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Dave Conrad: Working hard, but not working smart

January 18, 2019

Dear Dave: I can’t say that my team and I are overworked. But, I can say that my employees spend a great deal of time on things that add little value to the department. On top of all this, my team is telling me that they’re too busy with existing initiatives to take on anything new. I know you will tell me to toughen up and set things right. However, my style has always been focused on letting people get to work and do the work the way that works best for them. What can I do to change the lack of productivity and not appear to be a grouchy old manager? — T

Dear T: I understand and appreciate your giving your employees freedom to approach their work with their own tactics in mind; however, if that is not working, I would say that you should look for ways to educate your team and help them discover how to work and not waste time. I think we all choose to work hard on the things we like, but they might not be the right things to do at a given time.

To address this problem, the first thing you should do is understand how your team spends its time. This means you need to interact with your employees and discuss the key activities they must do to complete their primary job responsibilities. Talk openly about the amount of time in a given week each person spends on these key activities. Also, pinpoint the types of activities that they are performing that might be outside of their core job functions. In other words, it is best for you and your employees to understand where they are spending their time and where they should be spending their time.

Working hard and smart

To find more time for tasks to get done, you will need to identify opportunities to remove work that adds little value or is really no longer needed. Be careful, because you might have employees who will defend their low-value work and tell you it is crucial that they should keep doing it. Like anyone, they may have fallen victim to work ruts, where they do the same things every day and at the same times. I advise you to also take a look at yourself, because you may suffer the same patterns and model work ruts of your own.

I would guess that most, if not all of your employees, have the best interests of the business at heart. They are trying to do things that will help the team and company make progress and do things that keep the company afloat. The problem is, they often don’t see themselves slipping into patterns of work behavior that do little for the productivity and outputs required of them and the team. The problem happened gradually and no one knows exactly when things got messed up.

Productivity in business has a lot of moving parts; not the least of these is change. In the fast-paced world we work in, change is a scary word and changing the way employees work may be devastating to them. In other words, they like what they like, so they want their bosses to keep their hands off of the way they work. Simply, everyone is happy with the comfortable, simplistic, familiar and convenient ways they work.

I would tell your employees that you are grateful for their dedication to the goals and workings of the team and department. But you must make it clear that the company has invested a great deal of time and money into the systems and processes that will make things work best. Your employees may not give a hoot for the buttoned-down and regimented systems that the company has invented, but they may perk up and take notice of the fact that the company can be in deep “you know what” if quality and output goals are not hit. This is a fact and it must be told.

In this same vein, your employees may not care about the lofty goals of the company, but they may have a deep concern about what would happen to them personally if the company was in trouble and had to lay off workers. This is not a threat you should harp on, but it is a reality that every company faces. Accordingly, job security is only as stable as the company is stable. Everyone needs to do their work and do it well to help the cause.

Now I know there are many reading my suggestions who believe you should just bark orders at the employees and tell them to knock off what they are doing and to start working according to plan. I am all for this direct approach if you have employees that are “just not getting it” and continue to cause problems. However, good employees who have just developed some bad work habits will get with the program without coercion.

In summary, I believe your best approach is to discuss the tasks and how they should best be done, but you should also build bonds and relationships with your staff, so when you tell them what must be done, they will accept it and embrace it, because they have great respect for you.

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