Seven ways to improve your business's productivity

A panel of entrepreneurs share their advice on how you can do more with less.

by Jack Torrance
Last Updated: 14 Sep 2017

Ever feel like your business is struggling to get things done? No matter how much extra time you put in or people you hire, you’re just not reaching the challenging milestones you were expecting to?

You’re not the only one. Britain is rightly criticised for its productivity problem. As the chancellor, Philip Hammond, said last year, ‘It takes a German worker four days to produce what we make in five, which means, in turn, that too many British workers work longer hours for lower pay than their counterparts.’

The reasons for this are complex and there’s no easy answer to solving the problem at a national level. But every little helps. Here are a few suggestions from entrepreneurs who have run their own companies for how you can make yours achieve more with less.

What gets measured...

How will you know how productive your business is if you don’t define what that means, and measure how your team is performing based on that definition?

‘How you measure it will depend on the role, and will differ from company to department, but we found a way to benchmark productivity against the company average,’ says Barnaby Lashbrooke, founder of virtual assistant platform Time Etc. ‘Productivity levels are then communicated to the team – something that really motivates people if done in a positive way.’

Make your staff feel valued – and empowered

‘Increased productivity is a matter of making all employees genuine stakeholders in the company’s success,’ says Sven Hughes, group CEO & founder of Global Influence & Verbalisation. ‘That’s why we have a quarterly bonus initiative in our company – against overall company performance – to ensure that all employees feel the direct benefit of the company doing well. Quite simply, if the company hits its numbers, the entire team is rewarded.’

‘My top tip for boosting the company’s productivity is giving junior people ownership over their projects,’ adds Curated Digital founder Simon Douglass. ‘It may sound obvious, but in a lot of companies, people don’t get this responsibility until they’ve essentially proved themselves. At Curated, however, we have found that by giving people full ownership from day one they are more inclined to work harder and put a lot of effort into their work.’

Strong leaders

Some think the key to being productive lies with having a strong, well-briefed management team.

‘When your management team around you know the full brief for their role, the part it plays in the big picture of the company and then you ensure they've got clear objectives that you check in on annually/quarterly/monthly, these all come together to drive the areas of your business forward,’ says Alex Packham, founder and CEO of ContentCal.

‘In our company we have a lead for technology, product, services, sales and operations. We've more than doubled our revenues year on year without increasing our headcount significantly it's simply down to the fact the leader of each department knows what they are there to do and get on with it.’

Don’t waste time on stuff you’re not good at

‘Finding the right staff to free up your time and to do all the jobs you may struggle with has been key for me - it may be a question of getting someone to take over the book-keeping or employing a manager to run the day to day business,’ says James Sinclair, owner of the Partyman Group. ‘I have found that it is important to learn the art of delegation which leaves me the freedom to focus on sales to drive turnover and cash-flow, pick up on opportunities and plan for the future.’

The tricky balance between structure and autonomy

‘We operate a no-mobile phone policy (bar some exceptions) during the working day, which means everyone can focus on the task in hand and avoid distractions along the way,’ says Lee Biggins, founder of CV-Library, whose staff all take a compulsory one-hour break at 1pm each day.

Some swear by rules like this, but in some companies and with some employees they simply won’t work (personally I’d be phenomenally frustrated to have such choices taken away from me, and be out the door sharpish). One the other hand if your workforce are happy to abide by them they can create focus and structure.

Don’t be a slave driver

‘It’s not about aiming for 100% efficiency to maximise productivity,’ suggests Robin Gadsby, founder and CEO of Forever Beta. ‘Give employees 10-30% of time away from their core responsibilities to think about the bigger picture, about the complex challenges facing your business. We set up Betalabs, a dedicated space where team members have the freedom to break away from the day-to-day to act like they’re in a start-up and test new ways and ideas to better connect with our clients. People need room, freedom and autonomy to experiment, make mistakes, learn from them – and then innovate.’

Sometimes it’s the little things that make all the difference...

You don’t necessarily have to create a new system of rules or restructure your team to get the best out of them. Alister Esam, CEO of governance software provider eShare, found a big bump in productivity after installing a shower in the office.

‘I first installed [it] for myself because I had started cycling to work, but others soon followed. The "healthy body, healthy mind" ethos is well documented but certainly rings true,’ he says. ‘People I never thought would exercise have done so and there is undoubtedly more energy in the office, especially in the mornings.’

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