Recessionary Productivity Strategies: How to Get Lean and Mean in 2009

Recessionary Productivity Strategies: How to Get Lean and Mean in 2009Times are tough.

That means businesses everywhere are forced to do more with less. Budgets are being cut. Headcounts are being reduced. In many offices across the country, the only thing that isn’t being reduced is the workload.

It all comes down to finding ways to do more with less – more work with fewer people, bigger projects on smaller budgets.

Just remember that, historically, great opportunities have been found in times of great challenge and hardship. Now, as organizations and as individuals, we all have a (hopefully!) once in a lifetime opportunity to look a global financial crisis in the face and excel in spite of it.

So how do we survive and thrive in an economy that bites back? It’s time to take the gloves off and get lean and mean in 2009.

Here are three simple ideas that will help managers meet this challenge head-on and come out stronger on the other side.

1. Share the plan. I’m willing to bet that your organization has made some changes in the last year in response to the current economic fiasco. Have your people been in the loop? If not, it’s time to get them all on the same page.

Where to start? Make sure your folks know the answers to a few simple questions:

  • Where do we stand? Provide a good, high-level view of what your company is doing as a whole to combat the recession. Your staff will be more productive if they have a sense that the organization is moving in the right direction.
  • What is the company doing differently? If changes are afoot, share information as appropriate. Employees kept in the dark will inevitably spend some portion of their day mentally updating their resumes as they fear for the worst.
  • What should we be doing differently? This is the big one. Empower your employees by giving them specific, tangible objectives to refocus their efforts during lean times. If five people are doing the work of seven, they need to understand where their priories should be. Once they have refocused their efforts, they will have the confidence to set aside their lower-priory tasks and spend their time and energy on activities that add maximum value to the company.

2. Reemphasize accountability. Once you’ve helped your people understand how their work has changed – what has been added, eliminated, or modified for each individual performer – it is time to set crystal clear parameters for accountability. That means setting specific, hopefully measurable, performance objectives so that employees know where they stand and what is expected of them. In fatter economic times, a paycheck can be taken for granted and productivity can slip. Now, as we are all aware of how lucky we are to be doing what we are doing, it is a perfect time to revisit expectations and ensure that everyone is meeting the demands of their job.

Remember, a productive employee knows:

  • What work they should be doing. This means getting back to basics and making sure everyone’s job description has kept up with the times.
  • What work they shouldn’t be doing. In the spirit of being a helpful, “good” worker, many employees will never say “no” to anything. You need to empower them to do so and let them know you’ve got their back.
  • What constitutes success. Remember, specific and tangible. What should they be doing? What will the desired results look like?

Without this basic information, your folks might stay incredibly busy, but are unlikely to be as effective or productive as you need them to be. Beyond that, let them know what you expect and be clear on the consequences of falling short of expectations. It isn’t a threat, it’s just a matter of creating a framework of accountability and making sure everyone knows the new rules of the game.

3. Create opportunities. Challenging, often stressful times can bring out the best and the worst in teams and individuals. Your job as a manger is to create an environment that brings out the best. Be an advocate for your team within the organization. Let them know that you are there to support them just as much as they are there to support you. As resources are reduced or shuffled around, there will be numerous opportunities for your people to step out of their traditional roles and do work that might have been out of their reach a few months ago.

What’s that look like, practically speaking?

    • Provide resources. Give your people the tools they need to get the job done. Certain resources might be scarce commodities throughout your organization and chances are that your folks are in no position to take advantage of them on their own. Let them know that you are there to accommodate reasonable requests. Hold the line on the budget when it makes sense, but be willing to fight for what matters.
    • Be available. In times like these, your door needs to be open. Let your people know that you are there for them and that you understand what they are going though. They need to know that you know just how hard they’re working and the challenges they face. Be supportive, accessible, and reinforce that you understand the limitations of your lean, mean team.
    • Let them excel. Allow your people to step up and take on stretch assignments. Not only will you create an invaluable development opportunity, but you’ll also learn a lot about the capabilities of your best folks. Give every member of your team a shot at blowing you away. There’s no excuse for your team not to come out of the other side of this economic downturn smarter, more skilled, and more productive.

Make it a productive day! (TM)
(C) Copyright 2009 Laura Stack. All rights reserved.