The Most Critical Productivity Skills

Productivity is a lot like pornography. To paraphrase U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, you may not know exactly how to define it, but you know it when you see it.

In almost every business there are a few highly productive “go to” employees, and almost everyone knows exactly who they are. If you ask their peers what it is that makes these individuals so productive, you’ll get a variety of answers:

“She holds herself accountable, and never makes excuses…”

“I can always count on him to return my calls…”

“She is the person who has the answers, or she knows how to get the answers…”

“He always delivers, on time, on budget, with exceptional quality…”

“She works harder than anyone around her…”

“He works hard, gets it done, and seems to enjoy every minute…”

So what is the source of their exceptional productivity? Of course there isn’t a single answer to that question. In every work group it is some unique combination of harder work, deeper thought, stronger commitment and greater personal accountability, along with specific skills, habits and attitudes that drive performance.

And for every work environment the optimal combination of these elements is somewhat unique. But while difficult to define, exceptional productivity isn’t an accident, and there are certain capabilities that universally drive greater effectiveness in the modern workplace.

In a typical matrixed corporate work environment these capabilities are often interrelated and interdependent. A single employee can reduce the productivity of a work group by as much as 30%.

Work groups that are dependent upon a small number of highly productive “go to” employees are typically sub-optimized by as much as 40%. Sub-optimized productivity is often unrecognized and is rarely addressed through proactive employee training and development.

The Workplace Productivity SkillMap™ assessment was developed to target employee training toward specific skills to improve productivity.

One of the subtle errors we sometimes make when attempting to firmly nail down the “secret” of individual productivity is to focus too much on personal task management – who gets the most “to do” items done at the end of the day. But genuine productivity in the modern work world means a lot more than just getting things done. It means getting the RIGHT things done, helping others get THEIR (right) things done, and driving a culture of pervasive productivity.

Creating a work culture of pervasive productivity means a lot more than just keeping a bunch of busy drone bees in a hive and pushing them to produce more honey each week, while reducing hive costs and improving honey quality. It means creating an environment where every bee works effectively with every other bee, toward common goals that evolve as the market evolves.

The Workplace Productivity SkillMapTM is an assessment of 8 capabilities that consistently drive productivity in the modern workplace. Each of these capabilities is based upon a set of interrelated skills, habits and attitudes:

  • Energy and Stamina – Obviously the more physical and mental energy an individual has, the more he or she can get done. The baseline energy level of a workgroup is the foundation upon which all other productivity practices depends, yet few organizations truly focus on employee wellness and vitality as a core productivity issue.
  • Authentic Communication – The most productive work groups are able to easily discuss difficult issues, share divergent opinions, address high stakes problems and freely express what they are really thinking. But the harsh truth is that the vast majority of corporate cultures do not foster open and authentic dialogue when addressing difficult issues.
  • Individual Accountability – Some organizations do a great job of creating a positive and motivating team atmosphere, but fall short in terms of holding individuals accountable. There is a natural tension between team-based productivity and individual accountability, and it is very easy to lose sight of who really “owns” specific outcomes, decision and deliverables.
  • Time and Task Management – While this is certainly the most fundamental of productivity skills, most surveys of individuals within the modern workplace indicate that in actual practice, most of us fall far short of the ideal in terms of managing our time and tasks.
  • Meeting and Project Execution – Closely related to time and task management, this skill category is nevertheless a distinct set of capabilities which help individuals achieve objectives that are dependent upon the focus and expertise of others. In a typical matrixed corporate environment, virtually everyone is a project manager at one point or another.
  • Stress Management – Given the reality of reduced staffing and budgets, everyone is on the hook for doing more with less. And this inevitably increases the stress level for almost everyone. The key isn’t to try to reduce stress, because the situation is inherently stressful. Rather, the key is to develop methods of coping with the stress productively.
  • Productive Email Practices – While this skill set could probably be though of as a subset of time and task management, email has become such a huge part of our work life, and the skills required to manage it effectively are significant and distinct enough that it warrants its own category. The bottom line is that most people are not managing their email; it is managing them.
  • Team Dynamics – Many individuals are amazingly productive when they can just do everything themselves, as long as they have the necessary time and resources. But most important corporate work is no longer accomplished by just a single individual producer – most of us need to work cooperatively with many contributors, subject matter experts, administrative support and others. So if we don’t have the ability to foster an exceptionally productive team dynamic, our individual productivity is going to suffer, no matter how individually competent we might be.

The Workplace Productivity SkillMap™ assessment and development guide helps any employee pinpoint the specific skills, habits and attitudes they should focus on for improved performance. It includes an assessment of productivity skills in 8 categories (see example below) providing a graphical representation of each individual’s unique strengths and growth opportunities.

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