Increase Productivity Using These Simple Tips

Worker productivity in the UK is continuing to decline.  This has been going on for the last decade or so since the financial crisis.  There are many reasons for this and plenty of theories about how to reverse the trend.  But why does it matter?

The Cambridge English Dictionary defines Productivity  as “the rate at which a company or country makes goods, usually judged in connection with the number of people and the amount of materials necessary to produce the goods”.

It matters, according to the BBC, because it is the main driver of long-term economic growth and higher living standards.

You may think that this is for the Government or the large companies to worry about. It is not an area where smaller companies can have much impact.  This article will give you some tips about how you can make a difference in your own company and why that is so important.

What can any one employer do to increase productivity?

  • Recognition. This does not need to be a large and involved recognition and benefits scheme.  When business talks about recognition, it often means salary levels and all of the benefits which can be given to employees to retain their loyalty.  Of course, we all hope that our efforts will not go unnoticed and we like to be recognised.  Each Person, a company specialising in employee recognition,  conducted an employee survey recently.  Almost half (48%) of employees surveyed said that a simple “thank you” would make them feel valued.
  • Respect. This one is a two-way street. If you show respect to your employees, then they are more likely to respect you.  Nobody says that people have to like each other to be able to work together.  But mutual respect is important and a professional approach is always the best one.
  • Integrity. If your recognition is not genuine, then it will have the wrong effect.  If it is too casual or generic it will demoralise workers.   People can see through falsity and non-genuine approaches.  So if you find it difficult to empathise with someone, then you may need to consider some personal development in the softer skills for yourself.

Who should we include in any recognition?

  • Include everyone. When you set up a formal recognition and reward scheme, or even if you are just giving out informal thanks to employees, then make sure that these schemes and informal approaches cover every employee. I have worked in companies which give out certificates of thanks, together with some kind of small monetary gift.  This is great when you are on the receiving end.  But what if you never are?  If someone is never or rarely recognised, when others get singled out regularly, then it will lead to resentment.  It may result in  a feeling of unfairness and will ultimately end in employees becoming demotivated.  This can lead to other problems with sickness, retention, poor employer reputation – even legal action.
  • Encourage peer to peer recognition. It can be really powerful to receive recognition from a colleague, rather than from the top down. I know of a global company which encourages its employees to give unattributed small gifts to each other on Valentine’s Day (and at other times of year as well).  So an employee comes to their desk to find a mug with some chocolates in it and a thank you note.  They don’t know who it is from, but their task then is to reciprocate by giving some kind of thank you to another colleague in secret.  Now this kind of approach is unlikely to work in every company and I am not suggesting that you should implement this.  But we all like to be appreciated by our co-workers and so it would be a good idea to encourage people to thank each other for noteworthy efforts.  This could be an email, a phone call, or a sticky note attached to a computer or telephone.

Things to avoid if you want to increase productivity

A “one-size-fits-all” approach to reward and recognition is a recipe for disaster in modern diverse and varied workplaces.   Individual members of staff will prefer to be rewarded differently.  Reward schemes are as varied as the people in the workplace.  Alcohol is never a good reward – many do not even allow alcohol into the workplace and so to give it as a reward seems rather perverse.  With such diversity in our workplaces, we need to move away from rewards which people from some cultures or religions may find offensive.  Even if not offensive, they are potentially just a waste of money.

Many current reward schemes include points or vouchers to allow discounts in high street or online retailers.  Even this may not be an acceptable reward for some.  Such schemes may only have participation from the most popular retailers and not everyone uses those retailers.  Some workers may prefer time off as a reward, or additional flexibility.

The timing of rewards is another potential area for pitfalls.  It is better if the recognition can be given at a time appropriate to the work undertaken, rather than on a regular occasion.  Otherwise it becomes more of a ritual and less of a genuine appreciation. If there is too long a gap between the work and the reward, then people might feel that the recognition is only paying lip service.

Other potential barriers to increasing productivity

Many workplaces allow and encourage remote working, home working, variable or irregular working hours.  Any reward scheme must be designed to include reward for anybody who is working to non-standard working patterns.

Another potential issue is the public nature of any recognition.  You may feel it is something to be covered in team meetings or in a public area.  This would appear to bring the greatest benefit as it should encourage people to make greater efforts so they can also achieve recognition.  However, you must be aware that not everyone will feel comfortable at the public scrutiny.  Any potential benefits to retention or productivity might be lost if someone feels embarrassed or singled-out in front of colleagues.  It is important to show some empathy when dealing with any kind of people issues – good or bad.

One final point to remember is that any recognition scheme – formal or informal – must be operated fairly.  There must be no room for anyone to feel they have been treated unfairly.  If there is any such feeling, then any good from the recognition scheme risks being wiped out.

In brief

The productivity levels in the UK are continuing to fall or at least to stagnate. We are falling behind competitors in other countries.  This will have a detrimental effect on our ability to compete.  This, in turn, will lead to lower salary increases and less growth.  On an individual company level, if you have low productivity you risk a high staff turnover.  This leads to costly and difficult recruitment.  The staff you retain are likely to be sick more often and to perform at a lower level.  This will have a direct effect on profits and growth and may affect client relationships.

One simple way you can begin to turn this around and increase productivity is to set up a formal or informal recognition scheme.  That way your employees are rewarded for their efforts and feel valued, included and part of your company’s success.

If you think this article is useful and you would like any strategic HR support or information  on dealing with this  – or any other people-related issue in your business – please join our mailing list, or contact us for further guidance.

Jill Aburrow runs an HR strategic consultancy business – JMA HR .  She provides strategic HR advice and support to businesses who want to improve loyalty, growth and profit.  Jill has been a professional strategic HR advisor for over two decades. She is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (FCIPD) and has a Post Graduate Certificate in Employment Law.

Why Your Business Vision Must Include Your Employees

Let me tell you about someone who runs a successful garden centre. The business is doing reasonably well and employs 20 or so people.  But the owner is frustrated.   His business vision was to design gardens for people and then sell them the plants and equipment to maintain the designs.  He knows he can expand his business hugely, doing what he loves best.

His advertising all includes the garden design offering and he talks to customers about it if he gets the chance – but he doesn’t often get involved in the customer-facing end of the business.  He spends his time producing wonderful designs for gardens which are only in his imagination.

His problem is that he hasn’t told his employees of his vision.  They all know they work for a garden centre and they work quite hard at selling the plants and suggesting suitable tools for customers.  But they are unaware of the garden design option.

One day the owner happens to be chatting to a neighbour of his who runs a motor mechanic business.  The friend is praising the staff at the garden centre, but then says that he wants the derelict area at the back of his garage made-over to provide a garden as a benefit for his staff and customers.  Crucially, he comments that he has mentioned it a few times to the staff in the garden centre, but nobody knew of anyone who did garden design.   One had mentioned a garden designer who they had seen advertising on the internet, but they were based a distance away and the motor mechanic had hoped for someone closer.  But he was going to check out this option as he did not have any other ideas.

Sharing Your Business Vision

The obvious point of this story is that if the garden centre owner had shared his vision with his employees, then they could have directed queries about garden design to the owner.  So he might have been able to move closer to his business vision more quickly.

But there are other reasons for sharing your vision with your employees.  And the way you share it is important too.  Many organisations have their business vision written as a statement and displayed for all to see.  But even if employees know what the vision is, that does not mean they automatically buy into it.

My business is too small to bother about this

Even a business with only one employee (the owner) has a vision of why they exist and what is the purpose they are aiming to fulfil.  In fact, smaller businesses often have a much more clear idea of their vision.

If a business employs someone else as well as the owner, even just one employee, then it is important to share your business vision with that employee.   That person is critical to your success and expansion.  They need to understand that they have an important job, and why it is important.

You need to have a clear vision for your organisation.  You need to understand what it is that you are aiming to achieve and you need to be able to communicate that to your staff.  At this point, you may be thinking “but I just want to make and sell widgets”.   You need to think about what your customers want and how they want it.

Do they want fine quality, high-end widgets for which they will be happy to pay a premium?    You can then have a vision along the lines of “XYZ Company makes the best widgets in the county.  We make our widgets sustainably and sell them to people who want to buy premium widgets.”

Or do your customers want large number of cheap widgets, which are quickly available? In that case your vision can be “XYZ makes thousands of low cost widgets and we keep our customers happy by delivering them the next day”.

You could use either of these as your business vision but you would need to show your employees where they fit into that vision.

Why share my business vision?

  • If your employees know what is your business vision, they will work towards it.
  • As a result of your employee understanding how their own job fits into your business vision, they will feel more job satisfaction and a sense of belonging in the company.
  • When your employee understands how they are working towards the business vision, they will feel more loyalty to the company, more pride in your achievements and will contribute more in terms of ideas, solutions, suggestions.
  • Your employee will feel trusted and valued if they know they are part of your vision. This will help them to trust you as well.
  • If an employee feels trusted and valued and can see the importance of their job, they are less likely to leave to work elsewhere. They are less likely to go off sick. Their loyalty to you and your business will increase.
  • All of these benefits will contribute to growth and profit for your business.

How can I share my business vision?

This is about more than putting up a notice proclaiming what the business vision is.  Many companies do this and there is nothing wrong with it.  But you need to do more.  The danger is the belief that a notice stating the vision is enough to embed that vision in people’s minds.

In my garden centre story above, the owner had included his vision in his advertising, but the employees and customers were still unaware of that vision.  When we read something often enough, it ceases to sink in and have any meaning. The vision statement of a large corporate company where I worked was written in large letters in the reception area.  I walked past it several times a day for six years and I cannot tell you what that vision statement said or what the vision was for that organisation.  Certainly nobody ever talked to me about how my job contributed to that vision.

And that is the key.  Line managers need to speak to individual employees on a regular basis and outline what is the company’s vision and how that individual contributes to it.  Just telling people once is not enough.  It needs to be reinforced regularly.

Team meetings, company newsletters, appraisals, inductions for new staff, any company communications – these are all opportunities to reinforce the company vision.

Tying it all up

Every business, whatever the size, needs a clear business vision to aim towards.  But just because you know your business vision, it does not mean that it is clear to everyone else.  And even if it is clear, that does not mean that your employees are all working towards it.

You need to communicate the purpose of your business to everyone – customers, suppliers, potential clients (advertising) – and, most importantly, your employees.

Your employees need to understand where their job fits into the achievement of this vision.  They need to believe they are an important cog in the wheel.  And this message needs to be reinforced and repeated at every opportunity.

Get this right and it will build trust and loyalty, which are an invaluable asset and will contribute hugely to your business growth and profit.

If you think this article is useful and you would like any strategic HR support or information  to help you understand your business vision and communicate it to your employees – please join our mailing list, or contact us for further guidance.

Jill Aburrow runs an HR strategic consultancy business – JMA HR .  She provides strategic HR advice and support to businesses who want to improve loyalty, growth and profit.  Jill has been a professional strategic HR advisor for over two decades. She is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (FCIPD) and has a Post Graduate Certificate in Employment Law.