Mastering Productivity

Productive organizations share a common trait—highly productive leaders.

Highly productive leaders create a climate in which people go the extra mile to perform at remarkably high levels. This is because when leaders set the example, staff willingly put extraordinary discretionary effort into their work.

It’s true that not everyone is born a great or productive leader. But it’s also true that everyone can grow their leadership skills to those of greatness and productivity.

The following well-researched traits paint a picture of productive leadership.

  1. Accountability. Productive leaders hold staff accountable for outcomes. The Best Buy organization, for example, reported a 35% increase in productivity when they factored accountability for results into their staff’s work.
  2. Clear objectives. Staff is empowered to reach the organization’s goals when they understand the goals. Leaders that can explain clearly the objectives of each and every project are facilitating the organization’s attainment of goals.
  3. Continuous improvement. By proactively engaging their organization in continuous improvement, leaders also proactively encourage higher productivity. Ensuring systems and processes are up-to-date and continuously looking for ways to improve both enables higher productivity.
  4. Enthusiasm. Emotions are highly contagious. By expressing enthusiasm for a project, for the organization, and for work (in general), leaders inspire staff to radiate the same enthusiasm. The result is that enthusiastic people are more energized and willing to put in the necessary effort to achieve goals.
  5. Respect. Proactively soliciting staff’s advice not only engages staff, but also encourages respect. And where there is respect, there is also higher productivity.
  6. Recognition. Nothing creates a positive work environment like a display of sincere appreciation for a job well done. Studies show a direct link between a positive working environment and greater productivity.

Productivity is essential to organizational (and individual) success. It is the core factor that dictates not only an organization’s standard of living, but each individual’s standard of living, as well. And organizations that master the art of productivity are ahead of their competition and can, therefore, boast a healthy standard of living.

As evident in the above list of productive leadership traits, being productive does not require complexity. A culture of straightforward, common sense behaviours that are within the grasp of every leader is the key to enhancing organizational productivity.

Not all Priorities are Created Equal

Many clients ask me how I manage to juggle so many competing priorities—they seem to think that I’m always multi-tasking. My response is that not all priorities are the same and you can only work on one priority at any given time. Let me explain.

If you feel as if you have many priorities that all need to get done at the same time, you know that it is impossible to do them all simultaneously; let alone do them all well. So what is the solution?

The solution is to prioritize your tasks based on their long-term importance and short-term urgency. The goal is to focus first on those tasks that are important. Then evaluate the “urgent” tasks to determine the true nature of their urgency. You may be surprised at how few urgent tasks are truly urgent. And some may have little importance, as well!

Writing down your tasks allows you to see them in front of you and provides you an opportunity to evaluate them. Also, by writing things down, you get them out of your head—this eases the burden of “mental clutter.”

Here’s a simple “priority matrix.” This matrix was originally introduced by Dr. Alec Mackenzie in his book, The Time Trap.

Here is how to use the matrix:

  • List 10 tasks you need to do tomorrow.
  • For each task, assign a rating for Long-Range Importance and
    Short-Range Urgency, as follows:

1 = high importance or urgency

2 = medium importance or urgency

3 = low importance or urgency

  • Add up each row’s Long-Range Importance and Short-Range
    Urgency to get a “Total.”
  • Using the number in the Total column, rank your tasks under “Priority.”
  • The category with the LOWEST TOTAL is your #1 Priority and
    it should be done FIRST.

 Here is an example of the completed matrix:

What is evident in the matrix is that there are several priorities with the same rank (e.g., five tasks show up with the priority 2). When this occurs, take the competing priorities and re-prioritize them against each other until you end up with a list of priorities that can be handled one at a time. If this cannot occur, then speak with your executive and let them determine which priorities come first. Alternatively, delegate, so that the work can get completed in a timely manner.

Prioritizing your work comes down to your ability to plan your day and stick to your plan! Consider that for every hour you spend in planning, you will save three hours in execution. You can see that it pays to prioritize and work on your number one priority each day.

The Truth About Happiness

What makes you happy? I mean, really happy? You may be surprised to learn that the happiest people are those that continuously seek risk rather than reward.

According to recent studies, activities that make us feel uncertain, uncomfortable, or even guilty are the most enjoyable experiences. In fact, engaging in activities that seem counterintuitive to happiness are activities that provide us with the most happiness. How can this be?

Psychological studies reveal the following five traits of happy people (source: Psychology Today, August 2013):

  1. Curiosity. While being uncomfortable and vulnerable is not easy, curiosity enables people to be stronger and wiser. Studies suggest that individuals who frequently feel curious on a given day also experience the most satisfaction with their life—engaging in the highest number of happiness-inducing activities such as expressing gratitude to a colleague or volunteering to help others.
  2. Imperfection. The devil is not in the details when it comes to happiness. Those that are less conscientious about their performance seem to be happier than those who focus on minutiae. It turns out that striving for perfection is a “loser’s bet” when it comes to happiness.
  3. Celebrating success. Listening to others’ stories of accomplishments strengthens our own feelings of positivity. We are more satisfied and committed to our relationships when we actively listen and encourage positive outcomes for others. The parallel here is that we feel much happier for longer when we spend money on gifts or charities rather than spending it on ourselves. Sharing in another’s joy without envy boosts our happiness.
  4. Psychological flexibility. Those who are able to express or conceal emotions when necessary are able to adapt more quickly to prevailing circumstances and enjoy greater psychological and physical health. For instance, confiding your greatest fear to a good friend who is supportive and non-judgmental, while concealing this fear from your family because you feel they wouldn’t understand bodes well for your overall happiness. This ability to switch mindsets depending on our audience and the situation allows us to build an increasing tolerance to our emotional discomfort.
  5. Purpose. The ability to sacrifice short-term pleasure for long-term reward allows us to tolerate negative feelings that arise during our path to fulfillment. Being honest with yourself about what does and does not energize you will help you define your own sense of purpose as you strive for its achievement.

And if the above whets your appetite for happiness, consider that happy people are more efficient and productive overall. According to University of California Riverside researcher Sonja Lyubomirsky, 40 percent of our capacity for happiness is within our power to change. But balance is paramount.

The good life is a matrix of ups and downs—learning how to balance this mix to help you be at your best most of the time will make the difference between living a happy or unhappy life. Choose happy.

Interpersonal Communication and Productivity

Stephen Covey got it right—Seek first to understand, then to be understood. Many of us forget the importance of truly trying to understand the speaker before offering up our comments. Without this understanding, we set ourselves up for ineffective interpersonal communication.

What happens when we don’t understand the message? We jump to conclusions and we misdiagnose. This is like diagnosing symptoms as problems, rather than getting to the root of the symptoms to find the problems. Our tendency to rush to fix what’s on the surface can get us into trouble. This is why communication is so important.

Reading, writing, speaking, and listening—these are the basic ways in which we communicate. If we do not understand, really understand the message; then we are in danger of losing our work effectiveness and productivity. In fact, one of the top reasons that employees leave companies is due to their relationships with their supervisors. Employees who feel heard and understood have more productive relationships.

To improve your productivity and, as a result, the organization’s productivity, you need to listen to the speaker first. This is counter to what we normally expect; i.e., to be understood. But it’s an iterative process. If we make the effort first to understand, it follows that the speaker will also make the effort to understand our point of view.

To help you improve your listening-for-understanding skills, here are ten suggestions (adapted from Business Communication Today by Bovee, Courtland, & Thill):

  1. Minimize both internal and external distractions. Close windows, doors, turn your chair, and adjust the environment as much as possible to really focus on the speaker.
  2. Adjust your listening to the situation. If you’re listening to instructions from your boss, you will want to pay closer attention than if you’re listening to the local sports or news cast.
  3. Use nonverbal communication to enforce listening. To show the speaker that you are listening and understanding, nod or shake your head, use facial expressions, and adjust your posture. Making eye contact is also important.
  4. Selectively remember the most important points. Use mental imagery or write down the important points, so that you don’t forget them.
  5. Demonstrate empathy. If a friend or colleague is discussing their problem with you, show them that you understand and empathize with what they’re experiencing.
  6. Do not provide advice unless asked. Not everyone wants advice when they tell you something. Only give advice if asked to do so.
  7. Don’t interrupt. Allow the speaker to finish before providing your point of view or asking questions.
  8. Don’t prejudge the message or the messenger. You can learn something from everyone. Keep an open mind.
  9. Focus on the subject. Train yourself to concentrate even when the topic is not very interesting.
  10. Do not overreact. If someone is presenting a topic that you’re passionate about, curb your emotions and present your points calmly. You will gain credibility if you keep your emotions in check.

Communication is the most important skill in life. If you truly understand the speaker and the speaker feels you have made a connection, then a trusting relationship is established and communication becomes freer. This allows you to cultivate better relationships at work; leading to more effective and productive results for all.

Rating Records Management Program Maturity

A records and information management (“RIM”) program that is effective and efficient allows you to do the following:

  • Create only the records needed to satisfy legal, fiscal, administrative, and operational requirements.
  • Retain essential records and destroy obsolete records.
  • Store records safely and securely in a cost-effective manner.
  • Retrieve information quickly through efficient access and retrieval systems.
  • Use the right information technology for the right reasons.
  • Promote and support the use of archival records as a community resource.
  • Recognize through policy and procedures that records management is everyone’s job.

If your organization is struggling in any of these areas, tools like the Records Management Maturity Model (“RM3”) can be helpful.

The RM3 is adapted from the National Archives of Canada’s Information Management Model and includes six areas for evaluation—organizational context, organizational capabilities, management of records and information management, compliance and quality, records life cycle, and user perspective.

A five-point scale in RM3, ranging from one (undeveloped RIM program or in the beginning stages) to five (industry best practices program), allows organizations to see how they compare to industry best practices.

The criteria for each element are summarized below:

  1. Organizational context. This includes an organization’s capacity to support, sustain, and strengthen its records management capabilities. It also includes a review of the organization’s culture, change management capability, and impact of the external environment on its RIM practices.
  2. Organizational capabilities. Included here is an organization’s capacity to develop its people, processes and technology resources for a sound RIM program. It also includes an evaluation of the organization’s availability of internal specialists to manage the program. In addition to RIM tools and their enabling technologies, other areas reviewed include project management capabilities and relationship management in support of RIM.
  3. Management of records and information. An organization’s capacity to effectively manage activities in support of records management as it relates to the effective delivery of programs and services is the theme of this element. Included is an evaluation of leadership and executive awareness, quality of strategic plans, principles, policies and standards, roles and responsibilities, program integration, mechanisms for risk management, and the performance management framework for RIM.
  4. Compliance and quality. High maturity in this area means that the organization has controls in place to ensure that its records holdings are not compromised. This includes the extent to which the organization’s processes ensure records are authentic, reliable, usable, and have integrity (i.e., records quality), information security, privacy, business continuity, and compliance.
  5. Records life cycle. Ensuring that the organization has capacity to support each phase of the records life cycle is part of this element. This includes incorporating records life cycle requirements in policies, programs, services and systems, and assessing records collections, their sharing and re-use. The organization of records for optimized retrieval as well as maintenance and preservation of records for long-term usability, and records disposition plans are also included here.
  6. User perspective. People are an important aspect of any program. The organization must have the capacity to meet the information needs of all users. This element includes an evaluation of user awareness, user training and support, and user satisfaction.

While the above elements and criteria are highly effective for evaluating RIM programs, they can also be used for other areas. But before embarking on any program evaluation, discern whether the program is required in the first place.