Why Most Companies Think About Productivity All Wrong

In some ways, it’s natural to think about productivity as the be-all, end-all goal for your organization. Greater productivity essentially means getting to churn out more finished products, and deliver more services without increasing costs. 

In a best-case scenario, that means improving company profitability – so why wouldn’t productivity be your top goal?

The truth is, productivity is important. In fact, it’s indispensable if you want your organization to succeed. But most companies think about productivity all wrong, and if you want your company to have a better chance of long-term success, you’ll need to reconcile that.

The Relationship Between Productivity, Engagement, and Morale

First, let’s talk about the relationship between productivity, employee engagement, and morale. Some companies think that the best way to improve productivity is to focus on productivity exclusively; they give employees a target to hit, such as a number of phone calls to make or a number of sales to close, and leave it to the employee to figure out how to hit it.

In some environments, this can work to motivate your employees, but it tends to be a short-term solution that doesn’t pay off in the long term. There are a few different reasons for this. For starters, productivity is often a direct result of employee engagement. If your employees are engaged with their work and they’re happy about what they’re doing, productivity is going to be a natural byproduct. If you empower your employees to succeed, with a combination of better training and education, better access to resources, and a truly enjoyable environment, you’ll never have to worry about productivity.

The truth is, most people want to be productive. They’re naturally productive. You likely know this from your own experience; when you have a task that is interesting and challenging for you, and you’re genuinely invested in it, you have no issue focusing on it, and it’s only a matter of time before you achieve a flow state. It’s only when certain obstacles emerge in your path, such as uncomfortable environments or lack of accessibility to resources, that your productivity declines.

That leads to our next point. Obsessing over employee productivity without addressing morale and engagement will often create more morale and engagement problems. Employees will struggle to hit their productivity targets, and they might be able to hit them on occasion, but over the course of weeks and months, it’s going to take its toll. Employees are going to feel worse and worse about their situation and their productivity is going to tank in the long term.

Doing More Isn’t Always the Answer

Companies also need to recognize that doing more isn’t always the answer. You might have one employee who spends 12 hours tackling a given project, while a different employee spends half an hour coming up with a solution that totally negates the need for the project in the first place. 

For example, they might design an algorithm that automatically handles what was once a manual task or they might do an analysis that proves that the project is unnecessary. Did the employee who worked more somehow add more value to your organization?

Because of this, it’s often better to focus on infrastructure, systems, processes, and organizational efficiency before trying to fine-tune each employee’s productivity.

Top Ways to Reshape Your Productivity Mentality

What does this mean for your business, though? Fortunately, there are some easy ways you can shift the mentality in your organizational culture and stimulate more productivity naturally without any unpleasant side effects:

Focus on employees first. 

Your employees have to come first. Employees who are happy, engaged with their work, and in a pleasant environment are always going to be more productive than their counterparts. If you focus too heavily on productivity before these other factors, you’re going to end up sabotaging the productivity of your team, rather than boosting it.

Stop obsessing over productivity metrics. 

Productivity metrics can be helpful, but they don’t tell the whole story. The number of hours a person spends on a project or the number of calls they make during the day has little to do with how much value they’re adding to your organization. Always view them in a broader context.

Engineer a better infrastructure. 

Smoother processes, better resources, and more logical infrastructure choices will always result in more productivity than simply “cracking the whip.”

Provide individualized coaching. 

Not everyone achieves productivity with the same path. Consider individualized coaching to help each individual employee in your organization reach their full potential.

Remember, productivity doesn’t have to be an all-consuming focus, nor should it be the first thing you try to address in your company. With a healthier and more accurate view of productivity, you’ll be able to get more out of your employees, and they’re going to be happier in the process.

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