Ahh, the corporate workplace. For all the strides that have been made, and productivity gains that have been realized, it always seems like there’s more to be done. There’s more efficiency that can be squeezed out of the system. In many ways, the modern corporate workplace has been a victim of its own success. Despite the stellar gains that have been made, many companies (of all sizes) are struggling against internal inefficiencies of various sorts. It almost feels as though these firms have forgotten the business of their business.
Here then, are five trends we’re seeing at the edges of the corporate world, that will hopefully filter through the width and breadth of it. If and when that happens, we’ll see a surge of new productivity gains, not driven by the implementation of new technologies, or by outsourcing/right-sizing/off-shoring, but rather, by good, old fashioned housekeeping and a return to the fundamentals.
Greater Employee Empowerment
There have been numerous scientific studies on the matter: Higher wages seldom equals superior performance. The only time this is true is in the case of rote, mechanical labor, which does not describe the vast majority of work that occurs in today’s corporate environment. The moment even rudimentary cognition is required in a job, better pay actually yields worse performance. It’s been proven time and time again, in studies all over the world.
So if more money doesn’t lead to improved performance and productivity, what does? It’s actually simpler than you might think. Empowerment.
Pay your employees enough to take money off the table as an issue, let them in on the thinking behind key business decisions, so that they fully understand the role they’re playing in the realization of business goals, then empower them to do what needs to be done to meet those goals. That means saying no to micromanagement. It means saying yes to knocking down departmental barriers, breaking up internal fiefdoms, and generally clearing the internal roadblocks that are standing in the way of your employees getting the business of your business accomplished.
More Productive Meetings
There’s nothing inherently wrong with meetings. Unfortunately, most meetings are wastes of time, and everyone knows it. They’re not terribly focused, and generally muddled. If they’re not then they’re not so much meetings as they are the issuance of marching orders, with the outcome of the meeting a foregone conclusion (in which case, an email with instructions would save everyone time).
Given that the average corporate employee spends two full days of each week in meetings, this is a huge opportunity for improved efficiency, and some companies are starting to wake up to that face. Is yours? If not, it’s probably long past time to rethink, revamp, and completely overhaul your meetings.
Less Reporting, More Doing
Too many employees at too many companies are spending inordinate amounts of time checking, logging, reporting, and discussing. Those aren’t inherently bad things either, but too much of a good thing can quickly turn bad, and if your employees are spending as much as half of every day simply reporting and checking in, then that’s half a day’s productivity you’ve lost. Keep reporting to a minimum, and to what’s absolutely necessary. That’s what the nimblest companies in today’s business world are doing, and if you’re not, then you should start immediately. The less time your employees are bogged down by talking about it, the more time they can spend doing the work that adds to your company’s bottom line.
A Move Away From “Employee Engagement”
This is actually occurring hand in hand with greater employee empowerment, as described above. You don’t need to coddle your employees. They don’t need you to be their friend, or to make them feel good about themselves. What they actually need, and what most employees, corporate or not, actually crave, is empowerment and autonomy. Give them the tools to do their jobs, communicate clearly and effectively what role they’re playing in the overall business strategy you’re pursuing, then get out of the way and leave them to it. When you do that, you’ll find that you don’t need “Employee Engagement” programs at all.
Honest To Goodness Priorities
This is a big one, and it is heartening to see some companies rushing to embrace it. The problem with most businesses today is that everything is listed as “high priority.” Obviously though, when everything is top priority, nothing is. The essence of this change is sitting your top management down and coming to an understanding about what your true business priorities are. Once you have a firm idea and clear picture about what needs to be done, and which items are more important than others, you can communicate that out to your employees.
Of course, simply communicating the true priorities is a good start, but in isolation, it won’t do much. What’s needed in tandem with this is again, employee empowerment. Once your employees understand what the most urgent, business critical tasks before them, they’ve also got to be given the power to say “no,” to a member of management who tries to pull them off of a critical task.
In too many corporate environments, saying no to a manager is the proverbial kiss of death. That’s changing at the edges, and if it hasn’t already filtered into your corporate culture, it needs to. Your employees will be much more productive if they know and understand what the real priorities are, and can say no to anyone who tries to pull them away from working on those issues.
To be clear, most of these aren’t exactly new ideas, but like certain items of fashion, things go out of style for a time, and are suddenly made new again. That’s what’s beginning to happen in most of the cases above, and it’s a very good thing. If you own or manage a business of any size, ask yourself some hard questions about how your company is currently running. How many of the ideas above have you integrated into your corporate culture? If the answer is “not many,” or “none,” then now is the time. You’ll be amazed at the difference these changes can make.