Since 1987 I’ve worked with corporate leaders to improve employee productivity, and I have found that most organizations don’t take advantage of the ‘stars’ they work so hard to hire. They inadvertently but immediately begin limiting those stars’ results by enforcing a hostile work environment full of grinding systems that dramatically detract from performance. And it’s not the employees' fault: It’s driven by the person in charge.
We call this limiting process “sub-optimization.”
one-on-one surveys have asked thousands of executives “if you were getting maximum performance from your team, how much would performance increase?” Many initially said, “I could get a 10 – 20% increase.” But when pressed, most groan and admit that they could truly be getting a 40 – 60% increase in productivity if they only knew how.
How about you? Are you getting 90% of your team’s potential performance? 80%? Or like most managers are you getting closer to 50% from a lot of sub-optimized talent?
Now flip the question around: If you could get increase your people’s productivity by 15-20% or more, how much could that improve your company’s bottom line?
Why are your people limited?
Look for the usual suspects: Most organizations waste huge amounts of employee horsepower with marginal meetings, poor systems, dropped communications, political maneuvering, flaccid project management, misunderstood direction, poor delegation, and task / employee misalignment. And that’s just the top of the list. No company does this on purpose. They just don’t know how to change their systems and "mindsets" to fully engage their people and maximize their contribution.
The “Self-Deception” or “Bosses Are In Denial” Issue
Even though many leaders know that they could get more productivity from their employees, they believe that everyone is working as hard as they can. Why? Bosses measure performance the wrong way, and don’t get real, honest feedback. Most executives rely on what they see, and what they see is people who are tired and stressed, and who seem to "try very hard."
None of this anecdotal evidence is really an accurate measure of staff capacities, or their capabilities. The limiting corporate habits and mindsets mentioned above all add tiredness, stress, and make people work harder without being more productive.
Perversely, the less efficient your organization is the more righteous and hard-working your people may appear!
I can’t tell you how many times employees have admitted to me that they are hesitant to fix broken systems because they get a lot of credit for saving the day when the system breaks. (Everyone loves a hero!)
Think about this: If our statistics hold true in your organization and you are receiving 60 or even 80% of your people’s potential, it means you could get a 20% improvement for free.
All you need to do is release their full potential by better engaging them in your mission.
The Tricky Part
Capturing this extra 20% isn’t easy, but our experience proves that it can be done. And you can get started immediately by doing a few key things. First, start creating an environment through which to get direct, honest feedback from your people so you can begin to determine where they may be sub-optimized. Fair warning:
Initially, they most likely won’t give it to you, because they don’t trust what you will do with it.
(Nearly every leader I know believed they understood their people well and could get great feedback if they need it. Most of them found out they were completely wrong!)
Why is it so rare to truly understand where your people may be sub-optimized?
1) They don’t want to hurt your feelings, knowing you’re trying hard and stressed too.
2) They don’t want to hurt their career, which frankly, you hold in your hands.
3) Nobody wants to appear to not be a team player.
Start Fixing It Today
Bottom line: More engaged employees require a more engaged boss. In a recent program we ran for an energy industry sub-contractor, the supervisors in the program identified close to 30 ways in which they could be better “bosses” who fully tapped the passion of their people. Here are ten typical leadership behaviors from their list:
- Give complete details for work including the “why” of each task
- Adapt more quickly and cooperatively to sudden changes
- Accept (even seek) criticism from peers and employees
- Explain yourself more and give more detail
- Demonstrate more patience with new employees
- Learn to control defensiveness
- Find value in conversations
- Share knowledge and seek knowledge from others
- See things from a different point of view
- Look for the contributions of each of the styles and finds ways to use them to achieve goals
Critically, each manager only took on the burden to change their mindset on one or two items on their list. That made the process manageable, and tracking their success easier.
The results? Significant improvement in staff morale (their bosses were proving that “being human” could coexist with being in charge!). Aside from the specific cost savings each manager recorded that improved the bottom line (about a 300% return on investment, by their own calculation,) my program manager was barraged with feedback personally:
“The response was astonishing. What was initially greeting with skepticism turned into whole-hearted unbridled enthusiasm. For months leaders caught me in the hallways, at the airport, in toolbox meetings, asking questions and discussing their plans. (The supervisors) have clearly deeply internalized true leadership behaviors, even though many are new and unseasoned (in their roles). They think they can set the bar that others aspire to.”
You only optimize your people’s productivity when fully engaged employees with the right corporate mindsets apply all their passion to their jobs. And that process starts with building true, unshakable trust between you and your co-workers.
Building unshakeable trust is a long-term commitment, and you need to take a consistent, active, sustained approach to achieve it.
David Tighe has been helping companies maximize employee productivity for twenty-three years as a principal for Bovo-Tighe, LLC. Bovo-Tighe helps organizations solve leadership, productivity, and hiring challenges using its MINDCHANGE™ and Organizational Transformation processes, which have been market- tested in hundreds of real-world business situations. Contact Dave at firstname.lastname@example.org.