Making Employees More Productive

Deploy these strategic tactics to increase your company's productivity.
Magazine Contributor
3 min read

This story appears in the January 2006 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Mark Graham Brown advises companies big and small on how to help employees become more productive and is a leading expert on the Baldrige Award, which recognizes the quality and performance of U.S. companies and organizations. The author of Get It, Set It, Move It, Prove It: 60 Ways to Get Real Results in Your Organization lays down five principles for boosting productivity in any company.

1. "Make sure employees know exactly what is expected of them, which means making productivity standards clear and explicit," Brown says. Some sample guidelines Brown suggests: "Answer the telephone in three rings or less, and always address guests with 'good morning,' 'good afternoon' or 'good evening'--never 'hello,' 'hi,' or 'how's it going?'" Productivity standards are often vague, and too much is left up to individual judgment.

2. Provide regular feedback on employees' productivity using objective data. "Annual productivity appraisals are pretty much a waste of time," Brown says. "People need frequent and specific feedback on how they are doing." This feedback should come at least weekly, but daily is better.

3. Make sure you drive productivity with adequate positive and negative consequences. "In many organizations, the good performers get more work and the poor performers get less work and easier assignments," Brown says. For consequences to be useful in controlling behavior, they need to be powerful (getting fired or getting a big bonus), personal (affecting the individual employee, not a team), immediate (occurring as soon as possible after the performance), and consistent (happening every time the employee is particularly productive or unproductive).

4. Technology and tools can do wonders to improve productivity. Buy your employees the latest and best tools you can afford. "Remember when returning a rental car used to require 20 to 30 minutes?" Brown asks. "Now it is done in about two minutes, thanks to the handheld terminals car rental employees have in the lot where customers return cars." On the other hand, Brown points out that purchasing on many websites is still a challenge and frustrating to many consumers. The amount you can gain in productivity from tools and technology depends on how much human behavior you have in your process. For example, the right equipment can make a huge difference in a steel mill or a paper mill, where the work is almost completely automated, but it might make little difference in building houses or airplanes, where people mostly work with hand tools.

5. Incentives can really help boost productivity--if they are based on a balanced set of productivity measures. If you put the incentive on a single aspect of productivity, such as sales or profits, you will drive the wrong type of performance. Some of today's forward-thinking companies link executive bonuses to profits, satisfied customers and satisfied employees, so you can't just focus on one aspect of performance--you have to balance all three. It is dangerous to implement incentives until you are certain your productivity measures have integrity and can't be cheated on. "People get very creative when financial incentives are involved," says Brown, "and they sometimes make the productivity measures look good with some undesirable behaviors."

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