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Set up your people for success

Leaders can set their people up for success by making their work more satisfying and engaging.

8 min read


set people up for success


In previous productivity articles, we planned our work (Step 1), put systems in place to keep our people informed and in sync (Step 2), rolled up our sleeves to get work done (Step 3) and identified strategies to sustain the momentum we’ve built (Step 4). June’s post went deeper (Step 5), leading for maximal productivity. This post goes deeper on Step 5. 

The next component of this productivity-through-leadership leadership step is to set your people up for success by putting them in position to get more done. Here are some ways leaders can do just that:

Allow people to work remotely

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Eighty-six percent of employees say they’re most productive when they work from home, as cited by Fundera. Seventy-seven percent of employees report greater productivity while working off-site, according to the Remote Collaborative Worker Survey by CoSo Cloud. Sixty-four percent of global business leaders said flexible working had a positive impact on productivity, Condeco reports. Telecommuters are 14% more productive than their office-bound colleagues, according to a study released by Stanford University. Research found that working from home increases job performance and productivity while also decreasing the number of sick days taken.

Plan workspaces for maximal productivity

When people are in the office, make sure that it’s an environment that’ll promote their best work. This usually means giving people defined workspaces where they can think and produce without continuous disruption. An Exeter University study states that open office layouts create a 32% drop in overall well-being and a 15% reduction in productivity.

Promote connection

Workplace connection results in many benefits, including stronger communication, greater synergy, enhanced anticipation of others’ needs and worries/concerns, and, last but certainly not least, increased worker engagement. When we feel connected, we operate with a sense of purpose and use our talents and abilities to advance that purpose, consciously as well as subconsciously.  

The need for connection at work is perhaps stronger today than ever before. It has become an expectation, especially among younger workers, that the workplace be a source of meaning and intention, not just a place at which to collect a paycheck. 

Ironically, the technological communication that has become the hallmark of millennials — texting, social media and the like, even when in close physical proximity — has in many ways served to connect us only superficially, leaving us hungry for the deep, meaningful and fulfilling linkage that only direct, interpersonal communication with real emotion sharing can achieve. 

Focus on worker engagement

For many of us, a large portion of our days is spent at work. In fact, many sources say the average person will spend a total 90,000 hours — or approximately a third of their lifetime — at work. 

The sad reality is that, according to a recent Pew study, 30% of American workers view their days as something to get through (“just a job to get them by”) rather than a source of real satisfaction, let alone an opportunity to grow and contribute. Ninety-thousand hours is a heck of a lot of time to burn through.

Without question, it falls on the boss to promote engagement through modeling, messaging and educating. The following are tips to help leaders create an engaging workplace that gets the most out of its workers.  

  • Create a clear vision. Leaders have the responsibility to be visionaries. Particularly in today’s uber-competitive marketplace, it is more critical than ever for leaders to understand their roles as storytellers and dream weavers to inspire continued motivation, creativity and growth.

Keep four things in mind when communicating a vision. One, a vision should be simple, vivid, impactful and repeatable. Simple means that the meaning is plain and uncomplicated. When President John F. Kennedy presented a vision for the space program, he did not indulge in complex verbiage. He kept things simple. The goal was to land a man on the moon before the end of the decade (1960s). Though he did not live to see it, the steps of Neil Armstrong made Kennedy’s dream a reality.

Two, a compelling vision is vivid. Metaphor, analogy and example all serve as excellent ways to crystalize the objective.

Three, visions should be impactful and include big ideas that excite people and motivate them to do their jobs. They want to feel that what they do matters.

Finally, visions should be repeatable. Distill them to but a few words, a catchy slogan, jingle or mnemonic. The idea should be able to be spread from anyone to anyone. In this way, the visions are kept front and center in people’s minds and have the greatest impact.

  • Make people feel valued. Workplace morale rises when workers feel that their efforts are valued (oral acknowledgments are good, written notes and goodies are even better) and they are given a chance to shine. They also begin to see their work as part of a bigger effort, which adds to their feeling of belonging.
  • Communicate clearly and often. People are more engaged when they are in regular touch with their superiors and peers and receive valuable information that helps them do their jobs and stay connected to the goings-on around them.
  • Give them a voice. Close the circle by making communication two-way. Give your people the chance to have their voices heard, in town halls (depending on your company size), small group meetings or one-to-one conversations. Also, use surveys and similar data collection tools to gather feedback.
  • Make room for mistakes. Mistakes are inevitable, especially when we ask our people to leave their comfort zones to learn new skills and take on new projects. Make sure employees know that as long as they are making their best efforts, mistakes will not only be tolerated but valued.

Make work satisfying

Satisfied employees tend to produce higher quality work for more sustained periods. They bring a more positive attitude to the workplace, making them better liked and easier to be around. Satisfied workers tend to learn more about their jobs and seek new content and skills to help them perform at higher levels. They will have their input and contributions more readily sought after, making them likelier to be given interesting, challenging work and stand a better chance of being promoted into a leadership position. 

The following are tips that can help your people think more positively about your work and gain greater satisfaction from it.

  • Set goals. Encourage them to use goal setting to gain added clarity about what needs to get done and the steps needed to get there. Goals should be measurable and achievable so they know exactly what success looks like and have the capacity to achieve it. People who set goals are typically more motivated and satisfied.
  • Think about the beneficiaries. Ask your people, “Who, other than we, stands to benefit from our work?” If you produce a widget, imagine happy end-users. If you develop a program, consider how users’ lives will benefit. If you work in a nonprofit, contemplate how your work, even if seemingly buried in a back office, can ultimately make a difference to another person or beneficiary.
  • Share what you learn. Teaching others is a great way to deepen your own learning and passion while sharpening others’ toolkits. Start a weekly email to peers or a blog to pass along tips, successes and setbacks. Make your writing personal and raw so others can connect deeply with your experiences and want to join your tribe. Other platforms for teaching and sharing include video and podcast production. 

Happiness and engagement at work is a choice. Sure, there are factors that we can’t control that can make our work intrinsically more enjoyable and satisfying, but the ultimate responsibility for such feelings lies squarely with us. We can spend each day thinking about what isn’t good about our work situation and how to get through it and to our next break as painlessly as possible. Or, to quote Seth Godin, we can aim to “set up a life you don’t need to escape from.”

Naphtali Hoff, Psy.D., is an executive coach who helps leaders and their teams become more productive. Download his productivity blueprint and take his productivity assessmentReach out to him to learn more about his high-powered mastermind groups that help leaders power up, problem-solve and get more done.


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