A new year brings a renewed sense of energy and purpose both at home and at work. As a manager, that gives you a valuable opportunity to channel that positive energy into increased productivity.
The first few months of 2020 are the perfect time to rethink how you do business and to recommit to your team’s shared goals. Here, we have three strategies to make sure you hit the ground running (instead of slipping into winter doldrums) in 2020.
Improve Team Communication to Improve Team Productivity
When work has to be redone, it comes at a direct cost to team productivity, and the culprit is usually inadequate communication between the manager and team members. Jason Fried, co-founder of Basecamp, calls this problem the “illusion of agreement,” in which a manager and an employee will think they’re on the same page, but the finished product looks nothing like the manager expected. Fried suggests making literal sketches of products while they’re still in the idea stage, but you can adapt this idea even if your work doesn’t lend itself to drawing.
When you’re assigning work, you need to frequently pause and make sure you’re making yourself understood. Of course, it’s not enough to just ask “does this make sense?” because employees often feel pressured to say “yes,” even if they’re lost.
Instead, ask, “How are you going to do this?” Ask your reports to describe, in detail, what they would do with four hours to devote exclusively to this project. Let them walk you through what the finished product will look and feel like. This exercise won’t just ensure that you’re aligned on expectations; the act of thinking out loud will get your employee’s creative juices flowing and prepare them to dive into the work.
Once you have communicated your expectations, be judicious in demanding status updates. You shouldn’t have to micromanage once you’ve established a shared vision from the outset that each of you is accountable for fulfilling. Cutting out extraneous communication will free up your employee’s time, and letting them think through problems themselves will be energizing and motivating.
The end goal is that you won’t waste time and energy hovering over your team’s shoulders or being blindsided when they turn in work that isn’t what you had in mind. Your team can do things right the first time, and then move on.
It’s 2020, So Ditch 2019’s Bad Workplace Habits
It’s easy to become blind to inefficiencies in your organization. Often, we continue bad habits because “that’s how they’ve always been done.” But a new year is the perfect time to reassess and question old assumptions about your business processes.
Even a small change can make a big difference in your team’s productivity. Any change that frees up your team’s time and energy will let them focus on more valuable work. Look for ways you can remove roadblocks for your reports, like eliminating tedious paperwork, automating data entry when possible, or even rethinking an overly rigid remote work policy.
Your most valuable resource in locating inefficiencies is your team, but they might be reluctant to point out problems for fear of rocking the boat. With that in mind, start by setting up an anonymous venue where team members can suggest changes. If you notice a complaint that catches your attention, bring it to a team meeting for a discussion on possible fixes.
One-on-ones are also a great place to have candid conversations with team members about how your workplace could improve. So when you’re emailing your reports about January one-on-one agendas, let them know you’ll be asking them about what they’d like to see changed.
Soliciting and implementing your team’s feedback will not only locate areas where you can improve efficiency and productivity. Just as importantly, it will give your reports a boost of energy and enthusiasm because they will like that they’re actively participating in shaping the organization. Seeing these suggested changes come to fruition will encourage them to speak up in future one-on-ones as well. It’s the kind of virtuous cycle that builds on itself to keep companies constantly evolving and improving.
Harness Your Team’s Energy Toward Big and Small Goals
It can be helpful to think about your productivity goals for your team like New Year’s resolutions. The best New Year’s resolutions work when they are both aggressive and incremental. If your goal is to lose 20 pounds, but you don’t have smaller benchmarks along the way, you’ll likely get frustrated and give up after a week at the gym. The same is true of workplace resolutions, so managers need to set aggressive goals for the year to come, but break them down into incremental pieces.
As we’ve written about before, research shows that employees are more effective when they feel like they’re making measurable progress in meaningful work. For example, if you just give your team a goal of increasing sales by 40% and don’t acknowledge progress at 5 and 10%, you’ll see them quickly become disheartened and overwhelmed. Instead, break work into short-term priorities and long-term goals, both for your team as a whole and for every individual.
In your January one-on-ones with your team, find those short-term priorities for them to focus on in the coming week or month, and celebrate their progress when they complete them. At the same time, work together to set big-picture goals for the next three, six, and twelve months. These goals should be driven by your employees, and they don’t have to directly relate to your team’s current project in order to boost productivity.
Your report might want to learn a new skill or try out a new role. Ask them about how they’d like to grow in the coming year, and then do your best to assign them the work they’re passionate and curious about. Keeping your team interested and excited will keep them productive, instead of letting that start-of-year energy turn into the same-old, same-old.
Execute Your Perfect Vision of 2020
It’s easy to start a new year with big goals and the drive to succeed, but it takes discipline to keep that fire burning in your team all year, instead of letting it fizzle out. More than good intentions, you need the right tools to monitor everyone’s progress in meeting goals, improving communication, and pushing your organization to evolve.
Uptick exists to help managers turn these big ideas into actionable, concrete steps that you can build into your workflow and keep yourself and your team on track. Like all New Year’s resolutions, the ones we make at work require us to support one another, hold each other accountable, and celebrate the wins.