Race To The Finish

Getting more done faster is easier when employees have a Learning team that knows what they need to get high-quality work done on time.

Multitasking in less time has become the norm for streamlined workforces. Few companies today boast of having more resources than they need. With more pressure on employees to make do with less, Learning professionals are tasked with finding ways to spur productivity.

Three Training Top 125 winners and a productivity expert offer tips on helping employees do work your customers— and bottom line—will appreciate.

Engaged, Satisfied Employees Are More Productive

An old school of thought taught that employees who are recognized often and treated well will rest on their laurels and stop producing. So, the logic went, keep employees slightly afraid and on their toes, and they will feel they have no choice but to be productive. Fortunately, most organizations have dispensed with that antiquated philosophy, and instead focus on employee engagement as a key to productivity.

At NYC Health + Hospitals, productivity is thought to hinge on employee engagement. “Productivity is often a focal point of discussions throughout our organization. The top concern in this area is that of low employee morale and engagement, and its effects on productivity,” says Assistant Vice President, Learning & Organizational Development Ivelesse Mendez-Justiniano. “Recent changes in health care have resulted in uncertainty as to the future of health care and its impact on the workforce. This results in low employee morale and engagement, which can result in decreased productivity. The focus is presently on implementing initiatives that recognize employees for the good work they are doing as a part of employee engagement.”

Recognizing when employees are productive, and doing their jobs well, is key to encouraging more of the same positive behavior. In the case of a health-care institution, that means measuring factors such as patient wait times and the numbers of patients treated. Getting employees ready to perform well against those metrics can be helped with training, says Mendez-Justiniano. “There are various programs offered in this area. Some, such as computer skills classes, focus on improving skill sets to ensure an efficient workforce,” she says. “Lean is another program taught to employees. This program teaches staff the value of effective standardization of work and streamlining processes.”

The ability of employees to work well with each other, and managers, also is essential, Mendez-Justiniano points out. “A skill we consider essential to becoming a productive employee is that of relationship building,” she notes. “When you are able to develop relationships with your co-workers, the teambuilding that follows is essential in a productive, collaborative workforce.”

To help employees forge stronger work relationships, the organization is in the process of launching a new performance management process for its managerial staff. “The new evaluation tool to accompany performance management is based on competencies and goals,” Mendez-Justiniano explains. “The performance evaluation tool allows for an employee self-assessment, as well as the reviewer’s assessment of the employee’s performance. Productivity is built in within the employee’s and manager’s goal-setting.”

Provide Measurable Goals

At the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC), studying, and improving productivity requires data collection and establishing meaningful, reliable metrics. “Productivity measurement and improvement make up two of our top five initiatives for 2017 and 2018,” says Associate Deputy Comptroller/Chief Learning Officer Shawn Clark. “This is something we discuss on a regular basis. Developing the appropriate data collection and performance reporting solution has been an awesome challenge and opportunity, but one we have embraced and made a significant amount of progress on. In fact, we are now mature enough to use productivity data to quickly and easily justify staffing levels. Using the data this year, we were able to clearly quantify both an increase in workload, as well as a significant increase in productivity from our Training administrators, which resulted from several targeted process improvement initiatives. This productivity increase contributed to an overall lower unit cost to deliver training in our organization. This data then was used to justify additional staffing since we were able to clearly communicate the value and business results generated from our training management strategy.”

Measuring productivity starts with the work of the Learning team itself. On the training operations side of the business, Clark explains, the number of specific transactions, along with the time it takes to complete those tasks, is measured. “This gives us a great view into productivity at the employee, workgroup, and department level,” he says.

The organization also measures productivity outcomes, such as student hours, and uses those metrics, along with budget data, to report on what Clark calls its best efficiency metric: unit cost (cost per student per day).

To aid training development, the organization is in the process of rolling out a project management tool “that will allow us to measure productivity in terms of time to develop an hour of instructional content,” Clark says. “This will give us greater insights into and an accurate picture of the cost of training development. Of course, we care deeply about the effectiveness of our products and services, as well.”

Just as the Learning team is kept aware of its productivity, so, too, are the rest of the organization’s employees. “The best tool for encouraging productivity improvements are individual productivity reports. When employees can plainly see their contributions to the bottom line, it can be encouraging and motivating,” Clark says.

However, Clark stresses, “we do not make productivity a punitive exercise. This is an important concept. We prefer to recognize and reward our top performers and encourage everyone to find positive ways to improve.”

Finding ways to streamline the workflow is also a constant push, using tools such as Six Sigma and Kaizen. “It is important to perform tasks according to our standardized processes,” Clark points out. “These concepts and strategies are embraced by the entire Continuing Education team at the OCC. I am truly thankful and appreciative of their outstanding efforts and contributions that make us better today than we were yesterday.”

Measure Impact on Customers

Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) always keeps the ultimate goal of productivity measures in mind—to keep service to customers reliable. “PG&E is a metrics-run company, and we track a staggering number of metrics that align to productivity,” says Senior Director, PG&E Academy Chris Pickett. Specific measures include: the time it takes to dispatch and respond to a call in the gas organization; the amount of time it takes to onboard new supervisors to their role and have them be productive; the number of work errors and subsequent time and costs for rework; duration of a power outage (productivity associated with restoring power); miles of gas lines inspected; and the number of solar-powered homes connected to the grid.

Another important productivity metric for a company with employees whose work may cause injury if not done properly is safety. To that end, Pickett says the company does not want its workforce in the field multitasking. “They need to be locked in on doing one task at a time and strictly following standards and procedures. This is not the time to multitask,” he says.

In addition, the company makes sure it provides support through its Employee Assistance Program, so personal life issues don’t get in the way. Company-sponsored counseling is offered for family and relationship problems, workplace concerns, alcohol and drug abuse, depression and anxiety, and coping with stress.

A more open workspace in PG&E’s newer offices also may be helping to facilitate greater productivity. “We are moving out of some of our older buildings, and making a conscious effort to set up our new work areas to be much more open and modern to encourage more employee interaction,” Pickett says.

Get the Right Things Done

All the productivity in the world won’t help your company if you’re getting things done, but they’re the wrong things. Executive coach Jason Womack says companies often need help focusing on the most important things to accomplish, and how to help employees focus on those things. That can be a challenge, he notes, because with so many channels of communication, there are many different drains on a person’s attention. “Consider the demand on managers’ time, energy, and focus every day,” he says. “At any moment during the day, the productive manager has to balance his or her effort thinking about, managing, and working on projects. Everything is connected. The entire work group—or organization, for that matter—can only perform at the highest level of those who are most unproductive.”

Focus and productivity begins at the top, and filters down throughout the rest of the organization, Womack explains. “A clear vision of a more productive organization has to be explained and modeled from the highest level of leadership,” he says. “Recently, I worked with an organization of more than 50 mid-level managers who were charged to be more productive. The first few sessions (two in-person and three follow-up Webinars) were focused on the modeling of productive behaviors and routines they’d seen their managers exhibit. Instead of focusing on the outside, ‘best practice’ case study changes they could make, we instead focused on magnifying what upper management was doing.”

There are multiple dimensions of skills employees need to master to be productive, Womack notes, including physical, mental, and emotional ones. Physically, employees need to learn how to attend and lead more effective meetings, manage time by being more organized, and live more healthfully, so they have more energy at the office, in addition to in their personal lives. Needed mental skills include learning to think strategically and be resilient and innovative. Emotionally, Womack says, employees should understand how to build effective teams, how to influence others, and how to present themselves powerfully.

Helping employees keep their eyes on the larger goals, which they are taking small actions to work toward every day, also is helpful. “Too often, people confuse co-working with collaborating,” says Womack. “To collaborate means ‘work jointly on an activity, especially to produce or create something.’ Make sure you set up distinct, unique times of the day, places in the office, and procedures that make it easier for people to share their ideas and work in their strengths toward something bigger.”


  • Implement Initiatives that recognize employees for the good work they are doing as a part of employee engagement.
  • Standardize and streamline work processes using systems such as Lean Management and Six Sigma.
  • Measure employee productivity In terms of Impact on customer service.
  • Start by measuring the productivity of your own team, the Learning and Development or Training group, in the efficiency and effectiveness of your programming.
  • Offer Employee Assistance Programs to help with personal life issues that could distract from work.
  • Teach employees how to prioritize and focus, so the right work— not just any work— gets done.
  • Offer spaces in the office where it's easy for employees to gather to get work done together.

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