One of my clients, who I will call ‘Bill,’ owned a construction company and was struggling with employee management and how to improve employee productivity. He seemed to spend more time solving or fixing problems than he did finding new sales prospects. Every time he “put out a fire” another spark would ignite a new situation that he would have to deal with. Bill had employees who refused to arrive to work on time, who disappeared from the job site, who cut corners (which ended up costing the company extra just in repairs), and he had some employees who stole or mistreated materials and or equipment from the company. It got so bad that he was ready to close his business and sell off everything!
Many of our small business coaching clients, including Bill, struggle with similar difficulties in maintaining control over of their employees let alone improving employee productivity. In fact, we have seen how these employee problems can result in a significant loss of profit in a small business. When a company lacks strong leadership, it is prime for a tragic loss that we call the “ten thousand dollar mistake.” It happens when you have the wrong person in the right place at the worst time possible; they do something that costs your business a lot! Unfortunately, Bill had several of these over a two year period that cost his business profit greatly.
Firefighting is prominent problem in small business that we have included specific focus on it in our leadership skills training course for managers and owners. Here are some of the topics we help our clients with.
Tips to Improve Employee Productivity
If your business is not built on a strong leadership foundation, then you will be continually fighting with your employees to get them to work effectively. Try these tips to help you gain the control you need to improve productivity.
1. Accept the Leadership Challenge
Your leadership of the company will be tested from time to time. If you are experiencing employees that are not listening to your policies, it’s usually because they are testing your leadership; they need a strong leader to follow. If so, you will need to calmly take the challenge and correct them as required. If you lose your cool, you lose leadership and that will cost you. So make sure you stand firm.
2. Set Firm Boundaries
Without firm boundaries employees will make-up their own, and they’ll never be right for your company. It’s your job as leader to decide what the operational practices are and then to educate everyone about them. Do this often and reward those who exemplify the type of characteristics that are improving employee productivity. This will help you build a strong company.
3. Make Consequences Match the Offence
What if you educate them and they still are pushing back? Arriving late for work, again? Let them go home and think about what they’re doing wrong. It’s common for a business owner to feel that they can’t afford to not have one of their employees at work. If the employee decides to take advantage of this, they’ll try to get away with all sorts of things. At times you’ll have to let them suffer the consequences even though it will cause you extra stress today and time to do the right thing. Waiting to deal with behavior that is off of the company standard will create multiple misunderstanding towards your leadership. Employees can assume that if you’re not dealing with their push back that they can get away with it and even worse, what you say has no backbone to it. With misbeliefs like this it’s no wonder that they lose respect for your leadership.
4. Be Consistent – Always and in All Ways
It’s important that you are consistent with everyone on your team. No matter how important they are to the company, no matter how many other team members they have on their side, be consistent with your correction and direction. It’s important that everyone knows that the new rules are the best business productivity solution that you could have; it’s not personal. What is personal is how you implement the behavior correction for those who are not keeping with the companies set of acceptable business practices.
5. Hold People Accountable to Producing Results
If you have ever asked any professional business coach or manager how to improve employee productivity, most will say you need to have firm objectives and performance standards followed by solid accountability. Accountability is the glue that keeps the change process moving forward, without it nothing happens effectively. Make sure that you discuss what needs to happen, when you expect it and then get them to agree to make this a priority. Without this two-way communication, there is no way accountability can help accomplish company goals. Set you expectations lower. Very few people will hear what needs to change and then do it the first time. Expect that you will need to tell them 3-5 times in many different ways before they get it. If they’re not hearing you after the 4th or 5th time, stop them, and ask them why they are not hearing you? Do they understand? What do they think about the change? Are they knowingly resisting? Make sure to deal with the issues with direct communication.
6. Create Buy in with Weekly Meetings
Have a weekly meeting to review how the last week went, improvements you want the team to make, and discuss the goals for the current week. Regular meetings can help keep attitudes in check and build a healthy company culture. Make sure to make them positive and if there is a need to correct someone, do it privately.
7. Plan for Staff Changes
Yes, when you change your management style and begin improving employee productivity, expect that those who are not happy with your new leadership stance to leave and find another job. You can usually tell who it will be because their frequency of sick days will increase, they’ll be hanging around other people’s desk for no apparent reason and may even start speaking out in staff meetings. It’s your job to identify those people early and make sure that you have people that you can bring in to fill in the position if necessary. There is nothing more frustrating that when a key person takes an unofficial holiday (called sick days) just to mess you up. If you are able to bring in other people you will have a business productivity solution that can keep your production stable until things settle.
We have worked with several small businesses to help them change their management and leadership style. I remember one company that every time that the owner spoke to one of his employees about cross training in another department in her slow time, that employee would be off sick for the next 3 days. By the time I started working with this company, the owner was scared to talk with this employee because it meant that he would have to work nights or weekends to fill in for his absent employee. These types of push back on leadership are physically and emotionally draining. That’s why they must be dealt with quickly and directly or they will get worse.
Your small business is one of the best leadership skills training courses you could have enrolled in. Unfortunately, real life gives you the exam before you get the lesson. The best way to understand this is that everything that happens in your business management is a result of the principle of Cause and Effect. If you see the effect or result of your leadership and it’s not what you wanted, you need to ask yourself, “What did I do to make this happen?” Then make the changes in your leadership behavior to get different results.