Productivity Best Practices That Backfire

The last few months of the global pandemic forced organizations to pivot their priorities, halt hiring, lay off employees, and learn how to run teams that are fully remote. Uncertainty pushed executives to look for easy answers to a difficult question: How can I keep my company afloat and productive during unprecedented times? 

There’s certainly no lack of available information when it comes to executive-leadership advice: Each listicle a blueprint for an idealized organization to sail smoothly and quickly through tough times. Every think piece a roadmap of best pandemic productivity practices to not just survive but to thrive. 

So why, despite knowing these best practices, do companies struggle to implement them?

Because executives are missing a key component: leadership. And leadership does not come from a listicle. 

Goal Orientation vs Productivity Orientation 

Goal-orientation via KPIs has been standard in the corporate world, both in practice and in jargon. It is important, of course, to benchmark and track performance for individual employees, departments, and the business at large. However, the way companies, managers, and executives have been framing and using KPIs may be inherently flawed. 

KPIs are measurements, and when leaders focus on measurements, they fail to see the forest for the trees. 

Executives are better off taking a productivity-oriented approach by focusing on objectives and key results. OKRs don’t replace KPIs; they complement and use them. Moreover, KPIs correspond to the detailed work within an organization that facilitates the delivery of their projects. Companies that put too strong an emphasis on the individual details are destined to fail. 

Nevermind that there is always too much work to do and never enough bodies to do it. OKRs allow an organization to align and prioritize work, as well as allocate the right level of resources to get the job done. And value-driven goals create a sense of purpose around mission and vision, inform both business strategy and execution initiatives.

Transparency vs Micromanaging 

Since March, the ubiquity of tools that monitor employee time and productivity has increased exponentially. Countless companies want to know when their employees log on, what they’re browsing during work hours, and so forth. The line between personal privacy and workplace productivity is all but erased.

While the intentions behind using these tools can be good, this level of surveillance is overwhelming and heavy-handed for the company’s most valuable resources — its people.

Best practices may implore leaders to stay vigilant with their workforce and push them to become overly involved with the day-to-day minutia. But executives are missing the mark by getting so caught up. The objective is to align a team with a common goal, empowering people with a goal-oriented framework that ties the day-to-day minutia with a higher purpose.

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Transparency through goal-setting frameworks is more impactful than using software to micromanage people. Together with an integrated management system, companies can use such frameworks to better understand the progress and, more importantly, the outcomes of employees without the need to track every minute of their day. 

Managing Burnout 

People need days off to have days on. With remote work blending the lines of home life and work life, employees are fracturing their attention to a debilitating degree. 

Best practices largely dictate that people should use their vacation days, and that executives must encourage employees to take advantage of the time allowed. With many of the reasons for taking the days to begin with rendered moot in a remote working framework (staying home with an illness, home repairs, taking care of family, etc.), the impetus to take personal time no longer exists. Executives are consequently faced with balancing burnout, vacation deficits, and a scared set of employees l trying to remain laser-focused on productivity amid the global pandemic. 

It’s not just that people aren’t taking their days off. It’s also how they’re spending their days on. A growing issue is meeting burnout. Leaders may think they’re keeping teams together and more closely aligned with increased communication and visibility through constant meetings, but Zoom Fatigue is real.

Whether virtual or in-person, the best meetings connect work to business performance and goals, which is where many companies are missing the mark. Leaders should aim to have fewer tactical discussions in meetings (like what’s on to-do lists) and more conversations about enabling team members by focusing on broader objectives, roadblocks, and employee health.

Because of Covid-19, the goals leaders anticipated to achieve at the beginning of the year likely won’t work out exactly as planned. A company needs a larger, holistic framework for what it must accomplish to steer, not direct, its people towards success. Focusing on these objectives and larger goals can enable businesses to address external events and adapt, while still moving the overarching vision and mission forward.

Vetri Vellore is founder and CEO of Ally.io, software that keeps remote teams focused on goals that drive results, with visibility at every level.

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