Five Strategies to Optimize Employee Productivity

By Kim Ziprik, MS, PHR

According to recent economic impact studies, including one by Salary.com, at least 52% of U.S. organizations have reduced their staff through layoffs in the last year, while 60% have implemented hiring freezes. In many cases, this has left one employee doing the job of two or more. Add to this the accelerated rate of change in today’s business world, where employees are asked to learn new and complex skills in shorter time frames, and it is easy to understand why employee productivity has suffered in today's economic downturn.

But what can front line managers do when there is no choice but to squeeze every ounce from their diminished team? How can cost-conscious organizations minimize risks, while improving output? The answer may not lie in the number of people employed, but in how well-prepared individuals are to execute their jobs while keeping up with changes in their industry.

Most companies rely heavily on traditional training methods such as memorization and formal classroom structures to meet employees’ common learning needs. While these strategies are effective to a point, they are also time-consuming, cost-prohibitive and interrupt the workflow.

Today’s business environment demands a better solution that doesn’t dictate when, where or what learning takes place. Smart managers are embracing innovative tools and resources to help employees gain critical knowledge at the moment of need, while they work. How can your company improve productivity? Implementing these five strategies will provide for a quick return on investment:

1) Leverage technology and human strengths – Research shows employees who utilize their strengths are 6 times more likely to be emotionally engaged on their jobs. Unfortunately, many people spend a significant part of their workday executing predictable, repetitive tasks. Smart companies realize that a more effective use of human capital is to relegate these processes to technology-based solutions and leverage their peoples’ skills in solving complex business problems, enhancing the customer experience, or creating innovative products and services.

2) Make it easy to keep up with change – The way we do business is changing and it is accelerating exponentially. For example, the first commercial text message was sent in 1992 and today the number of texts sent daily exceeds the population of the planet. There are currently 540,000 words in the English language, 5 times as many as when Shakespeare was alive. The amount of technical knowledge is doubling every year. Who is impacted the most by this rapid pace? Staff. Consider building and deploying a Systematic Performance Support tool (PST) or online coach to help employees keep current. PSTs allow management to quickly relay updates in process, product and pricing, virtually eliminating employee errors. Helping employees ‘get-it-right’ each and every time is imperative to improved bottom-line results and keeping up morale.  

3) Capture your corporate wisdom – In today’s information age, the key to productivity is getting important data and best practices out of people’s heads and into tangible and usable formats. With fewer people on staff, the experience and wisdom of veteran employees is more valuable than ever. By systematically documenting best practices and processes, along with the company’s systems and regulations, forward-thinking organizations are dramatically decreasing training time and costs. Building a repository of knowledge is invaluable to the bottom-line and feeds future growth.

4) Encourage social learning– It’s estimated that 80% - 90% of learning occurs informally on the job. Yet many companies fail to take advantage of this knowledge base by making it accessible to all employees. In today’s highly-socialized and media-driven world, providing employees with easy-to-use authoring tools can have a positive impact quickly and with minimal investment. Encouraging employees to author blogs, wikis or manage discussion forums will allow information to be shared quickly. Providing employees with the resources to create, add to or modify content leads to greater collaboration, innovation and problem-solving skills.

5) Develop coaches and mentors – Experienced employees are one of your company’s greatest assets; it is imperative to utilize their skills in optimizing the learning process. Leverage seasoned employees as Subject Matter Experts (SME) and coach them to be mentors. This role provides them the opportunity to show off their natural strengths while fulfilling a vital business role. Additionally, today’s manager must learn how to be an effective coach. Providing real-time feedback is imperative to productivity and improved performance. Together these roles are critical to growing the company’s greatest asset, its human capital.

By integrating the learning process into on-going, daily processes, many companies are improving productivity by up to 60%, while cutting overall training costs in half. If your organization is looking for innovative ways to maximize employee performance, consider incorporating these strategies into your business. You will not only improve collaboration, competence and productivity, you will empower your best people to succeed.

Kim Ziprik holds a Masters degree in Organizational Leadership, is a certified Human Resource (PHR) professional, and an active member in American Society for Training and Development and the Society of Human Resource Management.

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