It's easier than you think. (Just keep in mind if you work for someone else you might have to get a little creative... but hey, work rules are meant to be broken or at least bent, right?)
- Create an esteem incentive. We all work harder when we feel appreciated. Every employee is different, so think about the type of praise and recognition that has meaning to each individual. Some like to be praised publicly while others prefer a quiet, private word. Then build incentives based on personality. Have an employee lead a presentation to upper management. Place an employee in charge of an important project. Give an employee the opportunity to train in another department. Employees will work hard because it's their job to do so, but employees work harder when they feel good about doing so. And if you work for someone else, think about what makes you feel good about your work and do more of it. Every job has some latitude -- make sure you fully exploit that latitude so you can feel better about yourself as an employee and as a person. You'll naturally be more productive -- and happier.
- Eliminate the worthless. Every company and every job has some number of once-meaningful but now worthless tasks. Think about all the "legacy tasks" your employees currently do; the "that's how we've always done it" stuff. If a task doesn't directly impact sales, quality, productivity or safety, get rid of it and free up that time. I once started a new job and spent 2 hours a day creating reports. After a week I went into full-on networking mode and asked the recipients if I could improve the reports. Each answered with a version of, "To be honest... I don't even read them." I stopped creating them, no one cared, and I looked like a superstar simply because I could focus on other tasks.
- Ask for one simple thing that makes a job easier. Everyone faces roadblocks and hurdles. Everyone deals with frustrations. If you want to make someone's job easier -- and therefore more productive -- ask and you shall receive input. (Don't worry; most people won't ask for upgraded computers or new equipment.) If you're an employee, ask yourself. What do you put up with because you always have... but you could change? Records are made to be broken and obstacles are made to be overcome. Never settle for a same stuff, different day work life.
- Take on a task -- and use the time to engage. I type really quickly, so even though I was in charge of four departments I went to Shipping every day to process Fedex packages. Took me 15 minutes, freed up time for others in the department... and gave me an excuse to check in, interact, and see how employees were doing. Helping out accomplishes two goals: You provide assistance and you get to interact in a more natural and unforced way. You can do the same, regardless of your job position. Just ask someone if you can help them out. They'll appreciate the gesture -- and if you pick your spots correctly you'll learn new skills.
- Streamline expectations. Let me guess: Every time you assign a project you can't resist tacking on a few "nice to do" additions. (Scope creep, anyone?) Deciding what to do is important, but often deciding what not to do is even more important. Every position, every project, every initiative has a primary goal, and 90% of the effort of those involved should go to accomplishing that primary goal. Achievement is certainly based on effort, but achievement is also based on focus. Strip away the ancillary stuff and turn your employees loose to get on with what is really important. If you work for someone else, think about all the "fluff" you've allowed to creep into what you do. Pretend you're training someone to do your job and they asked you the reasoning behind a certain process or task; would you have a logical answer? If not, change what you're doing. Comfort is a terrible operational justification.