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There are loads of articles out there about improving time management, and a lot of them contain great tips that worker bees can implement. But the part of this equation that’s missed all too often is the part that involves you, the leader. Whether you’re the owner, the CEO, the manager or in some other leadership position, how you act and manage your people has an enormous impact on them.
So, are you strengthening their productivity — or sabotaging it? Here are five mistakes many bosses make leading to unintentional sabotage.
1. You’re not setting priorities.
You give your direct report a list of projects and their tasks to complete, along with ideal deadlines. Delegation done, right? Not so fast. Your assigned due date does not actually translate to prioritization.
Maybe the list you gave has everything due in a week, but there’s no feasible way to get the volume of work done by then. If that happens, your most important project may get pushed to the back burner since it was technically due last, while the less important tasks unintentionally take priority. Or, your employee might procrastinate on something crucial simply because they underestimate the amount of time it will take. Once they know they’re behind, they’re like to go into a shame spiral about missing the deadline and letting you down.
Your team members need priorities and, depending on their experience, may also need a clear path laid out by you to help them manage their time. Also be prepared to let them know which task(s) can slide a bit if need be, if the other assignments end up taking more time than anticipated.
2. You fail to factor in that new tasks will divert existing ones.
Entrepreneurs are notorious for being idea machines. While this is a big value-add for a company, as a whole, it can drive tremendous anxiety for your team.
Consider this hypothetical scenario. You’re in a company meeting, and your employees already have chock-full to-do lists, with priorities well established. But then — curveball — you come in with a great idea.
Even stellar ideas that are good for the business can feel overwhelming, not exciting, to your employees. By suddenly springing big ideas on them, their current plans are brought into jeopardy. Plus, they will fear making plans in the future, worried you will spring something on them just as they start executing. And worse, if you don’t take something off their plate, but instead only add, it will feel like a hamster wheel of never-ending tasks they can’t control.
If something new comes up that should take priority, you must adjust your employees’ existing workloads accordingly. You should also be using an OKR framework that forces you to start on track and not pivot so quickly.
3. You haven’t mastered mindful communication with your team.
Here’s a dirty little truth: Most people are terrible communicators. Even (or perhaps especially) executives. To get your team managing their time deftly and operating at full capacity, you must be intentional about how you communicate with them. Here are some tips:
Consider how and when you communicate. If you send Slack messages or emails in the evenings or on weekends, your team members will feel obligated to respond. Instead, be a nice person and use the tech tools at your disposal to delay messages until work hours. It’s just the right thing to do.
Give them all the context you have. Sometimes, in the name of brevity, leaders share only the need-to-know details of a project with their subordinates. But this can hinder the workers’ ability to work intelligently and understand fundamentally what they’re doing and why. More context will only make them better (and more efficient), so don’t shortchange them in this area.
Encourage your employees to manage up. If you forget to prioritize their lists or offer adequate context, let them know they should ask you for these things. It’s always going to work out better if both parties feel comfortable communicating and clarifying expectations, so make sure they know they need to own their side of the dialogue as well.
4. You expect employees to handle tasks like you would.
You’ve been in your industry for 15 years, but your employee has only been in it for five. Why, then, are you expecting them to produce at the same level and with the same efficiency that you do? This happens all the time, and it puts undue stress on the employee while ratcheting up the employers’ frustration.
Transition your expectations to standards. Set standards with team members about the quality and timeliness of their work. Then align what you expect to those standards. And keep yourself honest. If you haven’t communicated your standard and they don’t deliver, it’s on you, not them.
Over time, they should improve and become more adept. But don’t hand out tasks to someone junior or inexperienced, assuming they will take the same amount of time it would take you. Also, don’t assume they will approach the task in the same way. A lot of times, especially with younger employees, they might find an efficiency you don’t see, because you’re in a routine. Give them enough direction, but let them be creative. Of course, the glaring truth here is this can take time. Plan appropriately and tack on extra time for the people still learning the ropes.
5. You’re steering their ship, not empowering them.
Finally, how are you approaching all of these procedural items? Are you setting the course, and expecting employees to fall in line? While the title “manager” implies that you must actively manage those reporting to you, the best managers are the ones who equip their teams to primarily manage themselves.
Here’s how this looks. You set the to-dos and the deadlines, along with priorities. But you ask meaningful questions along the way to help them come up with solutions for themselves. For example, you might tell a team member they need to deliver a report to you by the end of the month. You let them know it’s a high priority and can take precedence over the other items on their list this month, if needed.
But then, you ask them for their plan to get it done by the deadline. What do they intend to address this week? Next week? How will they gather the necessary information? What roadblocks might they encounter? You’re putting the ball in their court, giving them ample opportunity to problem-solve and giving them practice handling time management on their own. This is the only way they will improve and ultimately become autonomous.
When it comes to employees’ time management and productivity, leaders’ actions and attitudes either help or hinder. All leaders can make great strides by improving their communication, focusing on empowerment and setting expectations grounded in realism. Start there, and you’ll be on the road to strengthening — not sabotaging — productivity.
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