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Strategies to Improve Employee Bandwidth

To improve the overall effectiveness, the performance, of your team, you’ll want to improve in two areas: efficiency and productivity. Be sure to take advantage of a highly effective yet often-overlooked best-practice procedure for improvement in this area. Ask your employees to identify ways that the team can be more efficient and productive. When you involve the front-line workers who experience systemic barriers, they’ll help you find better solutions in a shorter amount of time. Also, you need to know the difference between the two and which one should be tackled first.

Productivity vs. Operational Efficiency

Efficiency is about accomplishing the same goals with fewer resources, while productivity is about accomplishing more without increasing your consumption of resources. Resources could be worker hours, supplies, phone lines, funds or whatever it takes to get the job done. For example, if your organization uses 10 people to make calls and solicit restaurant donations for a community food bank, improving efficiency could be improving the phone system so that eight people could make the same number of calls in the same amount of time. Improving productivity would be training those 10 people to achieve a larger donation with each call. If you improve both, you've built a smaller team that can achieve more. It’s best to begin by improving efficiency. Always start by reducing the amount of wasted effort and resources. Once that has been set and stabilized with a clear baseline of operations, you can work to increase productivity without undermining efficiency. Why spend resources training all 10 people to improve their phone skills if you’ll only need eight people after modernizing the phone system? But once you’ve set up the right team of callers on a modern phone system, you can then target exactly who needs training with greater results. Create a lean, mean machine and then make it run like a dream.

Take the time to strategize your best practices when preparing to improve your efficiency. It’s not simply about cutting costs. Analytics can be a key factor in making the right choices. Once you’ve fully analyzed your processes, then you can begin to pinpoint where waste occurs so that you can begin to fix it in a way that is sustainable, perhaps with incentivized buy-in from the staff.

A promising way to begin improving efficiency is to eliminate bottlenecks. These are points in your workflow where the bureaucracy overwhelms and slows the process of completing a task. Or it could simply be a matter of disorganization. Is there a file that everyone needs but is hard to locate? Do you have a disorganized email system that makes it difficult to find important correspondence? So when someone needs something from these, they have to stop the flow to go find what they need. Bottlenecks can waste time, effort, and money. One strategy to eradicate such waste is the 5S method: Sort, Shine, Straighten, Standardize and Sustain. When you clean up your organization and its worksite, your improved efficiency will lead to more fruitful improvements in productivity.

Remember Productivity and Employee Bandwidth

Once you've established a baseline of operations, the next step is to work on productivity. The current vernacular for this is employee bandwidth, which measures in large part team productivity.

But how did bandwidth come to relate to employees? The term started in IT, where it was used to describe the speed of internet that could flow through a particular electronic system. The metaphoric use, today, describes how much productive work a manager can expect from staff members in a particular amount of time. This really is not about making staff work harder or faster to beat the clock. It’s about studying and working with the complete cultural and systemic condition. Is an employee close to burnout? Why? Too much work or too little? Are employees bored with no opportunities for growth? Are some frustrated by red tape and micromanagement? All of these must be taken as part of the bandwidth equation.

UC Berkeley professor Morten Hansen wrote about a study of more than 5,000 professionals over a period of 5 years. He looked at the way people took on workloads and delineated four common personality styles that describe how different staff members behave:

  • Accept More, Then Coast. Employees who volunteer for a lot of projects but fail to finish them all.
  • Do Less, No Stress. Employees who do the bare minimum to keep their jobs.
  • Do More, Then Stress. Like the first group, they say yes to every opportunity, but then they overwork in order to accomplish it all and eventually burn themselves out.
  • Do Less, Then Obsess. This is the most realistic group. They choose a few priorities and then work hard to accomplish them with great success. 

In performance reviews of the four groups, the Do Less, Then Obsess group scored as much as 25

percentage points higher than the other three. This style clearly works better as the workers are forced to pay attention to key factors on a regular basis.

Five Tips to Improve Bandwidth

There are five simple steps you can take to raise the level of productivity with employees and bandwidth in your team.

  1. Provide opportunities to develop cross-discipline expertise. Are team members stuck in one role, never learning anything new and bored? There’s a simple cure for that. Provide the opportunity for members of different teams to leap into other silos and develop basic skills there. Other benefits include having people who can fill in for a few weeks if you lose a team member.
  2. Raise the corporate culture. No doubt you’re already working to maximize the impact of your employment culture. When you emphasize innovation, team relationships, communication, and trust, you build better relationships with your staff and their productivity will increase as they feel happier and more fulfilled in their careers.
  3. Effective communication. Avoid confusion and build a smart team filled with people who know what is expected and can express what’s going on at their level.
  4. Use technology appropriately. The advent of inexpensive apps and software have made technological advances much more affordable in recent years. You can now improve your efficiency, increase productivity, and build worker satisfaction with several available products. See what your competitors are using and find a version that’s affordable and useful for your organization.
  5. Show your appreciation. Build rapport with the team and make sure to commemorate their achievements. The more they feel recognized for their efforts, the more eagerly they will participate in the culture and proactively fulfill their assignments.

You can also improve retention and institutional knowledge by hiring staff with full-time hours and benefits, rather than bringing them in as part-time or contract employees. Grow their roles with your organization and reap the benefits of built-in bandwidth.

Help Them Avoid Burnout

Your goal of maximizing employee bandwidth is to increase productivity without burning out your staff. Employers who push their staff to do work faster or harder, risk a high attrition rate, as employees flee for safer grounds. The first thing to understand is that employee burnout usually has more to do with an organization than any particular employee. You could be overloading your most capable employees with too much work and too many responsibilities.

It’s time to begin thinking of your employees’ time as a precious resource and plan accordingly. If regular overtime is celebrated in your company culture, take another look at that value and check for damage to the lives of your staff members. Too many emails flying back and forth? Too many meetings in one day? When you begin to provide some relief from these constant interruptions, and give employees control over their own calendars, you’ll see your staff’s energy revitalize as they gain a sense of control and autonomy.

All of this comes from the common problem of excessive collaboration. If your organization has grown and developed numerous layers of decision makers, this could be hampering your employee bandwidth. As each stakeholder manages multiple projects, and must sign off on each, the staff members must make themselves available for a seemingly endless round of meetings, conference calls, and emails. The exhausting schedule becomes counterproductive to the point of chasing employees out the door. Restructuring the hierarchy of command can save managers from wasting time on redundant activities and freeing them to accomplish more.

Empower Your Employees

Remember, in the end, most workers want to feel fulfilled and competent in what they do for a living. They want to contribute and make a difference. It’s up to you to give them the workspace that allows them to fulfill their dreams of succeeding. Economist Theodore Levitt said, “Creativity is thinking up new things. Innovation is doing new things.” With this advice, you can allow employees to increase their efficiency, their productivity, and their team bandwidth.

This is an excerpt from UST’s eBook, “Strategies to Secure Nonprofit Endurance” in collaboration with Beth Black, Writer and Editor.

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