his company is now remote, and he believes he’s cracked the code of hybrid working. 

    Jahnel realised that many of their tech people were introverts and, with so many people working from home, there was a danger that their culture would suffer. So he took action to ensure that every third recruit was a ‘Culture Champion’ – someone who was outgoing and fired up by organising events. He also decided to reinvest any money saved by remote working in building culture, e.g. offering a $10,000 top prize for their Beer Pong championship. This is how you drive up engagement and productivity. 

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    Written by business growth coach Dominic Monkhouse. Find out more about his work here. Read his book, ‘F**k Plan B’ here.

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