Five Ways to Improve Agency Productivity

In terms of employee productivity, today’s rapidly evolving technologies are a two-edged sword. Faster, multi-functional mobile phones, tablets and pcs, continual software upgrades for everything from digital art to accounting, and cloud-based computing all serve to fuel work speed and efficiency. The same technologies also make it easy to spend too much time on “work” that yields few discernable results, and too much time procrastinating in general.

Why do we procrastinate? Rieva Lesonsky, CEO of GrowBiz Media, offers some great ideas and interesting thoughts, including one that had not occurred to me: fear of failure. We creatives hate to fail. And the ultimate humiliation is the failure to actually be creative. Of course, none of us are creative all of the time. (That probably explains the number of partially completed articles… and short stories… and novellas floating around on my hard drive).

Encourage your people to be fearless

As my parents so often admonished, “It won’t get finished any sooner if you sit around and worry about it.” As we all know, issuing commands and edicts is a generally ineffective incentive to be creative. Encourage your creatives to work through their “worry” process, because that first, possibly weak, attempt at an idea will help them to generate better ideas. Help creatives to conquer their inherent fear of failure by providing a supportive, non-judgmental review process. Tell them you expect them to fail. Give them room to stumble, and help them to tweak silly concepts into useful, and saleable work. Eventually they’ll learn how to fail quickly, succeed even more quickly, and become very productive.

Change up the “regular” workload and assignments…

Just because someone is really good at one type of project, don’t pigeonhole them or let them pigeonhole themselves. Prevent creative burnout by encouraging them to stretch out and try new things. Some people will be resistant to new things (usually due to fear of failure), so you’ll have to slowly expand their professional comfort zone. For example, you may have an artist on staff who is also a very good writer. Make sure they get a few copywriting or other writing assignments to hone those skills. Perhaps your accounting clerk is outgoing and develops good customer relationships; consider having that individual do account support work for an hour or two per day. Boredom is the enemy of productivity. Changing up the workload keeps people fresh, and helps them be more flexible—and productive—when the agency is very busy. It also allows employees to explore alternative career paths that can help them grow—and grow your agency.

…But don’t push people way beyond their comfort zones

It’s important to train, give people time to absorb knowledge, see where they excel, and incrementally add new responsibilities. Use technology to benefit your people, point out samples, articles, training videos, etc. that will help them hone their skills. But be aware that overwhelming people with work that they’re not able to complete—either from a time, skill, or comprehension standpoint—can kill productivity, as well as demoralize employees. Improve and manage productivity by focusing on individual strengths instead of attempting to improve perceived “weaknesses.”

Staying even-keel on an ocean of emotion

Agency people are creative, and as a rule, emotional people. If we weren’t passionate about what we do, at least in part, we couldn’t do it every day. Agency managers know that they are working with an emotional bunch of people who “Love it!” or “Hate it!” Productivity can fall into the tank when the hates overpower the loves… when a client or job is difficult, demanding or just dull as dishwater. Star producers can have a bad week, or a slow month when their work becomes emotionally unpleasant. Astute agency managers are alert to the reasons people fall behind, and step in to help them deal with these issues.

Defeating distraction

Distraction is Public Enemy No. 1 in terms of agency productivity. Years ago, agency people might have spent a bit too much time chatting around the watercooler, telling stories in the lunchroom, or taking an extra half-hour (to be made up after 5) for lunch. People were even admonished for spending a few minutes daily on personal phone calls. That was about it. The rest of the time, you worked. Obviously, the pace was slower, and much of the work was done by hand.

Today’s distractions are more numerous. The phones still ring, people still chat in the lunchroom… but they also spend time texting friends, sending tweets, and surfing the net. Of course, this is all part and parcel of the way educated, curious and creative people move through the world. Improve productivity by training your people to self-police to avoid insidious time wasters such as celebrity gossip, sports news, and, yes, Facebook. If necessary, track time wasters, then find ways to incent and reward productivity.

Although modern technology has changed the way we work (arguably for better or worse), human nature remains the same (also for better or worse). People still need positive encouragement and feedback, preferably not via email; they still need new challenges to stay fresh; no one gets along with everyone, every day; and only a superhuman few have a highly creative day every day. However, I would argue that almost every person who works in today’s highly connected environment is more distracted, and possibly less attentive to details, and other people—not intentionally, but because there’s just so much to be attentive to. Find ways to manage distraction, and you will be on the way to more creativity, better interpersonal relationships, and improved productivity.