no roadblocks here. just climb over
Managers who should be helping improve employee performance just as often end up diminishing it PHOTO: Nicholas Canup

Keeping up productivity levels is an essential part of the job, whether working for HR or managing a team.

However, in the eye-opening TED Talk Why Work Doesn’t Happen at Work,” software engineer Jason Fried argues the main barriers to productivity are the people who should actively be trying to improve it: managers.

We tapped several experts with years of successful leadership under their belt to uncover six ways managers can harm their team's success and how to overcome these setbacks to ensure teams will shine.

1. Eliminate Uncertainty

Alain Dehaze, CEO of Adecco, recommended three practices to help run a successful team and ensure that, even when things get busy, people remain certain about what’s expected, and can do their best work.

“Team is everything in business and life. As targets become more ambitious, our life and work continuously connected, and schedules hectic and compressed, it’s key to reduce uncertainty, ensure clarity on the expectations and reward quality and success. I believe this approach is an enhancer for motivation, trust, hence productivity. Solving uncertainty is key for every leader.”

He recommended the following practices:

Clear Expectations and Planning

For each task or program, agree up front on goals, timeline and checkpoints and stick to the plan.


Quick and clear answers — via email or through any other channel — accelerate action, boost productivity and signal to the team that you’re there to listen and support.

Prompt Feedback

"My team is strongly committed and strives for excellence. Sharing fast feedback, and a ‘thank you’ after a milestone or an event is crucial to strengthen the team’s confidence on the path we are following together and to charge the batteries for the next challenge.”

2. Stop Excessive Meetings

One of the biggest barriers to productivity is a calendar full of meetings. 

We’ve all experienced the feeling when you leave a long meeting and your brain feels completely fried. Meetings not only take away time but also deplete your employees’ decision-making and concentration power, making it harder to get back to their regular tasks. One survey found 45 percent of senior executives believe employee productivity would improve if meetings were banned once a week.

While you can’t eliminate meetings altogether, managers must learn how to run each one effectively: carefully consider who should be included, keep them in the 30 to 45 minute range, keep people on track, share an agenda in advance and create clear steps for follow-up.

Steve Faktor, CEO of IdeaFaktory Innovation, author of Econovation, speaker and host of The McFuture podcast shares his insights and experiences with keeping the meetings you do have as effective as possible, with good preparation:

“I've never gotten a dirtier look than before our first Chairman's Innovation Fund meeting to pitch new growth proposals to the CEO of American Express and the entire executive committee.

"In prep meetings, multiple executives asked me, 'When are the decks due?'

"'There are no decks,' I said.

"The look I got said, 'That's your ass... you’re definitely getting fired.'

"Keep in mind, NOTHING at Amex was EVER done without ninja-level PowerPointing. Instead, I had every project leader prepare a two-page preread in Word. Then, we’d actually have a conversation.

"And we did.

"When the meeting was done, I got actual applause from the entire committee; and I was told publicly and privately that it was 'the best meeting we’ve ever had.'

"In other words, it’s time to murder PowerPoint with extreme prejudice. It’s a barrier to communication, not an enabler, 90 percent of the time."

3. Cut Down Stress

More and more companies are realizing the impact workplace stress can have on productivity. Willis Towers Watson found back in 2014 that, out of respondents who were experiencing high-stress levels, 57 percent claimed to be disengaged. 

Additionally, highly stressed employees were reported to take an average of 4.6 sick days per year as opposed to low-stress employees who took only 2.6 days.

One of the most powerful solutions is to encourage more communication with managers. Every leader should be having regular one-on-ones. This is the perfect time to check in and find out if there is anything causing stress in their employees’ work life or a personal issue which could be impacting their work. 

Gallup found only 15 percent of employees who do not meet with their manager regularly are engaged.

Employees don’t want to be treated simply as a source of revenue: the most highly rated leaders regularly express an interest in their team members' well-being and development. The more you know about what’s causing stress in your team members’ work and personal lives the better you’ll be able to help them overcome these barriers and become more engaged and productive.

4. Share Productivity Hacks

Sharing knowledge should be a key part of your learning and development strategy. 

Google did this by leveraging its intelligent and diverse workforce to create an ecosystem of peer learning in which employees are encouraged to share knowledge on different topics with each other. This is how Googler Chade-Meng Tan was able to teach mindfulness within the company.

Consider holding voluntary learning sessions where you share tips and new tools that will help employees organize their time efficiently, prioritize tasks, stress, etc. Opening it to not only managers but also peers is a great way to tap into your wider knowledge base. Google found that even without teaching experience, these peer teachers were just as effective in training others.

5. Give Feedback in Real Time

A major factor that surfaces in low productivity is a lack of guidance. In fast-paced environments, it can be easy for employees to feel their manager doesn’t have the time to give them advice ad hoc. 

In the same study cited earlier, Willis Towers Watson found 37 percent of respondents felt their managers didn’t have time to deal with the people aspects of their job. If employees are left in the dark about their performance, they’ll simply move on to the next task and continue making the same mistakes until review time.

Sacrificing development in favor of other responsibilities is the number one mistake managers can make. Encourage your managers to be available for feedback when your employees need it most. Investing in a feedback tool allows managers to answer feedback on the go and keeps feedback requests top of mind with notifications.

6. Recognize Achievements

Never forget the power of positive feedback. Though recognizing an employee’s achievements seems like a simple thing, according to Gallup, only one in three workers in the US strongly agree they’ve received recognition or praise in the past week. 

Showing appreciation has an even deeper impact than managers might expect. A study by Globoforce found 82 percent of employees are motivated by recognition and 78 percent would even work harder if they were recognized more. Another study found that 83 percent found recognition to be even more fulfilling than rewards or gifts.

The most effective way to make sure employees receive the recognition they need is by incorporating it into your culture. At Impraise we set aside time during our weekly all-hands meeting to recognize rockstar peers, managers or reports for great work or for taking the time to help out others.