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Increasing Productivity

Employees, Not Consultants Or Executives, Are Your Best Innovators

Hungry for the fresh ideas that come from a collaborative, team-driven approach to innovation? You’re ready for an EDIT.

Tania Fiero

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The insurance industry gets a bad rap as outdated and inefficient. But one insurance firm, CSAA Insurance Group, is bucking the stereotype with a strikingly modern approach to innovation.

This American Automobile Association-affiliated insurer caught the attention of the Harvard Business Review last August due to its all-hands-on-deck innovation strategy. As the article described, CSAA had harnessed the brainpower of its 4,000-person employee base to encourage systematic improvement at all company levels.

The results were astounding: Underwriters analysed the company’s call data to improve voice prompts and reduce misplaced calls… by 40 percent. Other employees jumped in to streamline online claims, improve the issuance of insurance cards – and more.

But CSAA’s approach wasn’t innovative just for the insurance industry. Top-down innovation has been tried over and over, and it just can’t hold a candle to the alternative: employee-driven innovation teams being used by companies like CSAA and my own human resources solutions company.  We like to call these teams EDITs.

Why an EDIT philosophy works

Industry insight and creativity aren’t exclusive to the C-suite, nor are they best purchased from industry consultants. In fact, they can be found in every employee, from the part-time package handler right on up the corporate ladder.

Related: Your Employees Are Your Greatest Asset – Manage Them Well

Sarah Miller Caldicott, author of Midnight Lunch (and great-grandniece of Thomas Edison), has been trying to tell this to the business world for years. So when I heard her speak at a conference a few years ago, I couldn’t help but try an EDIT at my own company.

All EDITs begin with a call from a leadership team sponsor who brings a business problem to the table. That person then invites volunteers to form teams of around eight employees each. Teams choose their own leaders, who then hold the rest of the team members accountable and ultimately deliver proposals to the executive team.

EDIT does more than make us a better company. Team members develop cross-departmental friendships; help boost everyone’s morale; and grow their own leadership, presentation and executive consulting skills. Rarely do non-managers have the chance to shine in leading roles the way they do with EDIT.

Another upshot of our EDIT? We began a new HR project, “Extending the Culture Beyond Our Walls,” in which we’re expanding our employee culture to our clients, contingent workers and broader community through employment branding.

The only down side? We wish we’d done this sooner.

Ready, set, EDIT

If you’re hungry for the fresh ideas that come from a collaborative, team-driven approach to innovation, you’re ready for an EDIT. Here’s how to get and keep the EDIT ball rolling:

1. Make the problem and ideal solution as concrete as possible

call-to-actionEvery EDIT begins with a problem outlined by someone from the organisation’s leadership team. Think of this like a call to action. What’s the problem or opportunity, and what type of action, process or technology will solve or capitalise on it? Be sure to also describe what resources the EDIT will have to work with, such as budgeted funds, fixed assets and subject matter experts.

The Arizona Department of Transportation, for example, was looking last year for faster ways to reopen Phoenix-area freeways after closing them for repair. ADOT workers designed a reverse stencil that protects painted surfaces from an asphalt finishing spray. For materials, they used just scrap metal and two trucks,

Now, a scrap stencil may not have been what leaders first envisioned as their “future perfect” solution, but ADOT’s employees certainly made smart use of their resources.

Related: 10 Ways To Make Your Employees 10x More Productive

2. Give diversity and inclusion space at the table

An EDIT is only as strong as its members are diverse. In other words, don’t assemble a team entirely of marketers, salespeople or denizens of any other one department. A study from Holton Consulting noted that people tend to come up with more interesting, exciting and unusual ideas when they’re not thinking about their own area of expertise.

Don’t worry if one EDIT has four people and one has 10. Team size doesn’t matter nearly as much as the diversity of backgrounds, departments and skill sets. With that said, do your best to not exclude willing participants. To this day, our company has never turned away someone who wanted to contribute to an EDIT initiative.

3. Provide structure, but avoid rigidity

Give your EDIT space to work, but don’t let it fly blind, either. Have the EDIT take its cue from agile development or the scientific method, whichever its members are more familiar with. Encourage the EDIT to hypothesise solutions, test them, iterate and then evaluate them against the “future perfect.”

When our company’s EDITs meet for the first time, they always begin with a brainstorm. From there, they test ideas in low-risk, low-resource experiments. For example, a team suggesting a casual dress policy might survey or visit other companies with such a policy: The point would be to see whether changing acceptable workplace attire affected productivity.

The goal? To get real-world feedback on potential solutions, narrowing them down until the only top performer is left standing.

In our industry, there’s no greater cliche than “Your employees are your greatest asset.” But nothing has driven that point home for us, like EDIT. The soon-to-be-released enterprise-resource planning system that our employees spearheaded is proof that these people are, indeed, our strongest innovators.

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

Tania Fiero is vice president of human resources at Innovative Employee Solutions, a nationwide employer of record founded in 1974 in San Diego. The company specialises in payrolling and contractor management services for today's contingent workforce.

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Increasing Productivity

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

Your team wouldn’t be idle if you gave them anything more important to do.

John Rampton

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Employees want to be productive, but sometimes the allure of time-wasting activities is just too tempting. When that happens, it’s up to leaders to keep everyone on track.

According to research from Salary.com, 89 percent of employees waste at least some time at work every day. Thirty-one percent waste about 30 minutes, but the top 10 percent waste three or more hours each day. That extrapolates to more than 15 hours per week of wasted productivity, shedding light on the immense costs associated with poor time management.

The people who waste more than half their workdays on non-work activities are far beyond the help of time management training. Their employers don’t have enough work for them, or these employees need to find new roles.

This guide is for everyone else. While occasional breaks are great for the mind, excessive time waste leads to lost productivity, lower morale and decreased employee retention. Even employees who would otherwise be high performers can get caught in time-wasting traps, so leaders need to step in before things get out of hand.

Related: Why Innovative Employee Benefits Are Your Competitive Advantage

To avoid low productivity and improve employee time management, follow these tips.

1. Set specific productivity goals

Employees – even the best self-starters – need objectives to work toward. Leaders who don’t set specific goals invite their workers to waste time. Whether it’s a sales quota or the creation of a new marketing campaign, give employees something concrete to achieve.

Don’t micromanage, but do provide consistent feedback to let employees know when they’re on the right track – and when they aren’t. People who don’t feel like they have the support of their managers are more likely to feel stressed than they are to feel motivated.

Give workers the tools they need, and make yourself available for questions and feedback; then, step back and let employees work toward the goals you helped them set.

2. Schedule tasks in chunks

The same type of work should take about the same amount of time to complete. Help employees create timelines for different types of projects so they know how quickly things should move across their desks.

Say your marketing team creates a lot of case studies to show potential clients. Help the team develop a schedule that follows projects from client interview to content development to graphic design. Determine how long each step in the process takes, then assign a deadline to each part of the larger task.

When employees understand how long projects take and how long it takes to complete each piece, they don’t have to scramble at the last minute. This steady stream of effort prevents workers from falling into a cycle of working overtime to compensate for earlier procrastination.

3. Show employees how their work affects the whole

Employees who waste time typically do so because they don’t see the point in working faster. To them, the company and their co-workers do just fine, no matter how well they do their job.

Related: Dealing With Employee Misconduct

In this case, the issue isn’t about time management – it’s about employee engagement. Keep employees in the loop about what the company is accomplishing, and tie their work to those achievements. Recognise the contributions of outstanding employees and departments. Constantly communicate the mission of the company and how employees help further that mission.

Financial bonuses for a job well done are nice, but people respond even more positively to personal praise. Write handwritten thank-you notes to employees who go above and beyond. Include employees on customer communications when they solve a problem or provide great service. The more employees see the effects of their work in action, the more motivated they become to work hard.

This is especially true when it comes to teams working together. Some employees struggle to see the connection between their work and the company’s objectives, but when they see how their productivity (or lack thereof) affects their co-workers, they feel more motivated to help their team thrive.

Employee time management has a cumulative effect. Engaged employees who get things done inspire others to follow suit. Those who have little to do (and those who don’t do what they should) bring others down. Use this advice to develop an office filled with productive, time-conscious teammates.

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

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Increasing Productivity

Is Everybody Home? Here’s How To Devirtualize Your Team

In my 30-plus years in HR I’ve learned that people who don’t work together rarely become a top-performing team.

Dick Morgan

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As popular as telecommuting has become, its actual benefit to productivity is still in dispute. Advocates for the practice cite a 2014 survey where 77 percent of respondents reported greater productivity while working offsite, while 30 percent accomplished more in less time. However, all of the respondents were telecommuters, which is sort of like reporting that ice cream is the perfect breakfast food based on a survey of 6-year-olds.

The truth is, telecommuting comes with its own set of organisational challenges. Foremost is maintaining company culture. In general, employees who work in offices tend to bond with their coworkers while absorbing company culture and values. By comparison, I’ve seen firsthand the limitations of work-from-home. When I was working for a Fortune 100 company earlier in my career, we acquired a large group of employees, the majority of whom worked from home offices.

Their arrangement had been put in place for cost-saving reasons. Not too long after they joined our company, it became clear that acclimation to our culture and business norms would be hard. With so few face-to-face connections being made, it was easier to remain in “previous-company mode.”

Productivity myths?

The upsides of telecommuting for employees are obvious (no sitting in traffic or worrying about your wardrobe) but it does have one major disadvantage: Working from home deprives both workers and employers of experiences that only happen when teams work closely together.

Related: 7 Team Building Ideas To Create An Engaged Team

It’s the victory of convenience over culture, but the pendulum may be swinging in the other direction. IBM, a pioneer of work-from-home, is recalling thousands of remote workers to physical office spaces. The company found that the age of real-time data and lightning-fast communications calls for response times that only in-person collaboration stimulates.

Nobody is arguing that all telecommuting must stop, but remote employment isn’t right for every employee or job, and groups with isolated members rarely get the chance to become a cohesive team. Telecommuting is an option to keep for the right situation, but employers should understand its benefits, drawbacks and proper applications.

Working from home is best suited to jobs that require little collaboration. Sales and customer service professionals may be more productive outside of an office. This assumes that employees’ homes are set up for work and that they have the right disposition (and the self-discipline) to focus outside of an office environment.

Not so interconnected?

connectivity

This isn’t just my opinion. The decision to eliminate working from home at Yahoo was made by then-CEO Marisa Mayer and was based on empty parking lots and troubling VPN log reports. Mayer caught flak for challenging a treasured perk, but the evidence suggests that she may have been right. According to audio-conferencing leader Intercall, more than 60 percent of people admitted to doing other work or sending emails during those conference calls and Skype chats that promised to “bring the boardroom to the living room.” If multitasking during important meetings is the rule and not the exception, what does that say about employee investment?

In my 30-plus years in HR I’ve learned that people who don’t work together rarely become a top-performing team. Real team-building comes not only with face-to-face engagement but also from going out to lunch, griping about a manager or trading war stories – none of which actually happen over a WebEx meeting.

Similarly, people who don’t know each other as human beings don’t work together as effectively – their individual productivity might be acceptable, but they won’t sync up as well with teammates. Traditional channels of productive disagreement are almost impossible to replicate online, which leads to isolation and resentment. Email arguments, for example, escalate faster and get more virulent than in-person conversations. Read any online forum and you’ll know what I mean.

Related: Are You On Your Team’s Wavelength?

I also know from experience that working from home can sometimes create “adjunct employees” with fewer chances to learn from coworkers or get noticed for promotions or new assignments. These talented, promising professionals find their overall trajectory limited because their isolation meant exclusion from company culture and opportunity. These employees were mainly known only for their output, not their talent or ideas, and they become interchangeable

At my current company, we make it a point to provide remote employees (especially those who have joined through acquisition) opportunities to visit our HQ or regional offices and also participate in company-wide events such as R&D hackathons. These personal touch points go a long way to bringing everyone together.

The best of both worlds

This is not to say telecommuting has no place in modern business. Best practices will leverage telecommuting to attract applicants who may not live near your office. In addition, it creates an option for trusted, highly valued employees who seek to limit their commuting time. The trust factor between manager and employee in a successful work-from-home arrangement cannot be emphasised enough.

I find that full-time telecommuting is often not as successful as simply having a flexible schedule. Someone who comes in two days a week and telecommutes the other three gets the best of both worlds: exposure to office culture and opportunities and the comfort of the home office. Even individuals who work remotely full time should still come in as often as possible. Enforcing this practice among my own companies has made remote or semi-remote employees more engaged with the business, its products, their coworkers and their path within the organisation.

A plan for working from home

Good managers guide every employee along a path to success. The first step for telecommuting is to determine if it’s the right fit for a particular employee. Consider variables like job function and availability before agreeing. A position that requires very little collaboration lends itself to remote work, as does an employee with key skills who simply cannot commute five days a week.

Once a request is approved, managers need to put in extra time to ensure successful onboarding. An employee who telecommutes should have as much structure as one who comes into the office, so supervisors should lay out their expectations with an agreed-upon and clear work management plan. Both parties should agree to certain performance standards and regular check-ins so that the employee does not simply become an invisible source of work. For example, what are the work-from-home employee’s core hours? Agree on these and hold the employee accountable. Another is to be clear on the ground rules for collaboration aps (Jabber, Slack, etc.). My expectation is we will use the technology with honesty and transparency.

If you’re away or busy, your status should read yellow or red. If you’re available it shows green. Simple, but effective.

Related: 4 Tips To Become A Team Whisperer (And Improve Your Employee Engagement)

Joining the team, wherever you are

One of the promises of the digital age was that people could work from anywhere – and unlike flying cars, it’s actually happening. Remote working among non-self-employed individuals has doubled since 2005, and as many as 53 percent of workers could be remote within five years.

But, as overwhelming as the trend toward telecommuting may seem, remember that remote employment is a strategic lever to help companies improve productivity and work-life integration while widening their hiring pool. Many such individuals have expressed their appreciation for their sudden upward trajectory within the company after I insisted they spend more time at the office. Teammates must work together, not just online but in person, and a smart leader helps their employees remain invested in and connected to the team’s overall success, no matter where that employee works.

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

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Increasing Productivity

5 Benefits Of Turning Your Employee Into An Intrapreneur

Intrapreneur(ship) is a budding concept that embraces an employee within a business as a vital part of its lifeforce.

Chris Ogden

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The intrapreneur can be described as a future executive leader within a company where they play a pivotal role in growing a business. Generally, the intrapreneur is a passionate problem solver with knack for innovating ideas that spark innovation and contribute immensely to the company. An example of an intrapreneur is Healey Cypher; he worked for eBay as Chief of Staff in Global Product Management – he discovered that the company was missing out on a market that continued to rely on physical retail as opposed to e-commerce using his retail expertise. Now look at eBay today!

The Intrapreneur contributes to business growth and product expansion

The traditional employee can be seen as a cog in the machine that simply executes tasks whereas an intrapreneur takes ownership of the tasks by applying an objective business mind. The intrapreneur doesn’t simply take orders, they closely analyse the viability and profitability of a product feature and even participate in innovating new concepts that grow the business.

To inspire this, you need to ensure that employees are in a place where they feel valued so that they actively contribute to professional development and business growth.

Creating a culture centred in excellence

An organisation that hones intrapreneurs is likely to succeed by creating a culture and/forum that encourages transparency and honesty across all levels. An intern can feel comfortable enough to criticise a new product feature and the CEO can take their suggestions into account. If they can see their ideas thriving, employees feel as if they matter and that their ideas matter.

Related: 5 Steps To Intrapreneurship

Finding the right talent is challenging but rewarding

When you recruit people, you need to ensure that they fit into this ethos and way of operating. You also need to integrated it into the strategy of the business, creating an organic employee structure that promotes and inspires intrapreneurship. Once the strategy is defined it becomes easier to locate and retain the right people to grow the business. You can do this by creating a checklist in line with the organisational structure and ensuring that each candidate fulfils the criteria

The culture of mentorship is enhanced

The employee-employer relationship becomes less intimidating. This means that the junior employee can closely observe their manager and take practical lessons on a daily basis. Management can take on a nurturing role, and intrapreneurs ultimately gain the potential to create their own business ventures.

The culture is evolving the way businesses operate

With freedom and autonomy in the workplace comes constant experimentation and innovation which is pivotal to the growth of any business. As entrepreneurs we tend to cling to our ideas, and this can be dangerous because it limits business growth. Intrapreneurship means that your ideas can be challenged and learning to let go can help you evolve your own business in new and surprising ways. Again, strategy comes into play because the business needs to create a foundation that encourages constant engagement and processes that encourage cross-departmental collaboration.

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