Feature Article: Productivity for Leaders

Personal productivity is one thing. But once you take on leadership responsibilities, productivity is a whole new ball game. Suddenly it is no longer just a matter of being the best you can be, but of bringing out the best in those around you.
This can be hard! Priorities compete. Personalities conflict. And let’s face it: some folks just won’t always be as committed as you are to putting in a productive day’s work – bad days happen (even to the best of us).

So how do you go about creating a productive team environment that contributes not only to individual productivity, but also to that of the group as a whole?

Teach others that “not in their job description” should be “not in their vocabulary.” It’s a fact of life: sometimes, employees will be asked to do things outside of their normal duties. When it is going to take a team effort to get the job done, you want folks ready to roll up their sleeves and pitch in wherever necessary. 

In general, of course you want everyone to have their own set of defined responsibilities. But in the real world, these tidy boundaries will never hold up one-hundred percent of the time. Keep a positive attitude and reward your team for pulling together and getting things done. You should be creating an environment where people jump at the opportunity to help others as opposed to standing back and watching the chaos unfold.

Save the day now. Fix the problem later. Imagine this scenario. There’s a big project on the line, and your whole team needs to pull together to pull it off one day before the deadline. You’re frustrated. You want to know how this happened. Who dropped the ball? Why didn’t they ask for help sooner? Where did the system break down?

Well forget it – at least until the dust settles. This is not the time for second-guessing, finger-pointing, or scape-goating; you can’t tolerate any of that from anyone on your team. This point is worth making at the outset of your work. Let everyone know that the problems will be addressed, but not until the crisis has passed.

The first order of business it to pull together and finish the project. Do it with a positive attitude and make sure your people are doing the same. Once the project is safely complete, you can sit down, figure out what happened, and make sure that it never happens again. This way, not only will cooler heads prevail, but the project won’t suffer because of internal strife and tension.

Maintain a united front. A reasonable amount of conflict is a good thing. It can help stimulate ideas and bring out the best in people. But as a leader, it is your job to have the final say. Your team might squabble and butt heads from time to time, but it is your job to make sure that they all leave the table with a common purpose.

“We can argue all we want behind closed doors,” you might say, “but when we put on our public face, our team must be in agreement externally.” 

Set (and manage) expectations. As a leader, it is your job to establish the collective tone, attitude, and work ethic of your group. Decide what is expected and make your thoughts well known. Do you expect others to meet deadlines or try to exceed them? Will you tenaciously track everyone’s working hours or do you allow a certain degree of flexibility? How informed should your direct reports keep you about the status of their projects – just the high points or do you prefer quite a bit of detail?

Your people are not mind readers! Make sure they know what you expect of them and what they can expect from you. Keep regular, recurring appointments to review each individual’s progress and use the opportunity not just to get a quick status report, but also to reinforce your expectations. 

And what about managing expectations? That means that as priorities conflict and you adjust your expectations, you share these changes with your team. If someone needs to drop everything and focus on one problem or project, make sure he or she knows that this is the case. If you need to be kept more informed than usual about a particularly important initiative, make sure that the person responsible is aware. This can be as simple as saying, “I know that you are the right person for this job, but there are some issues going on that might be more obvious from my position than they are to you. Please just keep me posted on your progress and let me know right away if you run into any problems.”

Don’t just make rules – build character. You can set rules all day long, but what you really want to do is help develop the character of your team. Character is what kicks in when the rules break down. It is also what is going to help your team get through tough, demanding times. A team with strong character requires much less management than one with questionable character. Your people will appreciate not being micromanaged, and you’ll have more time to address your job duties. The bottom line is that productivity that goes above and beyond is based on a person’s values. If you employ someone who values hard work and honesty, that’s what you can expect from them when you’re not looking. 

Clearly state the productivity traits you want people to demonstrate: integrity, accountability, punctuality, excellence, self-discipline, responsibility, and honesty. Hang them on your wall. Repeat them often. Refer to your values when explaining your decisions. Do whatever you can to make sure that your team knows what you stand for and knows that you expect the same from them. 

Lead by example. People might question what you say, but they can’t deny what they see you do. If you arrive late, miss deadlines, or settle for sloppy work, you are sending the message that that sort of thing is acceptable. On the other hand, if you show a sincere commitment to following through on your promises, fulfilling your obligations, and behaving with integrity, you are helping to set a positive standard for the people around you.

Be consistent. Contradicting yourself one time can undo years of demonstrating good behavior. People tend to notice inconsistency in a heartbeat and generally have very little patience for it.

You could execute every one of the tips above to absolute perfection, but if you don’t lead by example, it isn’t going to stick. Hold your team to a high standard – but hold yourself to an even higher one.

Make it a productive day! ™

(C) Copyright 2008 Laura Stack. All rights reserved.