Hopefully by now we all get it: this economy is challenging, things are changing, and everyone is looking for ways to do more with less. Unfortunately, as many companies struggle to adjust to this new reality, opportunities are being missed. Often we are so focused on stretching an organization’s financial and other resources that we become less effective in managing our human resources.

Why do you think that is? A lot of the time, it’s just a matter of focusing on the tangible rather than the intangible. If you can improve a machine’s output by 10 percent, that’s obviously a good thing. But improving an employee’s productivity…that’s much more difficult to turn into a percentage (or a dollar figure).

Regardless, it is the manager’s job to get the most out of his or her employees. And that goes far beyond counting hours or studying performance evaluations. How do you get them to want to do more with less, work harder, and actually care? You engage them in the process.

Engaged employees are invested in what they do and are committed to their own success and to the success of the company. A disengaged employee will do what is necessary to keep receiving a paycheck. An engaged employee will go the extra mile. And the gap between the two can be the difference between the success and failure of an organization.

Read on for five ways to build a more engaged – and thus more productive – organization:

Regain focus. When you are under pressure to produce results, sometimes you just need to step back and acknowledge that you and your team can’t do everything. And chances are many activities eat up time but don’t add tremendous value to the organization. Be merciless as you get rid of low priority tasks that aren’t advancing the big-picture objectives of your group. The better your team is able to focus on activities that are at the heart of what they do, the happier, more engaged, and more productive they will be.

There’s a good possibility that regaining focus is something you’ve been struggling to accomplish anyway…maybe for years. The recent perfect storm of bad economic news might be a good opportunity to finally make it happen. Minds are open. Limitations are being acknowledged. Hard choices are being made. The timing might finally be right to make the case for getting back to basics.

Empower your people. Nothing kills engagement like not having the authority or resources necessary to do the job at hand. Of course if your staff feels powerless, frustrated, or micromanaged, they’ll be less effective. But also consider how those feelings will influence morale, day in and day out.

Eliminate as much needless bureaucracy and as many levels of approval for things that you possibly can. Weigh the importance of double or triple-checking every task against what would happen if a mistake were to slip through. You’ve hired people to do a job. It is important that they be allowed to do it without feeling like they aren’t trusted or seen as capable.

Sometimes being a good manager means realizing that sometimes it really is better to ask forgiveness than approval.

Communicate. Uncertainty will eat away at productivity from the inside out. Keeping your folks in the dark about what is happening with the company will lead to problems ranging from general anxiety and gossip to infighting and résumé polishing. None of these are conducive to an engaged staff or a productive working environment.

Even if there is nothing particularly consequential going on at the corporate level, it is important to repeatedly communicate with your staff about how things are going, what level of performance is expected, and what might be on the horizon. Keeping them in the loop shows that your value their perspective and respect their feelings. That makes them much more likely to be there for you when you need performance that is beyond the ordinary call of duty.

Ask the experts. When it comes to employees' everyday responsibilities, nobody knows the subject better than they do. Never underestimate how much there is to be learned from your team.

And don’t just observe. Interact. Ask questions. Let them speak.

Hold a small, informal, low-pressure meeting where your people can tell you what ails them. Ask about their big frustrations. Then ask about their small ones. Not only will you develop a more intimate perspective on the work they do, you can also find opportunities to identify and tear down productivity roadblocks that you might not even realize are there.

Just remember, your job is to listen, guide discussion, and find ways to use your position to advocate for better ways of doing things. Doing so can lead to great, innovative ideas that save money, eliminate waste, and improve productivity at every level.

Manage the clock. Asking people to put in long hours is a great tool but a lousy way of life. If you overdo it, your team will end up tired, resentful, and burned out. There will always be more to do than hours to do it, so turning a 60-hour workweek into the norm isn’t going to solve problems in the long term.

The time to rally the troops with longer than normal hours is when you have a specific, tangible objective that can be met in a reasonable timeframe; a particular project that needs to be done; or a specific goal that needs to be met. Make sure that everyone understands what you are trying to accomplish with the longer hours and get them working together towards that end.

Once the need for extended hours is met, take the time to acknowledge success, celebrate accomplishments, and show your people how much you appreciate the effort.

So what’s the bottom line here? Engaged employees are more motivated, better focused, and more likely to buckle down and perform when you really need them to. It’s easy to see why improving engagement is good for the bottom line, especially when the ideas that I’ve mentioned here tend to cost little, if anything, to implement. If your goal is to get more than 40 hours worth of value out of a 40-hour work week, a happier and more engaged workforce is priceless.

Make it a productive day! (TM)

(C) Copyright 2009 Laura Stack. All rights reserved.

Author's Bio: 

© 2008 Laura Stack. Laura Stack is a personal productivity expert, author, and professional speaker who helps busy workers Leave the Office Earlier® with Maximum Results in Minimum Time™. She is the president of The Productivity Pro®, Inc., a time management training firm specializing in productivity improvement in high-stress organizations. Since 1992, Laura has presented keynotes and seminars on improving output, lowering stress, and saving time in today’s workplaces. She is the bestselling author of the books Find More Time (2006) and Leave the Office Earlier (2004). Her newest productivity book, The Exhaustion Cure (Broadway Books), hits bookstores in May 2008. To have Laura speak at your next event, call 303-471-7401. Visit TheProductivityPro.com to sign up for her free monthly productivity newsletter.