Updated: Aug 20
Firstly, productivity is not about GTD – or getting things done; it's about getting the right things done.
And B, the right things are dictated by 2 variables: CONTEXT and DIRECTION.
Every choice in life flows through this context > direction matrix.
Context is the 'why' of a choice – or the information that provides meaning or clarifies the scenario – and direction is the 'what' of a choice – or the goal or what is to be done about the scenario.
The actual action taken is the 'how' the goal will be achieved to resolve the scenario.
Simple example: You're hungry. Why? (here comes the context) Because you got to work early and have been hard at it all day.
It's now 2pm and you've got a headache because you didn't eat breakfast or lunch; all you've had is a cup of coffee and the remaining mints in the bag in your desk. (sorry stomach and brain)
What to do? (here comes direction) Get some grub!
Eating is the choice (how) that completes the direction or goal (what) that came about as a result of the context (why).
Want to get the right things done – or be more productive? Get microscopically clear on context and direction and maintain awareness of potential changes in context that might conflict with or require some changes to direction.
Ok, now that we're clear on the context for this article, let's outline some direction ;)
#1 - Gain Alignment
Alignment in a business means mission (why / direction) and mechanics (how) and accountability (who) are clearly articulated and synced.
Here is a suggested approach to gaining alignment:
Gain Empathy –
Have you seen the hilarious parody by Jason Hedley about the girl with the nail in her head? (watch it here) While it's an oversimplifcation of emapthy, the main idea is still spot on: people want to be heard.
Spend some time with your people and get a clear idea on both their positive and negative beliefs and experiences about their work, the company, and their future there.
Leaders address beliefs and experiences before they address actions and results. This is why gain empathy is the first step in gaining alignment.
You have to know why people are behaving the way they are before you can define and diagnose a solution.
Doing a little homework here before defining and diagnosing issues will go a long way both with your people and with effectively gaining alignment.
Communicate Direction –
If you did a good job at gaining empathy, you'd have a good sense of how your people are feeling about direction and purpose.
If you discovered there are some holes in your people's perception about your company goals and purpose, resist the temptation to cover up or band-aid the situation with quick rationalizations or poorly thought through answers.
Acknowledge the holes, own the gaps and be clear you'll provide better information soon.
Take the time to nail down your direction and when you move forward to communicate it be authentic and genuine about any lack of clarity in the past in this area and own those gaps.
Be open to your people and ask questions about direction and purpose since some of the best insights come from those directly engaged in the work.
Create solutions with your people rather than for them. Encourage a culture of "we" instead of a division of you and them.
Also, while it's awesome to get to a point where you can work "on" the business rather than just "in" it – don't neglect the wealth of data and epiphanies that can come from your people who are working the business day to day.
As you move forward have regularly scheduled direction updates and debriefs with your teams. This keeps you on your toes and keeps your people engaged.
Communicate Individual Benefits For Achieving Company Goals –
This is about resolving the "what's in it for me" question.
While it's important to be clear about company goals, it's equally as important for your people to know what they gain from helping you get there.
Find ways to reward your people beyond a paycheck; and then communicate those rewards and benefits to them as you track towards achieving your high level company goals and direction.
These benefits can be dispersed by way of trips, bonuses, perks, shares, recognition, or promotions. Basically anything that makes your people feel appreciated and valued.
As human beings if we feel genuinely needed and appreciated we tend to go above and beyond to help those who make us feel that way.
Clarify Accountability & Feedback –
Accountability IS NOT about being responsible for, but rather being responsible to.
Reframing the accountability conversation in these terms removes the negative high pressure typically associated with accountability.
Being accountable to means being proactive in solving challenges – where ever you see them. It means always being on the lookout for ways to improve and to prevent goals from being missed.
Also, it's important to create safe and timely feedback channels for correction, clarification, improvement and growth.
Feedback should never be negative. It should always be constructive.
When a target goal is missed or a process is messed up the feedback process is to double check the accountability to make sure there is alignment with the expectation; and then discover if there is a need for better training, better motivation, or a culture correction.
Check out The Oz Principle for more in depth learning on this subject.
This is the tail end of alignment.
Set up regularly scheduled debrief sessions / meetings where people can openly dialogue their experiences without risk of retribution.
A debrief is a discovery time where experiences can be shared and insights gained. You can do this individually, with groups or with the whole company.
Debriefing allows you to complete the alignment cycle by getting insights into how things are going and what can be done to improve alignment.
Not debriefing is like not referencing a map on a road trip. You know where you want to go but without regularly checking your position against your destination you'll eventually get off course - and stay off course.
Gaining alignment takes work. So does having a successful company.
Great companies don't just happen. They become great by doing the hard work required for greatness.
Great companies are also productive companies. Take some time and discover how aligned your company is, make the necessary corrections, and watch your productivity sore.
#2 – Provide Opportunities For Skill Growth / Development
There's not many better ways to communicate that you value someone than to serve them.
Investing in your people is a huge way to serve them. Yes it benefits the company as well; but showing your people you want to help them succeed will pay dividends over and above your monetary investment or a simple uptick in productivity.
You'll see gains from your people with loyalty, problem solving, leadership, diligence and an overall better paradigm about working with you to achieve company goals.
#3 – Create Opportunities For People To Be Creative
There are endless studies about the psychological and emotional importance of being creative.
Among other things it helps reduce anxiety, depression, and stress; and helps process trauma and manage negative emotions in a productive way.
Also, for most people creativity needs to be encouraged and re-learned since "life" can bury our innate child-like creativity. So we have to work at re-discovering and nurturing our creative juices.
Plus, companies that nurture creativity are more innovative, better problem solvers, and tend to be ahead of the curve in their market segment.
Here are 6 different practices to consider when introducing creativity opportunities at work:
Group brainstorming and creative thinking are skills. While all of us have natural creative talents in different areas, being creative with others is a skill.
Enable your teams to take time out for brainstorming sessions and creative problem solving.
Provide brainstorm training (because we've all been in horrible totally unproductive waste of time brain storm sessions) and allow your people to practice.
Resist the temptation to control the outcome of creativity.
Don't be the teacher who tells the student who drew a flower that the flower is wrong.
Provide the metrics or data of the end goal and turn your teams loose to find the best way of solving the challenge and nailing the goal.
Resources and Time –
Provide proper money and time allocation as necessary for teams to be creative. Tight deadlines can encourage creativity; but false or impossibly tight ones cause burnout and distrust.
Have budgets for food and brainstorm supplies. Designate a room in the office as a brainstorm place where teams can go to get in the zone and unleash their creativity.
Bring people together with different skills sets and backgrounds to provide good perspective and paradigm to prevent short / narrow sighted results.
The Standford d.School is a great resource for understanding the power of diversity in creative processes as well as for creative thinking as a whole.
Rules of Engagement –
Make sure there are clear engagement rules between people to avoid frustration, offense, and to help things move forward.
The most important rule during a brainstorm or creative thinking session is everyone understands there are no bad ideas; and that no one should be hard core invested in their own ideas.
Creativity is about merging ideas into one grand idea.
Every idea is fodder for bigger or new ideas. Great ideas are always a synthesis of other ideas.
So be sure to set clear rules of engagement and spend some resources to train your people on brainstorm processes and facilitation.
Organizational Support –
When teams present their findings or solutions, support the effort, provide quality feedback acknowledging the work, and offer suggestion or ideas if necessary.
The sure-fire way to kill creativity is to shoot it down. Again, don't be the teacher who tells the student their creative flower is wrong or stupid.
#4 – Reward & Recognize
Companies like awardco are taking the implementation of recognition to the next level.
And the fact that they are among the inc 500 fastest growing companies in America indicates the impact they are having on individual people in businesses across the country.
Take away? A simple reminder that human beings need recognition as a matter of health.
This isn't a narcissistic need; it's really just a need to feel like we are contributing and providing value – and that we matter in some way.
If you aren't currently nailing the recognition thing in your business, no worries. But re-commit now and build programs and opportunities to recognize your people in a genuine real world way.
Few things kill trust and morale faster than a fake boss.
Come up with unique ways to show your people your appreciation and that you support them.
Trust me, the action will be reciprocated.
#5 – Eliminate Stupid Processes (also called inefficiencies)
Ever heard the story of the fisherman's dilemma? It goes like this:
A fishing company sends a guy out to catch fish. While on the job he realizes there's a better and faster way to catch and haul the fish.
So he goes to get approval from his boss, who has to get approval from his boss, who has to get approval from the VP of Ops, who has to get approval from the COO.
The fisherman never gets a response. So he nags his boss, who nags his boss, who ... etc.
This is a story of a stupid approval process.
Every company has stupid processes. Some are in place to preserve status quo, others to make sure the right people look good and others because no time is spent listening to the people on the ground and making work easier and faster.
If you have the authority in your position to influence process decisions, do everything in your power to eliminate the stupid ones. It's a no brainer productivity enhancing solution.
#5 – Get Customer Feedback
How can this help with productivity?
Well customer feedback educates business processes. And when you understand how you can better serve your customer you can do better at getting the right things done.
Remember productivity is not about getting things done; it's about getting the right things done.
Spend time with your customers. Learn from them. Gain empathy.
Then take those insights to your teams and have creative brainstorm sessions of how you can simplify or change your work to better serve your customers.
#6 – Be Accountable
Remember the bit above about fake bosses killing trust and morale?
This is right in that ballpark. If there's a double standard in your workplace with people not owning their mistakes or when things fall through the cracks, that approach will ripple across your teams and put a serious brake on productivity.
Also remember, being accountable means you are responsible to certain tasks and goals.
It means seeing and acknowledging any errors, owning it, working diligently to find a solution and making sure the solution is implemented.
As Ghandi said: be the change you want to see in the world.
You want productivity to go up? Start with yourself.
#7 – Don't Take Yourself Too Seriously
As Mary Poppins said: "in every job to be done, there is an element of fun, you find the fun and *snap* the job's a game!"
While frustration is almost an every day experience in life, it doesn't have to control us.
With a little laughter and self allowance for mistakes you can prevent yourself from being the person who smashes your tennis racquet during a game or breaks the printer at work.
Give yourself some lenience and offer that to others as well.
While laughter is sometimes the best medicine, it is always good medicine.
Improving productivity is fundamentally a human question. While simplifying processes and streamlining workflows is necessary, those will be of little consequence if people are not primed to utilize them.
Start with the human element. Get context.
People will only change behavior when they believe their new actions will actually improve things – for them.
Once they believe this behavior will change over night.
Spend time gaining alignment between your people and your company goals.
The processes connect those things, but your people make it happen.
Empathize with them, support them, train them, develop them, reward them, and laugh with them.
Turn GTD into GT-RTD – or getting the right things done. Synergize with your people and reap the rewards of success with them.
What do you think? What are some other ways to improve productivity?