The Elusive Quest for Productivity

By Tania Cervoni, Canadian Management Centre

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According to research conducted by the Institute for Corporate Productivity, high-performing organizations are over 4x more likely to focus on maximizing employee productivity. This insight is not particularly surprising – if you want to achieve better results, then help your employees be more productive. This seemingly straight forward piece of advice is more logical than it is simple to achieve.

As leaders, we’re faced with a workplace that is increasingly complex. Ambiguity and economic volatility is the new norm and the evolution of our brains, which are designed to seek safety and certainty, while minimizing risk, has not kept pace with this new work reality. This means that we’re tasked with leading an employee population frequently besieged by an undercurrent of stress and anxiety – a direct a nemesis of productivity. Making matters worse, it appears that the vast majority of us are also disengaged with our work.

But the prospect of driving greater productivity is not all doom and gloom. Despite how elusive it may appear, it’s certainly not impossible to achieve. With years of experience helping individuals and organizations outperform, we’ve distilled the top 5 productivity hacks of the most effective leaders.  These leaders create a climate of engagement and purpose-driven focus – necessary precursors to productivity. 


1. Respect Time – Your Own as Well as that of Others

It’s easy to confuse busyness with productivity -- the two are not synonymous. However, being ‘crazy busy’ can be a tough habit to break as many of us live under the illusion that the ‘best performers’ can work inexhaustibly and manage to operate at high levels of performance over time. That simply isn’t true. Sustainable productivity is fueled by giving your mind and body restorative breaks and reducing stress by creating more balance in your life. This requires strict discipline in how you use your time and it also requires you to say ‘no’ to non-priority requests. Set the example for your team – learn to become a master at managing your time (as well as ‘managing up’) and help your team do the same. You’ll be better rested, focused and effective.

Skill Enhancers:  Time ManagementTime Management Workshop; Delegation Bootcamp; Assertiveness Training for Manager

2. Navigate Information Overload

You likely don’t need reminding that ‘data never sleeps’: the amount of information available to us continues to grow at an explosive rate. But not all data is created equal. This means that as a productivity-minded leader, your ability to determine the relevance and validity of information and to analyze its significance is critically important. Leaders who excel at this are not only critical thinkers but they’re also strategic thinkers – they can better determine the ‘so what factor’ associated with various pieces of data based on a broader understanding of an organization’s strategic imperatives.

Skill Enhancers:  Developing a Strategic Mindset; Critical ThinkingImprove Your Analytical Skills: Making Information Work for You

3.  Make Goals Clear and Meaningful

If you’re a ‘productivity leader’, you excel at getting the information you need to set clear goals for your employees. This may require escalating your inquiries up the chain of command until you get the information you need to help your team prioritize its time, talent and resources. But you don’t stop there: you also help employees see how their specific talents and achievements align with organizational goals. You’ll coach them to bring out their full potential. This creates a sense of meaning and purpose which further motivates employees to go above and beyond.

Skill Enhancer: Communicating Your Strategy;   Coaching Skills for Effective Leadership; Influence Skills Workshop

4.  Understand the Happiness Factor

Studies are proving what many of us know intuitively – when we’re happy, we’re more creative, collaborative and productive. But how can you be responsible for other people’s happiness? You can’t. But what you can do is get to know your people and find out what might enhance their work life. Is it having greater flexibility in their work schedule? More autonomy? Stretch-assignments? Opportunities to work with others? You can also leverage what neuroscience is teaching us in the areas of mindfulness and empathetic leadership to create a more brain-friendly work environment that inspires creativity and productivity. Creating psychological safety in the work environment has been linked to high performing teams.

5. Exercise Influence through Excellent Communication Skills

Take a moment to reflect upon the most effective and respected leader you know. Chances are very good that he or she is an excellent communicator. It’s also very likely that this leader does not communicate in a silo: influential leaders know how to communicate up, down and across organizations to support the buy-in and collaboration required to make things happen. Skilled communicators – the really exceptional ones – also know how to disarm resistance, manage conflict and influence regardless of positional authority. Less resistance and more collaboration means greater productivity.

Skill Enhancers: Communicating Up, Down and Across the Organization; The Secret to Getting Through to Anyone; Responding to Conflict: Strategies for Improved Communication; Getting Results Without Authority

All of these skills individually are extremely useful. Put them to together, however, and you’ll have a team who knows what to focus on, has the information they need to prioritize decisions and tasks and that feels supported in doing their best work.

And while we can’t always avoid feeling busy, with the right skills and mindset in place, we can certainly excel at being productive. 

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