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Strategies to Maximize Productivity and Fuel Innovation

by Meredith B. Fischer

More Management Articles

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Published on this site: May 15th, 2009 - See more articles from this month

Whether you work for a dot.com start-up, a Fortune 500 company or somewhere in between, chances are you are busier than ever -- busy driving projects, motivating teams, and minding the bottom line, all while managing your workload and striving to meet increasingly higher success benchmarks. So how do you stay on top of it all and do productive work on the things that count? A recent Pitney Bowes study reveals that a significant part of the answer lies in your ability to actively manage and harness the power of your messaging tools. That's right, the phone calls, voicemails, e-mails, sticky notes, and Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs) that have become so ingrained in your everyday work life are actually pathways to innovation. By connecting you to your colleagues, data, projects and ideas, messaging tools are the means to the end, allowing you to improve your own personal output and benefit bottom line business objectives.

In our fourth annual workplace study, "Messaging For Innovation: Building the Innovation Infrastructure Through Messaging Practices" we found that the average worker manages 17 projects per week across seven work teams. Workers today are not only using messaging tools to organize their work but to enhance thinking and build the social networks that supply the raw material of innovation. While innovation is a human product that cannot be artificially created, individuals, managers and companies can create an environment in which innovation is more likely to occur. Messaging practices are the key.

As team leaders, managers are responsible for organizing the work as well as team communications. Throughout the project work cycle, teams add or remove members. It is the manager's responsibility to bring new members up to speed on the team's communications practices, which are different in each project phase. For example, in the brainstorming and start-up phase, teams usually meet face-to-face. When team members are completing individual project assignments, communications tend to shift to asynchronous methods such as voicemail, e-mail or fax. As the project nears completion, message pace increases and shifts back to real-time communication including face-to-face meetings or phone calls.

To help team members maintain communications protocols and project workflows, our study reveals common best practices to keep everyone in sync and on track:

  • Self Message: Talk to yourself. Self-messaging connects your personal, office, and mobile lives to reduce stress and overload. Send e-mails and voicemails to yourself, or write things down on the commute home. Use personal codes or shorthand for brevity.

  • Preview: Rehearse events and project steps to anticipate the unexpected. Try bringing home a printout of your schedule to plan how to tackle project deliverables or possible hurdles. When unexpected challenges arise, you will easily know what to do to keep the project on track.

  • Index Knowledge: Not only do we need to be in the right place at the right time, but also we need to have the right info with us and be at the right stage of a project. Store important information related to key projects when you run across it. Let the tools remember where this important information resides and bring it up for your use just in time for an important meeting or stage in project work.

  • Filter and prioritize: Workers in the U.S. send and receive an average of 204 messages from various sources every day, including voicemail, e-mail, interoffice mail, telephone, sticky notes, and postal mail. Create codes to denote the most important e-mail and sort by sender. Create a read only bin for informational communications not requiring immediate action. Hold appointments and check-ins only on certain days at predetermined times.

  • Rely on humans: Regular co-worker interaction facilitates the social networks that help individuals learn new tools and features, increasing productivity. Pitney Bowes' study revealed that informal training might be more productive and long lasting than formal training courses and manuals because it happens on an as-needed basis.

  • Establish a communications protocol: Disruptions in workflow occur when individual messaging practices are out of sync with the group. Avoid bottlenecks by establishing when and how different communications should happen. For example, share routine project updates via e-mail. Use the phone for urgent information exchanges or when and immediate response is needed.

In order to free up brainpower needed to tackle the more strategic and innovative work that is so highly valued in today's competitive marketplace, managers should help their team use tools and people to segment, prioritize and schedule thinking as well as tasks.

Meredith B. Fischer: Our well-developed portfolio of programs spans a variety of vital business disciplines. Visit us at: http://www.cmctraining.org.

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