No management conversation is complete without discussing productivity. Workers’ capability to deliver desired results within a specified period is an integral part of the success of any business organization.
In the metrics-based and evidence-driven pursuit of improving productivity, several generations of leaders across entire industries have formed a number of management principles that may have been accurate at some point but are no longer necessarily true. These outdated beliefs can often limit how leaders perceive employees’ productivity levels in the context of the 21st century workplace, where there are more options than before to help sustain or increase productivity outside of the traditional methods.
We’ve previously taken a look at three prevalent productivity myths. But there are a few more that are certainly limiting your perspective of how your team is doing. Read through them here and see if there are any that your organization needs to grow out of.
Workers shouldn’t have to seek inspiration just to be more productive.
From a certain point of view, business is business. Work is work, and it doesn’t need to be fun – it just needs to be done. Rather than improving the flow of productivity, things like music, breaktime board games, or healthy conversations are viewed as distractions that make workers less productive.
However, any employer that takes the time to actually assess their workplace will be able to identify factors that are bigger hindrances to productivity than sources of inspiration. First, poor workload management and distribution will always negatively impact workers, causing them to accomplish less with the time and resources available.
Second, obsolete tools and limited resources can lower the ceiling of what workers can do, and even resourcefulness can only take them so far in that scenario. And finally, a lack of capacity building programs decreases the available avenues for workers to grow into their roles, both in terms of the skills they use and the discipline they need to stick to their responsibilities.
An employer could deprive employees of the means to seek non-disruptive inspiration, and they would still be unfocused and unproductive if these more direct factors are not dealt with. Before placing the blame on inspiration, employers should first address these deficiencies.
Once that’s done, there must be proper recognition and application of the effect of inspiration on workers’ productivity. It helps to treat inspiration as an additional boost, something that adds to the positive impact of building skills and discipline among workers, giving them access to relevant tools and adequate resources, and properly managing and distributing their workloads.
Workers who have all of these plus inspiration are a force to be reckoned with. Not only do they have everything they need to do what they’re expected to, they’re also capable of placing themselves within the flow of productivity through things that motivate them.
Everyone should be like a Swiss army knife.
The world of work has placed such a high premium on versatility and multi-tasking as traits professionals should have. Several factors have led to these traits becoming so highly valued and encouraged. First, contemporary workplaces are driven by multiple process flows, each involving a set volume of tasks. Second, businesses are pushing to streamline and consolidate these processes. Third, where they cannot decrease the tasks involved, they instead decrease the number of persons responsible to shorten the turnover chain.
Because of these factors, employees are increasingly given responsibility for multiple tasks within the processes they handle. Of course, this is nothing new – workers are naturally given additional responsibilities throughout their tenure with a company. But what makes this phenomenon egregious today is that these additional duties are becoming more numerous and diverse in range, while being all but mandatory for everyone at the same time.
To be able to rise to this challenge, workers do the only thing they can given the situation: adapt. They grow and develop as professionals, learning new competencies that correspond with their additional responsibilities. The catch is, everyone grows differently. Some grow horizontally through diversification of skills, while others grow vertically through mastery. Some grow in both dimensions, but again, not everyone does. And even within this third group, there are some who lean toward one dimension over the other. As a result, everyone excels in a different way. Some are multi-role performers, while some are specialists in two or three fields. The key is to remember that both types of workers – those who can do many things well and those who do a few things better than anyone else – bring value to the company. Recognizing this will allow them to be placed in arrangements where their talents will shine.
Given this reality, leaders and management should learn to tone down expectations that everyone in the company can do everything. At the same time, they can use employee engagement initiatives to identify employees who will respond better to either vertical or horizontal growth opportunities, or both. This way, they can adapt the organization’s training needs strategy as well as the overall distribution of additional responsibilities.
Growth as part of the company always involves new higher leadership responsibilities.
Few will argue that leadership is an important professional trait. Leaders at various levels of the organization perform roles that are vital to the success of any business, such as initiating projects, coordinating the flow of information and direction between employees and higher management, and managing and mentoring team members so they become more effective.
The belief that everyone can be a leader has some truth to it. Given the right group and an appropriate project, a professional can take a leadership role that will propel the endeavor to success. But the key takeaway here is the right group and appropriate project – in other words, the situation and context. An employee won’t always excel as a leader in every project or as part of any group.
This consideration for context even goes as far as taking company culture, organizational level, and specific industry into account. Different types of companies need particular types of leaders at each level, and different industries require specific things of their leaders.
Another thing to bear in mind about leadership is that there will always be people who can’t perform well in that capacity at all, especially in comparison to areas where they do excel. When being a major industry player demands well-considered and efficient assignment of responsibilities, an organization can’t afford to have employees playing sub-optimal roles that don’t line up or even clash with their talents and work styles. Some professionals simply shine in boots-on-the-ground roles.
This is all, of course, intended to be considered along with what may be the most important question: is the employee even willing to take on a leadership role? A leader is someone who is willing to perform that role for the company because it’s genuinely part of the value they want to contribute. Employees who see themselves as being of greater value to the company as highly-experienced team members may lack the drive when forced into a leadership role. Rather than wait for such team members to build up that drive, why not identify and mentor those who already have it and are hungry to lead? There is no shortage of such employees in any organization and regardless of the industry.
Tap them when you need to raise your next batch of leaders, and continue to let your rank-and-file employees gain complete mastery of what they do best until they become veterans who can train new blood. These employees who grow in distinctly separate ways will play different but harmonic roles on your team, covering the company’s needs in seamless coordination and through the interplay of their strengths.
With the debunking of these myths also comes the understanding that it’s part of the evolution of work to change and adapt to emerging discoveries, realities, and situations. The more we understand about how people work and the more work environments and processes develop, the more we learn about optimum strategies for increasing workers’ productivity.
The important thing is to be open to these strategies even if they challenge long-held beliefs that are simply no longer applicable. At the same time, we must remember that it’s not all about replacing everything that’s old. If something tried-and-tested still works, we may continue to rely on it as long as it does not ignore how workers really work. At the same time, we must recognize that all ways of doing things have set lifespans, and determine when a method has run its course and must give way to a new approach.
Keep an eye out for standard practices that have become reliant on the way things used to be. Dispel these productivity myths, and enjoy all the potential that new and more informed approaches unlock within your team members!
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