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The 1 Brick At A Time Way To Increase Productivity: 3rd Brick

Updated on August 25, 2010

The Third Brick: Solve Problems Efficiently

"If the only tool you have is a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail." - Abraham Maslow

Whether the wall was first built to protect an ancient Chinese empire from marauding tribes or to protect against marauding managers or employees: walls between workers inhibit productivity. Every day as a manager you face a myriad of people or process problems and sometimes coming up with creative solutions is challenging. Here are some practical tips to help you.

1. Break Down Walls

When interdepartmental communication is not fostered, departments tend to become at odds with each other and destructive walls begin to form. It's critical to break down walls as soon as possible so that productivity is not hindered. Give clear expectations and put these in writing, if necessary, and after 60 days or sooner evaluate the situation and make a decision.

One way to break down walls is to have monthly meetings where managers and employees from different departments ask questions and offer critiques. This helps departments understand what other departments do, offers an opportunity to air grievances, and will help leaders identify and solve problems.

2. Employee Morale Need A Boost?

In business you typically find three kinds of employees: the under-performer, the middle-of-the-road and the superstar. Boosting morale for each is critical to maintain and increase productivity.

There's room for all three staff member types if you keep in mind the following advice:

  • Coach under-performers out of the rut.
  • Work with middle-of-the-road employees.
  • Recognize superstars and have superstars in each category.

Try really hard to make the working environment fun: This can be as simple as putting a thank-you note on a computer or giving a fun gift like a goofy pen or a Slinky. Sending a superstar employee home early one day and not counting it as vacation and saying, 'Go pick up your wife for lunch then go home, and I'll see you in the morning,' can help boost morale.

Modest bonus programs or little celebrations to show employees that they're valued also work well. Perhaps you can offer dinners out or movies to employees who meet performance standards for the month.

3. To Fire or Not to Fire

For a lot of managers in this economy, it's very scary to have gut-level honesty with employees about the potential of layoffs. But if you're honest about the possibility, they'll probably trust you more. When an employee fails to perform, or meet an expectation, the first source of the problem is the manager. That manager needs to look at him or herself and how they are failing to guide, educate or motivate that employee. If, however, that manager is really doing all those things, yet the employee is still not performing, then perhaps after a review and time to improve passes, the best thing may be to fire them.

Harvard Business School is emphasizing the importance of 'empathy, sensitivity, caring, and compassion' in business. You can fire a person with compassion: when you hired the person, you made the rewards for productivity and team play clear. And you made clear that substandard performance or lack of team play has consequences. Even if the real message is 'you've botched up the project', it's said in such a way that the person knows you're in his or her corner to transform failure into success. By just shutting off their e-mail and showing them the door, you're turning more poison into the marketplace... and this is a very small world and paths do cross. Tomorrow they may be a customer roadblock or they may show up as your boss.

With the real possibility of layoffs, ease the situation by:

  • Having human resources draw up a form that tells disenfranchised employees where to file for unemployment and to file resumes.
  • Offering job placement and professional counseling agency phone numbers.

Action Steps

  • Take Down Walls
  • Boost Morale
  • Treat Others As You Treat Yourself

One Brick at a Time

How many people did it take to build the Great Wall or to make your business the success that it is? When problems arise, a noteworthy broker is known to say, "The Great Wall of China was not built in a day. It was built one brick at a time!" It's obvious, and yet sometimes it's easy to take for granted that for something to become great it's not overnight, it's brick by brick.

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