THE BLOG
07/15/2014 04:42 pm ET Updated Sep 14, 2014

5 Best Practices for Workforce Productivity

As a business founder, I've spent a lot of time thinking about how to draw the best from my employees while supporting their goals and creating a positive work atmosphere. Every employer hopes to maximize the labor of his or her workforce but, like all aspects of business, it's harder than it seems at first blush. Here are five keys I've discovered for increasing productivity no matter what the size or shape of an organization.

1. Communication is key.
Human beings prefer clarity to ambiguity, which makes clear communication essential in the workplace. Effective communication reduces errors and builds confidence. On the other hand, ineffective communication creates an atmosphere of frustration that can make employees feel unheard, ignored or devalued. Create a feedback system with your employees so that everyone knows where they stand and what is expected.

2. Measure to understand.
The squeaky wheel gets the grease, but the wheel that never squeaks might end up derailing the whole train. In other words, you can't fix a problem that you don't know exists. If there are productivity issues, understanding the extent of the issue is key. Productivity can be measured in a variety of ways, but the best way is the one that fits your particular organization's size, structure and industry.

"Revenue per employee" is one way to measure individual productivity. It is crucial to understand the factors that can drain productivity, such as how much time an employee spends on their cell phone or on the Internet during work hours. These seemingly harmless activities can quickly add up. One way to help keep employees on track is goal-setting. It is important to set realistic targets, giving workers something to aim for without overwhelming them with seemingly impossible demands. While it's good to aspire to greatness, goals that are too optimistic can turn from inspiring employees to burning them out.

3.The training train never stops.
The Corporate Learning Factbook reports that organizations across the U.S. spent $1,169 per learner, on average, on learning and development (L&D) initiatives in 2013. Though some employers worry that they'll lose the workers they train, research shows that the more an organization invests in developing talent, the more likely it is to retain employees. According to the ASTD Report "Bridging the Gap," 41 percent of employees in companies that invest little or nothing in training said they are likely to leave within one year. In contrast, that number dropped to 12 percent for employers who invested significantly in training and development.

It's important to note here that training must not be looked at merely as a commoditized service. All too often, training tools are procured via the lowest-cost provider with minimal consideration given to which provider would be most effective over the long term. Quality training programs are those that serve the learner by providing relevant content in a format that is easily accessible.

4. Innovation For Competitive Edge.
Innovation is the engine that drives competition and success. It's not an overstatement to say that if you don't innovate, your days are numbered. Just ask any local video store. Oh, wait; you can't. They've all gone out of business, out-innovated by a company called Netflix. Maybe you've heard of it?

Netflix continues to innovate, offering streaming-only plans that replace its initial revolutionary movies-by-mail model and are available via just about any device with a screen. How does the company stay on top? Productivity is what enables a consistent level of competitive edge. A continuous drive towards innovation in solutions, services and in business processes increases efficiency. Management must develop processes, training, measurements and incentives that support continuous innovation across the workforce. Reach out to employees for ideas on how to drive new efficiencies.

5. Appropriate Rewards.
Financial rewards are great -- for some people. But not everyone is motivated by cash. Fortunately, there are a multitude of options for nonmonetary rewards that increase excitement, loyalty and motivation. Some employees will be thrilled with public recognition within a team or across the whole organization, while this level of attention might embarrass others. Some works will appreciate new learning opportunities, while others might feel burdened instead. The best approach to reward excellent work and encourage productivity is to ask employees what motivates them and makes them feel valued.

Productivity is a complex puzzle of factors, yet it's a puzzle that must be solved if organizations hope to stay ahead of the market and their competition. Employers must explore broad changes in their processes and culture to improve the overall productivity of their workforce. These changes don't have to be expensive, and they don't have to be implemented all at once. Because your organization is unlike any other, it's important to create a culture of productivity specific to your business goals and employee mix. Measure employee productivity, provide needed training, communicate goals effectively and encourage innovation and reward workers according to what is meaningful to them. Test these elements in teams or departments to determine their effectiveness and make any needed adjustments before taking them company-wide. Success doesn't happen by accident; an organization focused on productivity is sure to meet or exceed its goals.