Tips to Grow Employee Productivity

As Steve Vlachos and I travel the country giving our "Managing For Profit" seminar series, one topic that always comes up is this: "There's more work to do than there is time to do it." In fact, this has been such an issue that we've actually added a short section to our "Professional Selling Skills" seminar to address it.

In this month's column, as well as next month's, I'm going to concentrate on presenting ideas for helping kitchen and bath professionals free up time for more productive pursuits. These will include tips for accomplishing more in less time, coping with deadlines, controlling paperwork, holding effective meetings and delegating duties in order to help make your work group more productive.'

Almost everyone who works in the kitchen and bath industry wears more than one hat, and has a multi-faceted job description (assuming they have a job description in the first place).

This can be even more challenging for managers.

One of the major hassles facing anyone who serves in a supervisory role is making the time to address problems as they arise. This is very common in our business. In addition to performing and producing well in your own position, you must also manage others in their duties. In the worse case, these demands on your time can make it seem like you're'
working two jobs while only being paid for one.'

Anyone faced with the dilemma of too much work and not enough time attempts to cope with this in one way or another either by spending long hours at the work place or taking work home. On the other hand, some folks may devote themselves to putting time management programs to work, only to discover they have no more lasting value than the'
short life of one of those dot-com companies.

For most supervisors, coping with time management pressure boils down to concentrating on the newest and hottest problem of the moment and putting everything else on the back burner. Mistakes are made, deadlines are missed, and your boss and clients are breathing down your neck to speed things up. Meanwhile, the phone is ringing off the hook and your in-basket, e-mails and voice mails are piling up. The end result of this approach is generally frustration at not being able to accomplish things in an efficient and effective way.'

Supervising trap
Supervision lends itself to being a time trap in general, particularly because many supervisors confuse managing staff with taking on their work load.'

To a large extent, the main problem with managing your time lies within the very people you supervise and work with, who can either help or hinder you. Often, they become a "time trap" in innocent seeming ways.'

For example, an employee comes to you with a problem and you solve it. Now, sometimes this may be practical and proper. However, too often, employees approach their boss to seek out advice on a problem they could handle themselves, or in conjunction with other employees. After all, unless workers are encouraged to exercise more initiative in their jobs, getting approval from their boss is following the path of the least resistance.

Too many folks succumb to the constant time pressures and accept them as just part of the job. That's the bad news. The good news is that you can conquer the time demands placed upon you if you recognize and follow one simple rule: Good management is'
getting the job done through other people.

Many supervisors take over a particular task rather than simply teaching the subordinate how to go about resolving the issue at hand. You'll often hear a manager say "Leave it here and I'll look into it and get back to you." The already overburdened boss has just accepted another assignment. This is diametrically opposed to the aforementioned basic rule: Good management is getting the job done through other people.

Ten time savers
It's important to realize that interruptions not only waste time, but also disturb the thought process especially when you're fully engaged in trying to resolve a matter or perform a task. Although many interruptions are brief, the cumulative time lost to intrusions during the day, week and month can be significant and can really add up. Put to use the techniques in the list below and your time management problems will be rapidly cured.'

1. Be aware of your behavior.
Your personality and temperament with others is more important than anything when discouraging interruptions. If you encourage schmoozing and small talk, you'll get plenty of it.'
Having lunch or coffee on a regular basis with members of your staff fosters a friendship leading to a familiarity, which may result in staff members feeling comfortable constantly interrupting you throughout the day. By keeping your distance in terms of socializing with the folks you manage, your supervisory role will be made easier.

2. Encourage decision making.
Trust your employees and give them the authority to act on their own. This will cut down the interruptions caused by employees requesting routine guidance. To make this approach work, be careful to not criticize employees when they make mistakes. This is how they learn; support them through their lessons.'

3. Make sure assignments are understood.
Be clear on what you want. This will avoid countless interruptions later on. Be specific on deadlines and progress reports.

4. Visit others so they won't visit you.
Make a habit of stopping by your subordinates' work stations or offices. They will get used to you stopping by, thus lessening the need for them to see you at several different times throughout the day. This puts you in control of your time. In addition, it will also discourage goofing off by employees if they know the boss is likely to drop by.

5. Promote alternatives.
Encourage your staff to get answers elsewhere. Promote problem solving through teamwork and by having written policies and procedures for them to refer to (every business should have these written policies and procedures).

6. Establish a routine time of day to meet with staff.
Establish a set time each day for employees to see you with routine questions. Whether you choose to meet early in the morning or at the end of the day, you'll provide an opportunity to cover the issues of the day and future assignments. Raise questions and expect answers during this time. You will discourage workers from besieging you with trivial matters and dumping problems in your lap for resolution by meeting with them daily.

7. Minimize the opportunity for interruptions.
Simple logistical practices can discourage potential intruders.

  • Close your office door. If you choose to practice an "open door" policy, then get in the habit of closing the door when you don't want to be disturbed.
  • Have someone field your phone calls. These callers can often interrupt you more than your staff.
  • Remove any chairs for guests. It's easier to keep people moving if they are standing.
  • Position your desk so the back of your desk faces the door. This discourages passers-by from dropping in.

8. Discourage the persistent interrupters.
Usually it will be just a few folks who commit most of the unwanted intrusions upon your valuable time. Deal with them in a more hard-nosed manner. Be to the point and tell them you do not want to be interrupted with tasks and situation they can handle themselves.

9. Buy time.
If your staff approaches when you are busy, suggest meeting them at the end of the day. For example, when someone interrupts you, you can say "I'm busy right now, Bonnie. Can you see me at 5 o'clock?" This also will give people time to think about resolving the situation on their own or consult with co-workers.'

10. When all else fails HIDE! Orregularly block time off of your calendar for office time.
There will be many times when you will need a block of uninterrupted time to finish a job, solve problems or do some strategic planning. Make an appointment with yourself. If there's a conference room or another get-away place at work, go there. If there's not a place at work, then leave the office and finish the job at home. Remember, don't defeat the purpose by telling people where you'll be!'

Your purpose in practicing these various time savers is to eliminate idle and wasted time both yours and theirs and to encourage workers to solve their own problems and further involve them in the decision-making process.

Hank Darlington is a Gold River, California-based writer, business management instructor and former kitchen and bath "whotail" business owner who conducts consulting for kitchen and bath dealers, wholesalers and manufacturers.