Putting People First

October 21, 2010

Throughout my career, I have always noticed that happy people are more productive. The team that has fun together, who do practical jokes and laugh on a regular basis appear to regularly outperform the team that does not.

Obviously, the team whose members spent a lot of time complaining and moaning cannot expect to perform highly, but also, if the team-members don’t enjoy each other, don’t talk together, they cannot be performing to their best levels either.

The conclusion must be that our primary focus should be to see how we can make team members and employees happier in order to ensure that they are more productive and producing higher quality products. Frequently, when making a decision to improve the work practices or processes, the people aspect gets forgotten. It appears that the organization, from the management level, decrees that new practices, tools, templates must be implemented, because they read an article or spoke to a consultant. The result is that someone, sitting in an “ivory tower” determines how people should work, what forms they need to fill in, who should sign what, etc.

The resulting product is a bureaucratic nightmare. The people doing the “real” work are upset, their experience and knowledge is ignored, in favour of paperwork and reports. The result is that they are less productive, reduced quality, higher costs for testing, maintenance and repair; the improvement programme fails, management is unhappy as well.

Yet, understanding models and techniques for improvement should in fact improve the satisfaction of the people doing the work: they should benefit from the new approach, not suffer from it.

Putting in place an improvement programme has to focus on the needs of the business, but also on the needs and knowledge of the team members who are effected by it. The amount of formality to put into place should be exactly what is necessary and sufficient, no more, no less – and that amount varies from business to business, from organization to organization, even from team to team. The first step is to identify what is necessary and sufficient, which is a not an easy task.

However, a few things are reasonably easy to understand if you want team members to be happy in their work. Some of the things they need are self-evident. I m listing here what I believe to be the seven most obvious needs:

1. Clear Objectives

Giving people clear objectives as to what they are expected to perform and why it is important is the first step in ensuring that they are productive. This includes clear communications from management in the form of policies that explain the management expectations in terms of outcomes and products.

On the short-term,clear objectives should be defined in the form of documented, clear and understandable requirements and plans that carefully lay out what each team member needs to do, and what are the consequences of not doing it as expected in terms of impact on others and potential delays.

2. Skills and Aptitudes

Ensuring that the people who are required to perform a task, produce something or deliver a service, have the skills they need in order to perform what is expected from them. This should mean that people are trained (educated, coached, have the knowledge) to do what they are being requested to do. If someone does not feel able to complete the task at hand reasonably, free and open communication should allow that person to request assistance or training as necessary.

Management should encourage people to admit when they do not have the skills necessary rather than give the feeling that they will be punished or down-graded when they admit a flaw.

3. Tools and Resources

Resources include the people, the time, the money as well as the hardware and software tools required to do a job. Asking someone to cut down a tree without giving them an appropriate axe or saw is ridiculous – the same is true of office workers.

Again, team members should feel that they have the possibility of identifying and requesting what they are lacking when necessary.

4. Appropriate authority and responsibility

Team members need to have the control of their activities. This means that they should be given the authority to do what it takes to achieve their purpose. Appropriate responsibility means that they have the responsibility to perform the work, considering that they have been provided with the objectives, means and authority.

5. Sense of Belonging

The human being is a social animal. We need families, teams. In order to be able to work efficiently, a team should be given a shared vision, a sense of belonging and participating. This can be performed in a number of manners, but it does require extensive 2-way communication from the beginning, in which the team membrs get to participate in the planning activities and understanding what the outcome of their work really represent.

6. Support in their tasks

Rather than risk being blamed for having forgotten something, people need a simple support and independant review during which the efficiency of the practices implemented can be reviewed and recommendations on corrections and improvements can be suggested.

7. Someone who listens

People who have been doing a job know what works, what doesn’t. When a new practice is suggested or implemented, it is necessary to listen to the people who are actually using the prcie, doing he work believe is good or improvable within it.

After being listened to, it is nice to know that one has also been heard: changes and issues have been identified, the standards and practices updated accordingly, or an explanation has been provided.



  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Bob Marshall and Olivia, PeterLeeson. PeterLeeson said: Seven key requirements for productive teams – Putting People First – http://wp.me/pXRKM-N […]

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