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Increasing Productivity

3 Keys to Unlocking Employee Talent

With resources limited and budgets tight, using every ounce of your employees’ talent is vital to your business’ success.

Don Maruska

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While many entrepreneurs stress about running a lean ship, most are actually sitting on a treasure trove of untapped talent.

In fact, if your team members are like the thousands of people we’ve surveyed in dozens of organisations, approximately 30 to 40 percent of talent is not being used. It’s not that employees aren’t working hard, it’s that their talent is not being optimised to its fullest potential.

So, what can you do to bring forth more talent from your team and not burn them out? Shift your approach from top-down to bubble up.

Here are three keys your team members can use to unlock their talent.

1. Power up your talent story.

Talent is not simply your strengths or your skill set. It is your self-expression. The potential of that self-expression lives in the stories you tell – the stories you live by.

Victim stories sound something like, “I could be doing much more with my talent, BUT [we don’t have a budget, my boss won’t let me or I don’t have time].”

These kinds of statements are talent killers. Instead, lead the charge at your company and be the hero of your talent story. Heroes have hopes, capitalise on opportunities to overcome obstacles, surround themselves with supporters, fully use their resources and take bold actions.

While the leader can attempt to be the one and only hero in your organisation, it is best to get everyone involved and have them power up their own hero stories. Invite them to go beyond their job descriptions and engage their passions.

With clear questions and generous listening, a supervisor, manager or peer can be a talent catalyst to help a team member articulate his or her hero story around the themes of their hopes, opportunities and actions.

2. Accelerate through obstacles.

You can’t afford to let obstacles stop you or even slow you down. Instead find inspiration by using obstacles as talent accelerators.

Talent needs obstacles to realise its full potential. Whether it’s a high velocity serve in tennis, the Sunday Times crossword or a scientific conundrum like “what’s the universe made from,” it is the big challenges that demand our full attention, intelligence and dedication.

There are plenty of everyday obstacles that we can use to bring out our best and instigate a leap forward.

For example, a high-tech company manager encountered a time obstacle to implementing her hero story when her boss denied her request for a few hours per week to pursue some innovative ideas.

Instead of abandoning the initiative, she designed a template that she and some team volunteers could execute by dedicating only 15 minutes each day. It turned out to be a better solution that created faster results and broader buy-in with her team.

3. Multiply the payoffs for yourself and others.

It’s not enough to express your talent. In order to have a lasting impact, you need to focus your daily actions and ideas on creating tangible career and organisational assets. This notion may be so natural for entrepreneurs that they don’t realise it is a blind spot for other members of the team.

For instance, an aspiring supervisor found herself blocked from supervisory roles, because she didn’t have the experience of giving performance feedback.

She was about to give up hope, when she shifted her focus from what she could do about it to what she could create concretely with her talent and benefit the company.

The result was a document of guidelines for first-time supervisors on how to give performance feedback. She showed concretely what she had learned from the best practices of others as well as her own experience in both mock situations and project settings. As a result, she landed a supervisory job and provided a valuable, tangible asset to the organisation for other first-time supervisors to use.

When you engage your employees’ self-motivation and invite talent to bubble up in your organisation, everyone benefits.

 What to Read Next: Why You Should Let Your Employees Goof Off

As a founder and CEO of three Silicon Valley companies, venture investor, and recipient of the National Innovators Award, Don writes and speaks from a broad base of experience. Don wrote How Great Decisions Get Made: 10 Easy Steps for Reaching Agreement on Even the Toughest Issues with a foreword by Margaret J. Wheatley.

Increasing Productivity

Take Responsibility For Your Company’s Culture To Boost Productivity

A healthy culture isn’t a nice-to-have but a must-have.

John Rampton

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Whether you’re running an early-stage startup or a fast-growing company, every organisation has a culture. And it can determine whether your business succeeds or fails.

Your company’s culture comprises the actual work environment for your team and the standards everyone is held to. It also dictates how colleagues interact and communicate and the values and beliefs of your team. In fact, one survey shows that 86 percent of employees believe their company’s culture influences how productive they are.

No wonder Arianna Huffington has described corporate culture as “a company’s immune system.”

“Ultimately,” she says, “your health depends on your immune system.” Here are four ways a healthy company culture boosts morale and productivity.

It makes employees happy

A study conducted by economists at the University of Warwick found that happiness led to a 12 percent spike in productivity, while unhappy workers were 10 percent less productive. As the research team states, “We find that human happiness has large and positive causal effects on productivity. Positive emotions appear to invigorate human beings.”

If you have employees who dread coming into work and are spending more time looking at the clock than working, how productive do you really think they are? What’s more, happier employees tend to work better with others, solve problems instead of complain about them and make fewer mistakes. They also have more energy and motivation, which helps them learn faster and make better decisions.

Related: Wasted Employee Time Adds Up: Here’s How To Fix It

It promotes collaboration and stronger relationships

A healthy and positive company culture encourages your teammates to get to know one another. That friendly chatter eventually leads people to feel comfortable enough to share advice, opinions and ideas.

When there’s a large project looming, your team members will be able to work together faster and more efficiently because they know how to communicate. More importantly, this leads to your team building friendships – which has been found to increase productivity and engagement.

“People are more creative and productive when they experience more positive inner work life, including more positive emotions, stronger motivation toward the work itself and more positive perceptions of the organisation,” says Harvard Business School Professor Teresa Amabile, who co-authored “The Progress Principle.”

It inspires creativity

Let’s say that an employee or colleague comes to you with a suggestion. If you immediately dismiss her idea, do you think she’ll come to you the next time she has an “aha” moment?

Healthy company cultures encourage people to be creative through brainstorming sessions and new responsibilities. This not only gives them a chance to be heard, but it also helps them look for unique ways to solve problems.

It influences individual mindsets

Company culture also affects how each team member views his or her individual performance. It shouldn’t comes as a surprise, then, that healthy cultures foster more high-performing team members. Aaron Schmookler, leadership coach and co-founder of TheYesWorks, a training and team-building organization, calls this positive peer pressure.

“Why do aspiring Olympians train with other aspiring Olympians?” he asks. “In part, they want the high-performance drive to rub off on them if they don’t have as much of it as they wish.”

According to Schmookler, even when someone already has a high-performance mindset, she’ll want to keep it and deepen it so she can keep pushing forward. Being surrounded by others pushing for greatness makes the hard work feel easy.

Schmookler also says the opposite is true.

“We’ve all heard of workplaces where a new person comes into a low-performance culture and people tell them, ‘slow down.’ ‘You’re making us look bad.’ High-performance cultures have people who instead say, ‘Pick it up. You can do it.’”

Related: 7 Ways To Get Better At Working With Others

How to avoid toxicity

There’s a strong correlation between morale and productivity. If you want your team to be more productive, you’re going to have to foster a healthy and positive work culture. Emma Seppala, Ph.D., and Kim Cameron, Ph.D., suggest in Harvard Business Review that you can achieve this by fostering social connections.

Encourage your teammates to get to know each other by hosting social events or having them eat lunch together. You must also get away from your desk and have face-to-face interactions with your team. Go out of your way to help as well.

Leaders who are fair and self-sacrificing inspire employees to become more loyal and committed. If your team is swamped, step in to help. Encourage people to talk to you – don’t brush someone off when he has a problem. It gets the problem off his mind, which means he can focus on work.

A healthy culture isn’t a nice-to-have but a must-have. Culture exists, whether we actively cultivate it or let it develop on its own. To get the most productivity you can, make sure to build an environment where people feel respected and inspired. It will not only make your employees happier, but it will also fuel high-quality work.

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

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Increasing Productivity

Why You Should Gamify Your Business

Businesses do not succeed unless we understand why they operate and what their founder’s intentions are for creating the business.

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Sweat pouring down his forehead, staring intently at the chessboard, an anxious Bobby Fischer faces imminent defeat. A few uncharacteristic blunders at the beginning of the game has the audience on pins and needles. It’s the height of the cold war and a stalemate between Boris Spassky has an unnatural weight for a chess match. The cameras cramp the space, distracting Fischer and causing him to throw the game. Then another.

Anxiety is higher than ever. Finally, Fischer demands that cameras stop piercing the so-called “Match of the Century.” Then, suddenly, he began to win. He won again and again until finally, he was unstoppable. Final score: Fischer, 12 and one half, Spassky, 8 and one half. Fischer was now the undisputed world champion and the world couldn’t stop talking about it.

Why games motivate us so deeply

How could a game, a game that later wasn’t even televised, capture the world’s attention? How could a simple chess match capture the imagination of an entire generation?

Games are powerful things. Unlike real life, games have clear goals, constant coaching, and immediate feedback. There are points, winners, losers, upsets, dark horses, and reigning champions. Everything is organised in a refreshingly understandable, trackable way. Experiences are tallied into points, matches are organised into tournaments with the promise of prizes, advancement, and adulation.

Gamification, in this sense, is actually quite old. It has been practiced for generations. For time immemorial, games have taught us important skills, both technical and social. Now, however, a few game changers are using gamification to create outstanding products and drive business goals.

Related: 3 Ways Workplace Gamification Can Backfire – And How To Avoid Them

 How gamifying a business task works

In business practices, you can use gamification to help motivate employees and to understand the motivations of your customers, clients, and business partners. When put into practice, this can mean major surges in productivity and profitability. Think about it: We often have friendly competitions among team members to help motivate them to perform to the best of their ability. This is a simple gamification strategy that can be implemented in any business to a wonderful result.

Gamification, according to Yu-kai Chou, author of Actionable Gamification and pioneer within the gamification industry, is a mixture of game design, gaming dynamics, motivational psychology, user experience design, neurobiology, technology platforms, and behavioural economics. This may sound like a loose classification of complex and disparate fields, but it’s actually an adept definition of an all-encompassing philosophy on life and what motivates us to do what we do in our daily lives.

The drives that motivate us

What about gamification makes the philosophy so effective? There are eight core principles that are considered what is called the “octalysis,” a conceptualisation created by Yu-kai Chou. Basically, Chou posits that eight core drives motivate us in every facet of our lives. Not only can we use these drives in our personal lives, we can also use them in our work and business lives.

A mixture of drives can give us varying degrees of interest, dedication, and motivation. These core drives are as follows according to the octalysis: meaning, accomplishment, empowerment, ownership, social influence, unpredictability, scarcity, and avoidance.

The last three mentioned on the list can be used in negative ways to achieve participation. For example, using avoidance, or the feeling that you must act in order not to lose something can cause people to feel manipulated in the long-term. However, avoidance can be built into your motivation matrix if used properly and sparingly.

Truly, each drive has to be used with context, in the same way employing avoidance has to be monitored and managed. All these motivations can be employed to help better your organisation by finding those key intrinsic and extrinsic motivators that help you accomplish your business goals.

Gamification is the simple practice of identifying motivating factors and qualifying them through a myriad of ways.

In some cases, gamification boils down to simply analysing our motivations accurately so that we can either change them or manipulate them to better serve us. There is no better arena for this time of analysis and planning than business.

Businesses do not succeed unless we understand why they operate and what their founder’s intentions are for creating the business.

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Increasing Productivity

Wise Words From wiGroup On Building A “Wow” Company Culture

wiGroup has three underlying visions that form the basis of the business’s culture. Bevan Ducasse calls them the 3Ps.

Nadine Todd

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1. Passionate people

I loved the idea of starting a business and coming to work each day with passionate people who love what they do. Working in corporate there were too many people who just wanted to get to the weekend, and I found that really sad. You go through your whole life not enjoying what you do. One of the main books I read that got me there was Richard Branson’s Screw it, Let’s do it. His whole philosophy is about fun and loving what you do.

We even have a full-time coach that everyone can access. It’s up to you to book time with him, but everyone does, thanks to a culture of self-growth and personal development. His time is fully booked. I had to build a business case to justify the hire, but I worked out that If I increased the productivity of 100 people by 10%,  you effectively have ten more people working in the business. It’s hard to put a tangible number on it, but what we’ve seen is that the productivity, attitude, leadership and personal growth equates to roughly 20% across the organisation of 150 people.

I believe that great organisations find people and make them come alive in what they’re brilliant at. There are things I don’t like or am not good at that other people love. If you’re not good at something, get the right person in. Focus on what you’re brilliant at to move the needle. But do the same for your employees. We all have aspects of the job we need to do that we don’t love, but the core of what we do should align with our passions.

2. Remarkable product

We’re passionate about building solutions that add value to people’s lives. How do we add value? We never build products for the sake of it — everything we do fulfils a purpose.

Related: Strong Company Culture Fattens The Bottom Line

3. Profit

This speaks to the sustainability of the business, which ultimately comes down to balancing people, product and profit. Just chasing profit without a focus on product isn’t sustainable, and nor is looking after people and not profit. But you can never lose sight of your people either. If you’re running a company and focusing on your product IP, you’re missing the mark — this speaks to how fast things are changing. Your IP is your human capital. That is the one thing that will give you a competitive edge over five, ten or even fifteen years. The product you have now won’t give you the competitive advantage in ten years.

This vision is completely ingrained across our team: That’s what we’re about, seeing people come alive, building amazing products, and being sustainable in terms of the profits we generate.

Lessons Learnt

1. There’s no such thing as an ‘aha’ moment

It’s not about one good decision I’ve made; it’s about the thousands of little decisions we make every single day as a team that make a business. For me it’s about the fundamentals that you buy into, and that’s people, products and profit. We’ve launched products that fail and others that are a huge success. To get through the failures it’s important to focus on a philosophy of how and what we want to be as a company.

2. Add value first

Our mindset is to add value. It’s the grit that pushes us through failure and keeps 150 people focused and doing great things. I am one of many people. I have a strong role, but I’m still one of many. When you’re looking outward at what you do for others, you stay motivated. A lot of what we do is helping a retailer understand how to unlock third party value. We will connect two brands who we believe could work well together, like a Discovery and a Kauai. Did you know that you could drive value to this retailer, and that retailer could add value to you? We all live in our own worlds and verticals, but knowledge is power. The greater your understanding of the landscape and synergies around you, the more value you can add.

Related: Starbucks Coffee Is All About Culture… For A Reason

3. Business is creativity

You need to be open and teachable and have a mindset that says ‘you’re never there, there’s always something more to learn.’ That’s how you foster creativity and innovation, by always asking what’s next, and how to make something better.

4. Never stop learning

You don’t have to read 50 books a year — two great books a year can give you incredible insights if you implement what you’ve learnt. There’s so much you can learn from the people around you too — ask questions, join networks and find a mentor.

5. Raise leaders, not followers

This is crucial. You need to find the right people, and then empower them to lead. I realised this a few years ago — if I really wanted to scale the business I needed to raise people who were leaders and wouldn’t just follow me. The top level of leadership is the ability to raise other leaders up, and that’s where we should all aspire to be. 

Related: 5 Inexpensive Ways to Create a Company Culture Like Google’s

6. Focus

This is a big one for me, and we learnt it the hard way. We were doing too much, we lacked focus and clarity. These are such powerful tools. If you can bring clarity to teams, you create a clear picture that everyone can follow. Delve into the details — what are you doing, why are you doing it, what does good and great look like, what are your timelines?

The clearer the picture, the exponentially higher the chances are of a team being successful. This includes targets. These shouldn’t be a shot in the dark — they should be unpacked, examined and clarified.

7. The best defense is a strong offence

Worrying about competitors serves no-one — it just keeps you up at night. Instead, you should be pushing yourself — how can we do this better? Keep looking for the next thing to do and improve, and then execute it properly. If someone disrupts us and I know we did the best we could and gave everything — I’ll sleep well at night. But if it’s because we became complacent and rested on our laurels? Well then, we deserved it.

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