Stop Playing the Role of Productivity Police Officer and Make Meaningful Changes

BY Kathy Crosett
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Are your employees working as productively as they could? In most cases, the answer to this question is no. Improving productivity can be tricky. The best way to approach the issue is to determine the root causes of inefficiency and then craft a solution.


Small companies often face challenges in motivating long-​term employees to work efficiently. A new hire may come into the organization with plenty of energy. But after a year or two on the job, they may not put as much effort into the work. Why? They don’t see room for advancement. Managers should not promise a future promotion unless they are very sure they can deliver a job change to an employee. And don’t be fooled into thinking a title change will make a difference.

Faculty members at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University say that a better incentive in these situations is financial. But, don’t get trapped into boosting a team member’s salary to an unaffordable level. Instead, think about instituting a stock option incentive plan for your long-​term employees.


Another common cause of inefficiency stems from workflow processes. Do you have employees spending time on tasks that could be more effectively outsourced? For example, many supply stores will deliver everything you need for the office, so you don’t have to send employees out to pick up coffee or water just because it’s always been done that way. 

Are you part of the workflow problem? Many managers live in fear of what will happen when their team members make a mistake. To avoid that situation, they insist on reviewing everything before it goes out the door.

Bad idea. You are slowing down the process. You’re also teaching your employees that they can’t make decisions without you. Do an audit of everything you’re reviewing and select one or two items that you can entrust to team members. If they make a mistake, let them correct it. They’ll learn about accountability in the process. And you’ll have improved workflow.


We’ve all become accustomed to working on teams. Collaboration definitely leads to better output. But teamwork also gives slackers a place to hide. Some employees can easily fool managers who don’t pay enough attention to individual contributors on the team.  One way to get around this problem is to “make individual contributions visible.” When each person posts their progress in a central area, slackers will feel the pressure to step up their game. 

Wharton professor Adam Grant also points out that cutting down the size of teams increases efficiency. Each contributor better understands their responsibility in a smaller group. You may want to consider make this change as well.

Few managers enjoy playing the role of productivity police. But, reviewing tasks and employee output on a regular basis keeps your organization running efficiently.