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Looking for people? Focus first on productivity: Guest view

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Rob Marchalonis,author of “IncentShare: Motivate, Recruit, and Get Results with Incentives”
Rob Marchalonis,author of “IncentShare: Motivate, Recruit, and Get Results with Incentives” - (Photo / )

Right now, business is good and growing for many, but the pool of skilled workers appears to be shrinking.

December data from the U.S. Department of Labor indicates that unemployment was just 4.1 percent nationwide, the lowest rate in over 10 years. (November data indicated 4.6 percent unemployment for Pennsylvania, 3.8 percent for York-Hanover, 3.6 percent for Harrisburg-Carlisle and 3.3 percent for the Lancaster region.)

So, what are you to do as a business leader? If you see recruiting and hiring as your only option, you will be forced to attract the unemployed or lure talent away from others. Both present challenges. Many candidates who are not working fail to meet minimum employment criteria. Those who are employed (even with just average skills and experience) are in a position where they can negotiate high wages, salaries, benefits and more. You may find yourself choosing between less-than-desirable or very expensive candidates. But all this activity overlooks one big employment factor, and that is productivity

On a scale from 0 to 10, how productive are your work groups? During the time I’ve spent with hundreds of businesses and employees over the past 20-plus years, I’ve seen very few work groups that perform even close to their capacity or potential.

That’s not to say that these workplaces and workers weren’t well-intentioned and good people, because almost all of them were. They simply performed way below what they were capable of for a variety of reasons.

Addressing this opportunity is a challenge, but increasing workgroup productivity is often easier and much less risky than attempting to increase output by simply adding workers. In short, you may be much better off investing in the productivity of your current employees, before you add more who may continue to perform at a suboptimal level.

I believe that many workgroups are about 60 percent productive. It’s my opinion and experts concur that the production from most functional teams or workgroups is somewhere between 50 percent and 70 percent of their potential. In a recently published book, “Time, Talent, Energy,” authors and productivity experts from consulting firm Bain & Co. share research showing how the best (top quartile) companies are over 40 percent more productive than their counterparts. They accomplish this because they:

  1. reduce organizational drag,
  2. put talented difference makers in key positions
  3. and release the discretionary energy of employees.

Discretionary energy is the amazing ability and additional effort within every employee, if you can just find the right way to unleash it.

Surprisingly, for many work groups 60 percent productivity appears to be adequate, or at least accepted, given how little is invested to improve it. But for how long can a work group’s suboptimal productivity continue, and at what cost to the participants? Poor communication, weak oversight, inadequate accountability, bad habits and minimal motivation seem to be common reasons why work groups underperform. The good news is that many of these deficiencies can be turned around in relatively short order.

Every employee wants to be part of a successful team. Leaders, take the first step toward improved productivity by clarifying your organization’s goals and what it looks like to “win.” Next, embrace the process of continuous improvement where everyone is learning, developing and enjoying the satisfaction and fun of overcoming challenges. Add incentives where work groups share in the results or gains they help achieve and watch the motivation and morale of your employees rise to record levels.

As more employees become actively engaged — not only with their daily output but also by identifying future opportunities — utilize their collective wisdom, experience and effort to multiply organizational results. Reinvest the profits generated by increased productivity to reward the team and finance next-level improvements and growth. Organizations with a culture of high productivity and strong results are in the best position to attract, hire and retain talent. Peak performers want to play for winning teams. As you invest in productivity, don’t overlook both the financial and employee benefits.

Rob Marchalonis is a Lancaster-based consultant who helps organizations develop leadership, strategy and process solutions. A former CEO, he is author of “IncentShare: Motivate, Recruit, and Get Results with Incentives.” He can be reached at

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