By: Steven Spatz
Here’s a corporate slam dunk: Ask 100 CEOs if they strive for a productive workplace.
The response will be unanimous: Yes, of course.
But what, exactly, do CEOs need to do to make productivity a priority — and to ensure their teams are as productive as possible?
In short, you have to lead by example.
Here’s how I think of it. In running BookBaby, the self-publishing services company where I’m president and CEO, I understand that our work ultimately equates to a marathon. What matters is what we accomplish over the long-term. But it’s still incumbent upon us to keep a strong pace.
And who’s responsible for setting the pace? You guessed it: leadership.
This entails keeping folks in your organization excited about the work you’re doing everyday. It entails understanding when everyone needs to speed up and slip into a sprint to meet a deadline or capitalize on certain market conditions. And, of course, it entails inspiring everyone to be the best, most well-conditioned versions of themselves — to be thoroughly committed to the important work you’re doing everyday.
It’s a big job, leading in this kind of way, but it’s critical for engendering a consistently productive workplace and culture. After all, every organization must be productive to survive in today’s competitive economy. Furthermore, systemic productivity leads to a variety of other outsized benefits:
- A productive workplace is more stimulating for employees. A workplace with a bias for action and results is a much more enthralling environment to spend 8 to 10 hours a day in than your typical boring 9 to 5.
- A productive, competitive workplace gets people excited. Why? People like to win! Moreover, people like to work for Whether that’s a bonus, a raise, or a company exit from which everyone benefits, employees prefer environments where they’re being pushed — so long as they’re invested in the outcome.
- A high-performing, productive company creates an environment of belonging. In an age where we look at our phone far too often, I think the basic human instinct of a desire to belong to a clan is something that’s really important. Remember how you felt on your high school varsity sports team? When you were all working toward the same goal together? That collective productivity cultivated kinship. The same thing happens at productive companies.
So, it’s clear that productivity is important. But how, exactly, can CEOs go about creating this kind of productive environment?
There are four places to start.
1) Create a culture of transparency and feedback.
Employees will only feel invested in your company’s success — and work hard for it — if they feel involved and trusted. So, every employee up and down the org chart needs to be in the know regarding what’s going on inside leadership.
You can guarantee this is the case with regular management reports and town halls, regular manager/employee one-on-one’s, and by encouraging regular cross-team, peer-to-peer sharing opportunities — all of which are prerogatives started and dictated by you.
2) Place a high value on accountability.
This can be hard, as many managers are afraid to admit when a decision or action was wrong. Some feel it’s important that they’re seen as sort of infallible, especially when it comes to inspiring people to follow them.
Yet, in fact, the opposite is true. It often shows more courage to admit when you don’t know the answer to a certain question, or that you made a mistake in making a certain managerial decision. When employees see their managers being honest and holding themselves accountable, it inspires them to work harder and take more risks in their own verticals.
For example, BookBaby’s parent company once acquired a couple of shaky businesses that turned out to be relatively toxic. Our CEO quickly recognized the mistake and communicated to all of us beneath him that 1) we were wrong, and 2) we’ll do better next time. This made those of us who work for him appreciate him even more — and want to work harder for him as a result.
Acknowledging that no one is perfect — even the guy or gal in the corner office — is crucial to building an honest, transparent, and inspiring culture. In addition to encouraging more risk-taking, it ensures everyone below the C-suite feels free to be objective in their assessments of their strengths and weaknesses.
Truth, ultimately, is a tremendous asset in fostering a productive team.
3) Do more to embrace today’s work-life balance.
This might seem counterintuitive, but to ensure your people are productive, you can’t burn them out.
Look, this doesn’t mean you need to have beer kegs on tap or Playstations in the break room. But the truth is, a highly functioning workplace is grounded in happy and healthy employees. So it’s your job to keep your people happy. Liberal vacation policies, for instance, have been shown to have a direct ROI on retention and performance.
4) Finally — and most importantly — it’s up to you to communicate clear, aligned objectives throughout your organization.
You can’t measure productivity without well-articulated goals, which is why the best performing companies set clear goals and constantly measure their progress in hitting them.
This is a cultural mindset that, once again, starts with the highest level management. It must become routine in your company to utilize data and to work with purpose in service of concrete objectives.
All this said, for most organizations, productivity gains don’t come about overnight or without difficulty.
They come with fits and starts. Going back to a sports metaphor, in football they call these “chunk plays” — gaining 10–15 yards in a drive to help spur a score.
In other words, increasing your company’s productivity will not be easy, nor will it be seamless. This is because it requires more of a structural commitment, a cultural shift which itself needs time to sink in and self-reinforce.
But if you as the leader of your company commit to the effort, setting the pace and providing the right incentives, it can — and will — happen.