This time of year, we often hear about the crisis of low productivity in North America, linked to whatever the current economic woes may be, whether that’s competitiveness, exchange rates, or lagging GDP, with the accompanying plea that “somebody” needs to do something about the productivity gap.

The good news is that you already have everything you need – theoretically – to significantly increase your productivity or the productivity in your organization.  You simply don’t have the process and tools to implement well.

Productivity Tip #1

The biggest challenge to increasing productivity in the workplace is lack of clarity.  Ask each of your direct reports what the vision and mission of your company is.  Then, ask them what the key accountability is in their department this year to help move the company in that direction.  Finally, ask them what is on their To Do list that supports achieving their department’s accountability.  Or, ask yourself those same 3 questions if you’re reading this as an individual contributor in an organization.

If those 3 questions don’t result in answers that are right on target, that’s the biggest reason for a productivity gap.  What you’ve got is a company full of well-intentioned folks all focused on trying to do the right thing, without knowing what that right thing is.

The result is busyness rather than productivity, with a lot of unfocused non-value-add work.

The solution is to have a simplified set of strategic objectives that deliver boardroom to mailroom alignment, with every person knowing where they fit, how they contribute, and why it matters.

Productivity Tip #2

The second biggest challenge to increase employee productivity is for leaders to get out of the way and let employees figure out the how, once they’re clear on the what.

I’ve been dismayed by the amount of time senior leadership teams have spent in the weeds, painstakingly developing detailed implementation plans, before I helped them transform their outdated Strategic Planning process into a much more nimble Strategic Thinking approach.

Conventional planning follows a lock-down approach of trying to specify exactly what needs to be done (and how) that stifles individual initiative and crushes productivity.  That’s an outdated command-and-control structure unsuited to today’s emerging workforce or any organization that is looking for greater entrepreneurial spirit and agility.

Instead, setting big goals and asking individuals to be accountable to contribute their skills, talent and productivity to achieving them is the best way to drive productivity by creating accountability and ownership, rather than resistance to change and lack of buy-in.

Gallup found that when employees work at what they do best, there’s 38 percent higher productivity but only 20 percent of all employees feel they are able to do what they do best every day.  Provide clear direction on the destination and deadline, and empower your employees to determine how best to achieve it.

Productivity Tip #3

Almost everyone identifies one of the biggest challenges to improving productivity at work as “Time” – but it’s not Time, it’s Focus that is really the issue.  Almost everyone can find time for email and TV. But most wrestle to find time for new projects at work, or personal initiatives such as fitness.  While breaks and downtime are essential to staying productive, being productive requires a focus on putting the big rocks in first.

Those of us who are old enough to remember the “no TV until your homework is done” rule learned productivity at a young age, but making sure we got through our homework as quickly as possible, with an appropriate level of attention to detail – sometimes we’d speed read, sometimes we’d buckle down and study hard.  We were productive.  Now, we fritter away our days on email, social media, urgent-but-not-important tasks that feel good to cross off a to-do list, and bemoan the fact that we have no time for all the other things we should be doing.  We end up working long hours, trying to pack it all in.

Some new research suggests that if you’re working more than 55 hours a week, all the rest of the hours you’re putting in are completely wasted – humans simply don’t have the capacity to be productive once that threshold is reached.  Start to track your days and notice how you make time for the things that matter – dealing with a crisis, making time to see an old friend who’s in town, or taking advantage of some good weather to enjoy a favorite outdoor activity.  Note where days disappeared altogether when you started your day with email and never managed to fight your way clear of it.

If you know it’s time to get clear on your corporate priorities and create alignment for all your employees, want to get out of the trap of an overly-detailed Strategic Plan that never gets fully implemented, or need to develop focus, book a complimentary 1-1 Accelerator call with me.  We’ll look at where you’re at, where you want to be, and what gaps you need to close to get there.

#1 Bestselling Author, International Speaker, and Accelerator Anne C. Graham is on a mission to help 5 million business leaders and their teams double their profit per employee – or more – in less than one year, in less time per week than they’re spending on email per day. Her new book Profit in Plain Sight includes the 5-step proactive P.R.O.F.I+T Plan to do it.  Connect with Anne on Twitter and LinkedIn.