How to increase productivity through relationships

Written by
Mary Appleton

11 Sep 2018

11 Sep 2018 • by Mary Appleton

In an age of globalisation, employee contribution to business success is more important than ever. But as a leader, how can you role-model – and encourage – relationship building to boost productivity within the organisation?

Encourage ‘informal’ leaders to emerge

Raffaella Cagliano, deputy director of faculty management, Politecnico di Milano School of Management

These days, contribution goes beyond productivity and tends to delve into areas such as agility, problem-solving capacity, innovation and creativity.

Leadership has always been about relationships, and being a good manager is often the result of an ability to influence a group of followers both inside an organisation and across a global network.

There are various ways you can do this, such as living the company’s vision and working on the front-line with employees, establishing direct and meaningful relationships with people you want to influence.

However, it is also important to nurture your digital network and personal brand; professional social platforms can help in building important relationships with others across many different networks and from multiple organisations.

As well as engaging people, speaking their language and encouraging what you know they are able to do, it is important to challenge people to achieve more.

Motivating employees to go beyond their role, to carve out their niche, increases an individual’s perception of the meaningfulness of their work, in turn improving both engagement and motivation.

This also demonstrates true concern for others’ experiences and emotions and fosters the shift from centralised leadership to a shared leadership model, permitting the emergence of informal leaders.

In a global organisation, every employee can play a leadership role within their small part of the business. It is vital to share your experience. Formal and informal knowledge sharing is key to building both physical and virtual relationships, and establishes a person as being open and approachable.

As Samuel Palmisano, renowned former IBM CEO, said: “Some of the most effective leaders don’t make themselves the centre of attention. They are respectful. They listen. Their selflessness makes the people around them comfortable. People open up, speak up, contribute. They give those leaders their very best.”

Use proactive change to move beyond silos

Freek Vermeulen, associate professor of strategy and entrepreneurship, London Business School

A pervasive problem for corporations is ‘silos’: people who work together in an organisational group communicate just fine, but when an issue transcends unit boundaries, a lack of inter-group relationships causes problems.

Silos are not easy to solve, but the real problem is that once you’ve figured out a new structure that enhances communication, the same issue is bound to re-appear down the line.

Research shows that silos are caused by the informal organisation (internal networks and culture) starting to overlap with the formal organisation (your company’s structure), whatever structure you choose: working in a particular group, people lose their perspective on other groups and functions.

The solution lies in repeated, regular organisational change. No one organisational structure solves silos forever; you have to make regular, pro-active adaptations.

A CEO who understands this is SEI’s Alfred West, arguing that these regular changes allow “the organisation to quickly change strategic direction to seize new opportunities or respond to new threats.”

Pro-active organisational change can prevent rigidity from creeping into an organisation. It involves enabling people to develop new relationships and perspectives within their company, to avert silos before they take root.

Crowdsource innovations from employees

Bertrand Moingeon, professor of strategic management, HEC Paris Executive Education

Productivity boosted via a ‘cost-killing’ approach, may put unbearable pressure on employees and is unsustainable: stress and anxiety cause burnout, a loss of talent and disengagement, ironically reducing productivity.

Instead, introduce and advocate strategies that build strong employer-employee relationships and encourage colleagues to collaborate and leverage existing human capital.

Productivity levels can also be enhanced through simpler steps such as taking time to listen to employees. Promoting good relations and an organisation based on authenticity, fairness and respect should be a priority, as should regular reflection on company initiatives to meet these goals. Such ‘learning organisations’ boost productivity by improving existing processes and introducing radical innovations.

Employees and teams are the source of suggestions which improve productivity. Each employee involved should be able to answer the question “what’s in it for me?” Financial incentives, improved work conditions, the opportunity to team up with colleagues and receive recognition of individual and collective talents, are all sufficient rewards, not to mention positive opportunities for further company development.