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7 effective ways to improve your PR team’s productivity

04 Sep, 2021 Personal productivity, PR management

As the world adapts to new ways of living and working in the continuing COVID era, it is vital to understand what productivity means, what drives it, and how you can measure it. This article explains 7 effective ways to improve your PR team’s productivity.

Employee productivity is the amount of work (or output) produced by an employee (including managers) in a nominated period of time.

Productivity management is a set of skills that help people and teams improve productivity. It’s a key aspect of people management, where leaders use goals and objectives, employee engagement and development, and communication to help employees and teams increase their productivity in support of better organizational performance.

Managers have an essential role to play in raising and maintaining productivity levels in their teams. But that doesn’t just mean pushing people harder or asking them to work faster. Productivity is more than just getting more daily tasks completed. It’s getting important things done consistently in the long-term. Don’t get caught up in maximizing short-term results like completing as many tasks as you can on your To-Do list.

Good employee engagement is vital to improve your communication team’s productivity

Managers account for 70% of the variance in employee engagement, according to a Gallup study. Engaged employees are “those who are involved in, enthusiastic about and committed to their work and workplace,” state Gallup consultants. A good manager will recognize each team member’s skill levels, strengths and challenges, and will work with them to get the best engagement from each person.

According to Gallup’s latest meta-analysis in 2020 of Engagement at Work and Organizational Outcomes of 2.7 million employees in 96 countries, engagement has a very strong influence on organizational performance. The impressive median percent differences between top-quartile and bottom-quartile business units in some of the indicators were:

  • 23% stronger profitability
  • 10% more customer loyalty/engagement
  • 18% more productivity in sales
  • 14% more productivity in production
  • 66% stronger wellbeing (net thriving employees)
  • 41% reduction in output defects.

Positive actions you can initiate to improve your team’s engagement

Work arrangements – how can team members’ work schedules best fit their needs, desires and personalities? Already the pandemic has given employees the opportunity to adjust their work days to fit in best with other commitments, such as their family. This has resulted in greater productivity, along with no commuting time wasted. Even within an office, employers have been making changes due to the pandemic. Hybrid work arrangements enable employers to phase in the return of employees, and making it easier for office workers to spread out – even with teams working on different days from other teams.

As a boss, you could give staff more control in setting their own working routines and hours, allowing them to decide what they work on, who they work with, and now, when they work. You could get your team members to inform you of their preferred days and hours in hybrid mode, which appears to be where most white-collar work is heading.

Focus on team members’ strengths. Gallup consultants believe that a strengths-based approach is vital to leading a high-performance team. And managers who lead high-performance teams have an unwavering focus on employee engagement because employees experience engagement – or disengagement – every day of their employment.

As the manager, you set the tone. Almost seven in 10 employees (67%) who strongly agree that their manager focuses on their strengths are engaged. And when employees strongly disagree with this statement, the figure plummets to 2%.

Engage your employees daily

Employees experience engagement every work day, not just once a year when they respond to a survey. Top-down corporate policies don’t give employees that motivation. You do. As the manager, you set the tone. Every day, you embody the organization’s values and culture to your employees.

To start, Gallup recommends considering how you would answer the following questions:

  • Is every member of my team clear about their own responsibilities and each other’s responsibilities?
  • Do my team members have everything they need to complete the tasks they’re responsible for?
  • Have I positioned my team members to make the best use of their strengths?
  • Am I giving my team feedback on how we are meeting our goals?
  • Do my team members know that I care about them and their success?
  • As we work on our daily tasks, am I looking for ways for my team members to expand their skills, knowledge and strengths?

These questions will help you to shape your management approach and will put you in the right frame of mind to have a positive impact on your employees’ engagement every day.

Why don’t leaders have feedback conversations more often?

With so much to gain, why don’t leaders have feedback conversations more often? “Because not all leaders are comfortable with the responsibility. The fear of hurting people’s feelings and dealing with potential drama and retribution hold [them] back,” commented Lou Solomon, CEO of Interact communication consultancy in a Harvard Business Review article about the results of a US survey.

Above image: Article – “Two-Thirds of Managers Are Uncomfortable Communicating with Employees,” by Lou Solomon, Harvard Business Review, March 2016.

She observed:

…a stunning majority (69%) of the managers said that they’re often uncomfortable communicating with employees. Over a third (37%) of the managers said that they’re uncomfortable having to give direct feedback about their employees’ performance if they think the employee might respond negatively to the feedback.

The survey results also showed that many managers are uncomfortable with becoming vulnerable, recognizing achievements, delivering the “company line,” giving clear directions, crediting others with having good ideas, speaking face to face, and having difficult feedback conversations in general.

How to give difficult feedback

The next time you need to have a difficult feedback conversation with an employee, consider these guidelines offered by Solomon:

  • Be direct but kind. Check your motives before diving into the discussion. If your goal is to shame someone or to feel superior in some way, you’re way off track. However, if you see an opportunity for growth, be direct. Include specific examples of desired behaviors to help illustrate what you mean.
  • Listen. Listening provides a space in which both people feel respected. Ideally, a feedback conversation is meant to spark learning on both sides — you must understand the situation together to make positive change. She quoted another survey in which employees who rated their managers as highly effective at listening felt more positively about the manager’s ability to provide feedback.
  • Don’t make it personal. Imagined slights and malice are toxic. It’s easy to take things personally in a feedback conversation, but if you acknowledge the emotions being felt, you will offer the recipient a relief valve for the stress.
  • Be present. Show up fully for the discussion, and don’t rush off once it’s over. Be brave enough to allow moments of silence to come into the conversation. Follow up later so that afterthoughts don’t create imagined distance.
  • Inspire greatness. Be sure to communicate your aspirations for the person you’re giving feedback to.

Respectful, direct feedback costs absolutely nothing but can make all the difference in individual and team productivity. In its absence, we become completely ineffective. Team communication breaks down. Leaders become irrelevant. But when we get it right, feedback can create better collaboration, a culture of connection, and sustainable change.

Internal communication is a key influence on employee engagement, and you can find out how to communicate to create higher. engagement levels within your whole organization as well as your own team.

A great suggestion is for you to face any fears you may have about giving tough feedback, which can be more daunting than actually giving the feedback. Therefore, aim to get team leaders in your department – which you could push to top management – to give all supervisors a lot of practice, firstly in safe settings, to overcome their apprehensions. After numerous role plays, they get better. And then senior managers should coach/walk/talk their less-experienced managers and other team leaders through several confrontations – and help them to improve their capabilities, one talk at a time.

Conversations should be strengths-based and engagement-focused

Meaningful conversations with your individual team members every day are at the core of high-performance team management, according to Gallup research.

Talk to your employees about what they want to learn and how they want to grow in their role. Praise great performances whenever you see them, instead of just during annual performance reviews. And make sure your conversations are future-oriented, productive and focused on employees’ strengths.

None of this is passive. It takes attention and commitment to have conversations that are genuine, not contrived.

Start by asking the right questions. Really listen to the answers — even if they aren’t what you want to hear. Help employees set goals for themselves that are realistic, aspirational and, most importantly, aimed at achieving outcomes that are important to them, the team and the organization.

7 specific ways to improve your PR team’s productivity

1. Set and monitor progress against objectives

Goals and objectives.

Knowing how to set goals and objectives in the planning of your communication activities is vital because it enables you to plan and monitor progress and results, and so prove their tangible value.

Essential to clearly support organizational goals

The aim of communication activities should be to influence audience behavior in a way that achieves business/organizational goals such as productivity, reduced costs, employee recruitment and retention, revenue, profitability, corporate reputation. (In government, this would be efficiency or effectiveness goals.)

You should consult with your stakeholders (internal clients) to identify the desired behaviors of their target audiences. These stakeholders include managers of relevant business units. Then ensure your boss and senior management document their approval of the proposed activities so they can’t pretend they didn’t know about them or didn’t support them. Finally, base your communication measures on the priority outcomes of your stakeholders.

Measure the value of each communication activity

  1. Determine the business outcome you’re looking to support.
  2. Identify the target behavior/s and measures for that outcome (e.g., who needs to do what for the business outcome to be achieved).
  3. Identify the barriers that prevent the desired behavior/s from happening. Use qualitative and quantitative research where you can to better understand attitudes.
  4. Decide the most worthwhile communication activities and measures for the result you want.

Read my article on how to write SMART objectives for your programs, which will enable you to measure results and prove your worth. Many helpful examples are provided as a guide.

As team leader, you need to communicate clear deadlines and meeting action items.

2. Hold productive team meetings

Circulate an agenda for productive team meetings

Meetings arranged without an agenda can easily go astray.  Ask your team members for input to the agenda of regular team meetings, and provide them without background material if appropriate so they can gather their thoughts ahead of the respective meetings. without a purpose or going completely off-topic?

Hold a team monthly team meeting – probably in hybrid mode – to agree on the forward program and progress to date with projects and completion of one-off tasks. You can then compare intent against monthly progress. Also review at weekly team meetings.

With individuals, you can use one-on-one meetings to create an employee development plan and coach them on progressing with it.

Many workers report meeting more than usual after changing to remote work. This is understandable because managers find it more difficult to keep up to date with team activity remotely. Workers seem to agree that at least one day a week should be a ‘no meeting’ day. Another factor is “Zoom Fatigue”, because we have to listen more intently during video meetings to absorb information.

Therefore, it is important to outline a clear purpose ahead of time for every meeting.

3. Set core team hours

To increase your team’s productivity, set core collaboration hours, in consultation with your team, where everyone is expected to be available online. Encourage flexible working hours outside those times.

This approach allows individuals flexibility in their working day to attend appointments, take their kids to and from school.

Some of your teammates may need to drop off their kids at school in the morning, while others might not be able to take calls in the evening. Remember to ask in your one-to-one meetings to check if your team members feel the need to adjust their current daily work schedule.

4. Coach your team members on setting their priorities

Just as important as setting clear goals and objectives is following up on progress and encouraging your direct reports to discuss their challenges and obstacles with you. Use your one-on-one meetings to coach them on the projects and priorities that they should be focusing on. As part of this, you can coordinate your schedule syncing with your direct reports to lift employee productivity.

5. Prioritize issues with the Intensity-Frequency Matrix

When you are faced with a large number of issues that need fixing, you realize you can’t fix them all at once, so you need to know how to prioritize them. The Intensity-Frequency Matrix is an efficient way of determining which matters need to be sorted out in priority order. It gives you a simple quantitative methodology you can use as a guide for yourself and your team, and you can also use it to demonstrate to senior management that you have a businesslike way of assigning priority.

How to do it:

The process of using the matrix is adapted from a 2021 Medium management article by Joe Benyi:

The Y-axis (vertical) in the matrix shows Intensity. This is how severe the issue is, or has the potential to be if left unattended. A typo in a press release or contract quote might be classified as a 1. Potential bankruptcy may get a 5.

The X-axis (horizontal) shows Frequency – how often this incident occurs, or has the potential to keep occurring if left unattended. If this is the first time a problem has emerged, it may get a 1. If this is the 3rd time today it has reared its head, maybe it gets a 5 due to cumulative impact.

Your type of team function, organization or business/government sector will have unique context that drive the numbers you assign to your problems and issues. Within this background, you will gain a good idea which number should be assigned to each axis.

Once you have assigned a number to each axis, multiply them together to get a final score. (The image doesn’t show a place to put the final scores, so you can put them in a spreadsheet or something as simple as a Word page. The higher the score, the more important it ranks compared with the other issues for which you apply the same process.

Image, right: Intensity-Frequency Matrix.

6. Use small wins to give your team members a feeling of accomplishment

What motivates people on a day-to-day basis is the sense that they are making progress. In a famous Harvard Business Review article, “The Power of Small Wins,” Professor Teresa Amabile and researcher Dr Steven Kramer said, “People are most satisfied with their jobs (and therefore most motivated) when those jobs give them the opportunity to experience achievement.”

When we think about progress, we often imagine how good it feels to achieve a long-term goal or experience a major breakthrough. These big wins are great—but they are relatively rare. The good news is that even ordinary, gradual progress can increase people’s engagement in their work and their happiness during their work day.

Then Amabile & Kramer wrote a highly successful book on the subject: The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins Will Ignite Joy, Engagement, and Creativity at Work. In their HBR article they say:

By supporting people and their daily progress in meaningful work, managers improve not only the inner work lives of their employees but also the organization’s long-term performance, which enhances inner work life even more. As long as you show basic respect and consideration, you can focus on supporting the work itself.

But if managers fail to support progress and the people trying to make it, inner work life suffers and so does performance; and degraded performance further undermines inner work life.

The checklist below from Amabile & Kramer’s article can help you to dramatically boost your team’s engagement, and sense of satisfaction and achievement:

Introduce a “Did-It” list for team members

Following on from the work of Amabile & Kramer discussed above, a productive initiative is to encourage your staff to note their daily wins in their own “Did-It” list. This is the opposite of a “To-Do” list, and enables individuals to share their daily, small wins with other team members, enables them all to celebrate the progress and create a sense of accomplishment.

7. A final note on how to improve your PR team’s productivity

My article, “6 ways to improve team productivity,” may help you with further useful insights.

If you would like some ideas about productivity tools in your workplace, the following articles should be a good help:

Business tools

 

About Kim Harrison – author, editor and content curator

Kim Harrison, Founder and Principal of Cutting Edge PR, loves sharing actionable ideas and information about professional communication and business management. He has wide experience as a corporate affairs manager, consultant, author, lecturer, and CEO of a non-profit organization. Kim is a Fellow and former national board member of the Public Relations Institute of Australia, and he ran his State’s professional development program for 7 years, helping many practitioners to strengthen their communication skills. People from 115 countries benefit from the practical knowledge shared in his monthly newsletter and in his books available from cuttingedgepr.com.

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