Working smarter not harder – How to get the best from your workforce

At a time when budgets are being stretched immeasurably and consumers are particularly discerning over where they spend their money, businesses have got a tricky balancing act on their hands. Trying to deliver a service that attracts customers and converts into sales while funding has been cut is no mean feat; encouraging staff to put more effort in when there is no financial incentive (i.e. overtime) to reward them with is unlikely to elicit much enthusiasm nor increase productivity.

That’s why so many organisations, big and small, will have explored the concept of ‘working smarter not harder’ – where the emphasis is on finding better ways to carry out duties rather than piling the pressure on. It’s a great idea which, if achieved, can help you get the very best from your workforce and satisfy customer demands.

Here are a few measures that promote working smarter not harder:

Create a high performance culture

Companies that succeed during times of economic uncertainty are those that have created a high performance culture, one that encourages people to do their best and rewards them appropriately. They typically operate within an established framework of values and defined behaviours which communicates the company’s over-arching direction to employees – such as the importance of teamwork.

The main part of a high performance culture is, of course, reward. For companies on a budget, bonuses and pay increases may not be viable options right now, so it’s important to find other, non-financial ways to reward and motivate staff. Fortunately, there are many. These range from a simple thank you or a longer lunch break to devising an internal recognition scheme and providing training opportunities. It’s about making employees feel involved, valued and part of your successes.

Set objectives

We all perform better when we know what we’re expected to do; hence setting realistic objectives is key in getting the best from your staff. Objectives tend to cascade down from the top and should clearly relate to the team’s and/or company’s goals, thus ensuring that employees understand how and why their contribution matters. Objective-setting reinforces the perfectly fair expectation of a certain level of output and can additionally identify when someone is struggling, allowing them to receive help where appropriate.

Improve recruitment procedures

Your people are your hidden asset, your most valuable weapon and your competitive advantage – providing they are the right people. At the same time, recruitment is a costly and lengthy process. To ensure you hire brilliant people and maintain that competitive advantage, it’s important to get your recruitment right from the outset – from an accurate job advert, thorough employment screening and relevant, consistent interview questions. Making the wrong hiring decision can not only cost you money (studies claim that poor recruitment can cost a third of the individual’s earning potential), but can result in poor performance from the disillusioned new starter and lower morale in the immediate team. The right person can conversely inspire the team.

Treat staff to some new software

Sometimes to enable smarter working it might be necessary to make an investment into new technology. There are lots of systems that can automate antiquated, manual jobs and streamline processes. Rather than create fear and suspicion, the many benefits of implementing a new system can get staff on side. Technology can free them up to do other, more valuable or challenging tasks. Not having to carry out menial jobs can prove highly motivating. In addition, the right software can save money, speed up tasks and ensure greater accuracy. The tech route is definitely worth investigating.

Get organised

Research shows that those who have a tidy desk get more done and are less stressed. It’s a small point, but being organised can really help with productivity. Think about it: no more wasting time searching for that folder, etc. Being organised is therefore a key smart working top tip, helping people to keep on top of deadlines and more easily prioritise their work. Encourage employees to make use of Outlook calendars, keep ‘to do’ lists, set reminders, flag emails, use concertina files or find other ways to organise their work. It’s amazing how much more efficiently you can operate when things are in order.

Ask for suggestions from those that do the jobs

The people who are best placed to make improvements to processes and procedures are arguably those that do the job, so why not ask them whether they can think of any ways in which their jobs can be improved? Most employees appreciate being asked for their assistance and will be willing to share their thoughts. Consider holding a focus group to ask the team for their opinions on equipment, tools, processes, etc. It only takes one person to suggest something that could make a huge change.

Identify and make use of the skills you have

Your direct reports might well be employed under a specific capacity, but who knows what other talents they possess? Among your team could be an absolute wealth of skills: life coach, accountant, IT whizz or writer. It’s a good idea to carry out a skills audit to determine whether you have any hidden talent in the team that could be used to your advantage. It’s also a great way to engage staff. For example, it makes sense to get ask someone with great written communication skills to draw up the team newsletter than forcing a reluctant sales manager.

As it is hopefully evident, the points above demonstrate how easy it can be to promote smarter working. Even better, they can serve to motivate staff too and as we all know, motivated staff are more productive. Adopting even one of these points could lead to happier staff and a healthier bottom line.