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What does a culture of efficiency really look like? Insights from Slack, Salesforce

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David Ard
As the Senior Vice President of Employee Success, David Ard oversees the People team at Slack, where he puts his passion for culture, equality and belonging—and championing talent—into daily practice. In addition to his role at Slack, David leads Employee Success across Salesforce’s Mergers and Acquisitions, Marketing, ESSO and Benefits teams. David has over 20 years of experience leading the HR and People teams of global lifestyle brands, including Equinox, and Gap and Intermix brands.

Ask any business leader what’s keeping them up at night and most of them will tell you they’re under pressure to squeeze more productivity out of their teams. After all, 2023 is the “year of efficiency.” But there’s a point when pushing too hard “to do more with less” begins to backfire. Perhaps that’s why desk workers in Slack’s global State of Work survey said they spend 32% of their time on performative work to appear productive, even when that work doesn’t contribute to their company and team goals. That doesn’t sound efficient to me.

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We’re missing a key element in the broader productivity conversation: setting employees up for success. There’s no such thing as efficiency or sustained high performance without employee wellness. Our assignment couldn’t be clearer: Create the right environment that enables employees to do the best work of their lives.

Employees don’t perform well if they don’t feel well

When we talk about employee wellness or wellbeing, we’re not talking about added incentives like yoga classes and free food (though these perks are nice, too). We’re talking about valuing people’s contributions, trusting them to do their work, enabling human connection, and supporting mental and physical health. This is what ensures we do our best work toward accomplishing our business goals.

Research shows employee wellbeing is associated with higher productivity and stronger company performance. Slack’s survey found that 82% of employees said that feeling happy and engaged at work is a key driver of productivity. Mutual trust is born out of giving them the resources to do their best work to drive efficiency.

Employee wellness isn’t a “nice to have.” If you want to increase productivity and drive efficiency, there are three building blocks to create impact:

  1. Redefine success

Shifting to performance mode requires a fresh look at what matters most, and organizations may need to rethink their priorities.

The data shows 60% of executives are tracking activity metrics like hours worked or emails sent as a primary way of measuring productivity. Ask yourself, are these really the metrics that matter? Does this build a culture of trust where employees are excited to deliver impact? Inputs are only part of the equation.

But don’t just set a strategy from the top, bring every employee into the process. At Slack and Salesforce, for example, everyone sets a plan for the year in a V2MOM (vision, value, methods, obstacles, and measures). This document outlines what success looks like in the year ahead, and cascades down how to meet these goals, from the CEO to the IC. And here’s the key: We give employees the power to prioritize those goals.

By placing greater emphasis on results over inputs, leaders can encourage a more productive, transparent and motivated work environment.

  1. Make onboarding ongoing

We need to stop thinking about onboarding as something done in an employee’s first week and rethink it as a constant process. Re-engage everyone in company priorities and culture regularly—but especially when shifting strategies towards efficiency. Onboarding keeps teams on track, creates a sense of buy-in cross-functionally and helps people to connect directly with meaningful work that drives the business forward.

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When someone joins a new project, takes a new stretch assignment or even joins an existing working group, they should be “onboarded” as if it’s their first project at the company. This is where digital tools can make a huge difference; it can be as simple as creating a Slack canvas to organize and share essential information on a particular project. Giving employees immediate access to resources, conversations and comprehensive context across teams will get them up to speed faster and create a sense of belonging so they can add value immediately.

  1. Prioritize motivation

We found a concerning trend in our latest research: Managers reported that “helping my team stay motivated” is their top challenge for team productivity. Change is hard. Change without clarity is discouraging and erodes trust. The data shows there are two easy ways to help inspire people at work: transparency and technology.

Our data shows 32% of desk workers say they lack information about changes at work. Be as transparent as possible with your teams. Workers who say that their leadership is transparent are 1.8 times more productive and 2.3 times more focused than employees at “non-transparent” companies. Those at “very transparent” companies have 8.5 times higher satisfaction at work. We have many digital channels at our disposal that enable leaders to communicate clearly, quickly and authentically with teams.

We’re also on the cusp of an exciting opportunity to make space for more meaningful work. AI and automation are going to save people a lot of time. Our data shows desk workers using automation estimate saving one working month a year. Tools like these are going to remove the time-consuming, mundane and repetitive tasks we have to do and make more space for the creative, more fulfilling work we want to do. The role of every leader is to remove obstacles from our teams so that they can be more agile and move faster.

Automate. Automate. Automate.

See also: 7 AI considerations HR leaders need to think about today

Focus on what matters most

There’s no one-size-fits-all solution. What you choose to focus on is what will drive your results. Let people know how much their work matters and take steps to ensure your teams are designed and empowered to achieve it. We’re only efficient when we stop wasting our time and talents on tasks that don’t actually add value. Set a strategy at every level, keep people on track and up-to-speed on the why and how you’re doing it, and most importantly, give everyone the tools and autonomy they need to do their best work.