There are a lot of different ways to lead people, and finding the method that works for your operation is essential for maintaining and increasing productivity. That’s true during normal times, and it might be especially true in our current work-from-home, COVID-19 inspired experiment.
Not having direct access to your team can be a scary thought. Is everyone working as hard as they could be? Are we being productive enough to hit our targets, and is there more that we can do to surpass them?
Thankfully, the business world, and the ever maturing world of online gaming operations, has a lot of experience to pull lessons from, and scientifically tested ways of motivating staff to be the best they can be.
In my experience, getting the most out of employees means getting three key areas right: trust, communication and training. Each area can be approached many different ways, but there are a few ways to ensure they are done well, and always a way or two to muck them up.
Trust them to do the job they were hired to do
It’s pretty easy to mistrust a newly hired, bottom-rung member of your staff. They have a limited track record with the company, they likely haven’t brought years of experience into the position, and you quite simply don’t know them as well as the more veteran members of the team.
Likewise, a leader who doesn’t trust their team might suspect that they aren’t getting the most out of everybody. Some people might be perceived as slacking off, or others are just taking too long on routine tasks.
A commonly used approach to address these issues comes in the form of micromanaging. It comes in several different forms, but staying on top of the team like a hawk is common amongst all of them. Maybe the leader nitpicks every task accomplished, or perhaps they attempt to implement time tracking.
Each of these approaches is troublesome for different reasons. For the micromanager who stays on top of everything, you signal to the team that you do not trust them to do good work. That will demotivate most people, and result in even less getting done well. It also keeps the leader tied down, unable to focus on how to improve the team, and the company, in new ways.
Time tracking, which might seem like a common sense solution for a team that isn’t producing, has its own drawbacks. Not only does it add a level of stress and resentment to each employee’s day, causing strong performers to possibly quit, it also adds overhead and costs to the organization, taking employees away from more important work.
Getting the most out of these employees comes down a lot to the next two categories, communication and training. But trusting that they want to do a good job is the first barrier to get over.
That applies now more than ever, with so many employees working from home. Everyone is a little bit scared right now, both of getting sick but also of losing their safety net. Everyone wants to give their team their best, and if they aren’t, it’s just a matter of finding what will get them there.
Communication: You have to know what’s going on
This might seem like an obvious tip, but so many leaders get it wrong: communicate with your teams! They can tell you exactly why they aren’t performing to your expectations, if that is the case, and they can also tell you what they need to get to the next level. And they may need to hear from you if you have any suspicion.
Going back to our examples of mistrusted employees earlier, the employee who might be perceived as a slacker, taking too many breaks during the day, could be totally oblivious to the goals that are being set for them and taking their own pace as a result. Or they might be forgetting that they are part of a team effort, and they have to step up their game to keep pace with everyone else.
Finding out why they aren’t contributing at the same level as everyone else is step one. You won’t find that out from a time tracker, but you will from an honest conversation based on end results. If an employee knows that they are expected to produce at a certain level, they will have a motivation to hit that goal.
Similarly, especially in a remote team based environment, there might be a perception that an individual can pass on a task because the other guy will get it done. That’s where strong processes, and the correct use of modern tools, can help your organization. I’ll touch on that more next week, but even if you don’t have the fanciest productivity tools, open lines of communication address this issue.
And I do mean truly open lines of communication. Intra-team or across teams, having a solid understanding that everyone is working to specific goals can be a motivating factor across the board. It might seem like a good idea to shield the projects of one team from the view of others until they truly need to know, but this develops mistrust in the organization, and keeps everyone from contributing ideas and work that could benefit everyone’s end result.
Training: Keep everyone growing
Although this might make more sense as the first point I’d hit on, I saved it for last for a reason. Of course, you want to have a well trained workforce, but that’s elementary.
What I’m talking about is the continued training of a workforce, to help keep them motivated and continue achieving greater things. As our industry continues to grow, employees want to know that they are growing too, and might level up beyond their current lot in life.
Once again, looping back to an earlier example, the employee who might be taking a little too long on tasks, or is just not achieving the results that you want, might need a little mentorship to get them where you need them to be. When they get the right kind of help and training that they need, they’ll see the results in their own work, and that will make them a happier, better employee in the long run.
But then how do you help those who are already performing well, but might be getting a little tired of the same old, stale job? That’s where getting them training in new skills, beyond their current position, becomes a huge benefit not only to them, but the organization as a whole.
Many of us have hit that spot in life before, I know I have. The best leaders were the ones who encouraged me, on office time, to learn a new skill that could benefit the company. Not only did it re-invigorate my passion, but I came back with knowledge and abilities that carried operations to a new level of productivity.
There’s a couple of traps to this though. First, you have to allow the employee dedicated, work time to take their training without distractions. Secondly, you have to have a clear, organizational use for that skill once they’re done. So if you send a supervisor for project management training, you need to have an opportunity for them to use that skill when they’re done.
Making it all work for you
Every organization is different, and different kinds of teams need different kinds of leaders. That’s only natural. Some teams, just by the nature of their role, need more micromanaging than others, while others may not have the time to pursue extra training at all, especially right now. But in one way or another, I expect that the thoughts I’ve shared have some truth for any organization.
There’s a lot of areas I haven’t specifically touched on here. Why should employees be trusted if they might be deceiving their managers? What if they just aren’t good enough for the job? Maybe they aren’t worth investing in getting to the next level?
My overall thought for those questions are they come after some of these areas have already been fudged, or they have to be handled the traditional ways. If someone truly is slacking off just to collect a paycheck, they might need to be let go, but only after they have several solid conversations with their manager about their results based performance. And if they are treating this current pandemic as a vacation, they may need a permanent one.
But I expect that these three pillars, of trust, communication and training, still hold true for most everyone. Employees need to be trusted, have clear lines of communication, and an opportunity to grow, for a company to be vibrant and continue growing. How those elements come into play could be different from one team to another, but I believe they all apply in one way or another if you’re looking to have a highly productive and happy team.