What do you do to help your team shift from busy to productive? Is your team doing what you asked, but they’re focused on counting the metrics, and how busy they are as opposed to the quality metrics of how well they’re accomplishing those tasks? In this episode, we look at three busy day examples and what was preventing each team from being productive, even though they were busy.
Help Your Team Shift from Busy to Productive
Today we are talking about helping your team shift from busy to productive and work smarter. This question came from a reader of Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results Without Losing Your Soul. The reader was reading the section on meaningful metrics, and we talk about focusing on the game, not the score. A lot of leaders will look at a metric, maybe it’s a financial measurement or like an average hold time or some number that we assign to things and we need to measure, numbers are important, but they focus to such an extent on that number that they’re not focused on the habits and the behaviors that are actually going to lead to success. It’d be like a football coach saying, we’ve got to score more points, we’ve got to score more points. Okay, well that’s nice, but what are we going to do to do that? It’s some form of blocking, tackling, passing, catching, running the ball, or playing defense, right? It’s the actual work we do. So this question after reading that section comes from a listener who has a question about their team being super busy, but they’re not being productive.
How do we practically ensure your team’s busy day is worth it? Because here’s the sad truth, it’s really easy to have a busy, busy day with alarmingly little to show for it. And I think we’ve all been there and there are so many reasons for this. Sloppy emails, unclear expectations, unproductive conflict, workplace drama days filled with tons of activity. But you end the day, the week, the month, and you have nothing to show for all that effort. And so the problem could be distractions from the most important activities. It could also be the way that your team is performing their tasks. They might be performing the activities and habits that should lead to success, but doing those habits without the right focus on outcomes can start to be a box-checking exercise as opposed to doing what’s actually going to be meaningful and productive. So in other words, they’re doing what you asked, but they’re focused on counting the metrics, and how busy they are as opposed to the quality metrics of how well they’re accomplishing those tasks.
You can find yourself in this boat too. Whether this is you or your team or all of the above, how do we make the most of a busy day? We want to move from counting to quality. Moving from counting to quality means reevaluating how you or your people are spending their time. Some team members will do what they know how to do or are comfortable doing. They’re busy, but doing lots of what’s familiar, not necessarily what’s most helpful. You’ll see this in entrepreneurs all the time starting entrepreneurs. They leave their day job and they’re like, I’m going to go out on my own. I’m going to be a consultant, I’m going to do that work. And what they’re most comfortable doing is the technical work they were doing before. So they’ve put their focus there, they don’t put any focus on sales or marketing, and their business doesn’t succeed because they’re just doing what they know how to do or are comfortable doing.
You need to help your team make this shift from busy to productive and model it yourself. For others, they may be doing exactly what’s needed, but maybe they’re missing just a small change that will leverage all of that hard work. So let’s look at a couple of examples of shifting from counting to quality. Let’s take our first example. First, busy day example. Number one, this is an enthusiastic sales rep who’s just not selling. So let’s imagine that you’re leading a sales team. One of your measurements is the number of times salespeople visit an existing client to uncover additional opportunities. A common metric for sales teams. You’ve got a sales rep who exceeds their quota of visits and is always out with clients every day is a busy day. But the trouble is they’re not selling anything new to those clients.
The activities and habits that should work to help them accomplish their most important thing here aren’t working. You investigate and it turns out that they’re spending time with the same three low-level managers because they have a good relationship, it’s comfortable, they know how to relate to those folks and they enjoy those relationships, but they’re not asking strategic questions or uncovering sales opportunities. So now as you help them grow from counting visits to quality visits, you’ll have them analyze who they’re visiting, what they discuss on those visits, and whether or not they’ve set up a next step. So a quality visit might include an introduction to a senior manager, maybe a discussion of upcoming projects, learning about their sourcing requirements, or a follow-up meeting to share how your company can meet any of those needs. So that’s moving from counting to quality with an enthusiastic, busy sales rep who’s not necessarily selling.
All right, let’s look at another one from healthcare. This is a busy day example number two, the efficient nurse missing connection. This was an example from one of our healthcare clients. Their nursing staff was doing an excellent job with their numbers and countable activities. They were taking patients’ blood pressure, temperature-delivered medications, and completing their patients’ charts, but patient satisfaction scores didn’t reflect all that activity as important as it was and as critical it was as it was to the outcomes of their health. The move from counting to quality for the nursing team involved one small change in their busy day. When the nurse entered the patient’s room, they would greet the patient by name, tell the patient their name, the nurse would share their own name and what they were there to do. That one small moment of connection with those three components, the patient’s name, nurse’s name, and what they were going to do, leveraged all the other important work they were doing and their patient satisfaction scores improved and it hardly took any additional time to move from simply counting to making it a quality interaction.
As you help your team move from simply counting to evaluating the quality of their work and how much it contributes to the results you need to achieve, it’s important to apply that principle to your own work too. It’s easy to get sucked into emails, into solving a problem that feels good but doesn’t make a big difference as we talked about last episode. This is a good time to pause and reflect on your busy day and if there is an area to shift from busy to productive. Do you have common activities that take up way more time than the value that they add? How might you spend less time on these or maybe stop doing them all together?
Alright, let’s look at busy day example number three, the check the box manager. This is one of the most dangerous when human resources checks the performance management system. This manager looks like they’re on top of their game. They’ve checked all the boxes, weekly one-on-ones, mid-year reviews, check development plans, check. Five people were recognized this month. Yep, check. They even took their team offsite for an end-of-year meeting, check, check, check. And yet their employee engagement scores are some of the lowest in the company. And exit interviews say that the biggest reasons people are leaving are a lack of career path and support from their manager. What’s going on? In this case, the manager’s so overwhelmed with the busyness of their job that they’re not taking the time to truly invest in the employee’s development. They’re just doing enough to keep the HR police off of their backs, or they haven’t been trained on what success looks like for these critical employee development activities. It’s not about checking the box, it’s about actually helping your employees to advance in their careers. That’s the reason for the boxes. So if we’re not achieving that outcome, we’re not getting it done. If you’re a manager of managers, don’t rely just on the spreadsheets from HR to tell you how well your managers are developing their team.
Those are three examples of how we might help teams shift from being busy to productive, from simply counting to focusing on quality and the outcomes that those various metrics achieve. One of the easiest ways to cut through this if you find this happening is to simply ask people, why do we do that? It’s not about the doing of it, it’s about the reason why we’re doing it. And if we’re not achieving that outcome, we need to look at what we’re doing, how we’re doing it, etc. Because your metrics matter. Okay? The counting metrics, they’re certainly a start and they do matter. The sales experts are right. Sales is a number game to some extent, but the number of phone calls and the number of client visits, it’s the number of any of those things. It’s just the beginning. And when it comes to safety, yes, you need to know that your employees are following the safety protocols, but that’s just table stakes.
That’s not excellence. And yeah, it’s important to track if your managers are doing key tasks like one-on-ones or development plans, but it’s even more important to ensure that they’re building confidence and competence in their employees and that employees are feeling supported in their own career development. That’s what we’re trying to achieve. So if you want your teams or your busy days to matter, encourage you to dig a little deeper, focus on quality as well as counting, and help your team move from just counting to quality and be the leader you’d want your boss to be.