Unproductive Workers? Check Your Management Skills

Enhancing worker productivity has been a mission for enterprises since the days of the industrial revolution, when management science scrutinized each step of an assembly line. Most of the focus since then has been on how to squeeze out an extra ounce of productivity from an organization’s workforce.

The issue is rarely the workers. Most people want to do a good job. They take great pride and personal satisfaction in being perceived as effective contributors. Problems arise in circumstances where people feel unmotivated and undervalued. Therefore, my focus on improving worker productivity has less to do with the workers and more to do with how they are managed.

Ask yourself whether your employees know how their efforts tie in with the vision and mission of your organization. Nothing is more demoralizing for any of us than not understanding how what we do matters to our company. For example, if an IT employee believes that all he or she is doing is administration for a back-end system, it can be tough to get really excited about doing the job. As a leader, your imperative is to help your people understand how their efforts directly influence the success of the enterprise.

Lack of innovation is another favorite topic of complaint among IT leaders. The perception among some CIOs is that their teams are not innovating enough to help the enterprise as a whole to differentiate its goods or services in order to beat its competitors in the marketplace.

But, the greatest barrier to innovation is not the degree of creativity among individual employees. Rather, it is the culture within which they are trying to innovate. If you espouse innovation as a key objective while simultaneously fostering a “culture of blame”–where fingers are pointed and mistakes are punished–then innovation cannot and will not take root.

Prudent risk-taking needs to be rewarded. Situations that some might deem failures should, instead, be treated as learning experiences and part of the process necessary to move your organization toward its goals. As Thomas Edison said when he was working to develop the light bulb: “I have not failed … I just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” If your people are risk-averse for fear of being punished, they will never “think outside the box.”

Accountability is another hot topic. Do your people feel that they are vested in the outcomes of their efforts? There is a classic management parable of a man who walks past a construction site and asks the first laborer what he is doing. The laborer replies, “I’m making $20 an hour laying bricks.”

The man goes a few steps farther and asks a second laborer the same question. The second worker replies, “I’m building the most magnificent cathedral in the world.” People who feel a sense of ownership and accountability for their outcomes and results are productive and focused on excellence.

Finally, do you take the time to celebrate your team’s successes? I’m talking about simply stepping back to publicly recognize success and thank individuals and teams for outstanding efforts. This validates the hard work and effort invested in any process.

Look at any extremely productive company, and I guarantee that you will find excellent management and motivational leadership. Coincidence? I think not.

Larry Bonfante
Larry Bonfante
Larry Bonfante is a practicing CIO and founder of CIO Bench Coach, LLC, an executive coaching practice for IT executives. He is also the author of Lessons in IT Transformation, published by John Wiley & Sons. He can be reached at Larry@CIOBenchCoach.com.

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