When I was in college, I spent one summer interning at a very successful insurance and financial planning brokerage. After getting a tour of the company, which spanned two entire floors in Midtown, I met the general agent (essentially the CEO and owner of the firm). I said to him, “Wow. You have a lot of people working for you.” He said, “No Rob. I work for them.” While I took his statement with an appropriate grain of salt, it really stuck with me.
As CEOs, a big part of our responsibility is to make sure that our employees have the right resources to get the job done.
Of course, smaller firms often have fewer resources at their disposal. But our most precious resource is time, and one way we can help our employees is by helping them make the best use of their time. This is more important than ever because of email. Where 20 years ago, the phone rang a handful of times during the day, the average “knowledge” employee gets 147 emails a day and spends 28% of her time at the office on email, according to a 2012 McKinsey Global Institute report. And I’ll bet that only a handful of those emails are really important, and perhaps 1–2 are truly urgent. That’s just email.
As far as the other 72% of the time, the question is, are they working on stuff that builds value for the company? Or, are they spending a lot of time reacting to internal and external requests because they feel compelled? The starting point in answering this question is you. Have you set a vision and clear goals for the company? Does each employee know what that means for them?
Here are a few ways to help your team be more productive:
- Encourage your employees to check email 2–3x per day. Batching is much more productive than getting interrupted continuously throughout the day.
- Ask them how they are spending their time. Even better, ask them about the things they spend time on that they feel are unnecessary. Most of the time, they will know. If not, ask them to keep a journal of how they are spending their time.
- Be open to providing other resources that free up time, for instance, using lower-cost freelancers.
- Invest in technology to automate processes, and create databases that increase productivity. With the cloud, technology has never been more accessible and affordable.
Some employees will be receptive to your suggestions, and some will not. You (or their manager) should check in with them a minimum of every other week. They will come around. They will come around because they will see the increase in productivity.
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