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Dear Suzanne,

I’m under pressure to increase staff productivity in my department. So far, I have taken these steps: 

  • added productivity issues as a standing item on weekly meetings.
  • give team members ideas about how they can increase their output and speed developing software products and getting them to market.
  • scoured project plans, trying to find efficiencies wherever I can.
  • started giving a 5-minute talk each morning, about how they can have a productive day. 

Still, nothing has changed. Can you give me some ideas for what else I can do? I’m a fairly new department head, and this is my first management position. The upper management team is watching my performance, which is making me feel like we all are working in a pressure cooker. 


Jeff, Houston, Texas

Employee Development Systems, Employee Productivity

It sounds like you have been diligently working to address the productivity issues in your department.  As a new leader, I’m sure you are feeling pressure to increase productivity and impact their performance.

The first thing you can do is download the information here. It’s practical and will get you started right away.

4 Keys to Impact Performance Now

Next, here is a simple solution, with steps that can be taken right away to make progress. Your situation is one of them. My initial recommendation is to take a step back from giving them more advice, and instead take some steps that will increase employee engagement. Increased engagement leads naturally to increased productivity.

Commit to improving active listening skills. This applies to you and your staff, but should start with you. Active listening enables you to gain information, engage employees and build trust, all of which will increase engagement.

  1. Become aware of your use of the “five fatal flaws” of listening: giving advice, interrupting, becoming defensive, one-upmanship (or telling your own story), and telling others how to feel or dismissing their feelings.
  2. Use active listening responses to demonstrate interest in and understanding of the speaker’s message. This includes, pausing, using active listening responses, reflecting content, and confirming understanding.
  3. Learn to practice listening under difficult circumstances. The pressure you and your team members are under is certainly effecting everyone’s ability to actively listen. Think of what your listening “hot buttons” are, and how you can address them next time. Become aware of your emotions, so you can address them and put them in their place, not letting them derail your understanding.
  4. Plan for being a more effective listener on the job. We all repeat non-productive behaviors that undermine productivity and effectiveness in the workplace. If you commit today to becoming an active listener and fostering an environment of active listening in your department, you will find that the environment will shift almost effortlessly. I encourage you to try it for a month and let us know how it is working.

Thank you for sending in this great question!


Suzanne Updegraff

How To Keep Employees From LeavingLearning about and teaching your team members effective negotiation tactics is just one of the ways to foster a productive workforce.  Many leaders don’t recognize what impacts positive performance.

Failure to realize that the best possible performance is a result of three simple metrics. Contrary to popular belief, money is the third or fourth reason that high performers quit their job. according to a recent Gallup poll, over half of employees (60%) seekgreater clarity
of organizational goals, more mentoring, better communication, improved workplace relationships and regular, specific feedback. We invite you to learn the fundamentals of these three metrics in our latest infographic.


Employee Development Systems, Inc. (EDSI) has been resolving employee development, leadership, generational, professional presence, and personal effectiveness issues for over 30 years, and she is ready to tackle any question you have. 

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