2020 was an opportunity for many organizations to review their approach to productivity and performance. Some common themes that emerged over the course of the year included well-being as a foundation of productivity and the importance of clear communication in performance management.
People Matters asked Sean Fredericks, President, Asia Pacific, of global industrial components and tools supplier RS Components, about his own takeaways from 2020 and where he thinks productivity and performance management are headed during these uncertain pandemic times. Here's what he shared.
Last year's global shift to remote work forced many organizations to re-evaluate how they view and measure productivity. What were your own productivity and performance takeaways from 2020?
The pandemic has brought many learnings for myself personally and for us as an organization. Adopting a people-first mindset, being mindful of how these changes affect our people and customers, is important. Looking after the health and well-being of the team is crucial to maintain productivity and performance.
Leaders can have the best intention to meet commercial objectives, but it is the team who brings strategy to life in daily interactions with customers.
Healthy employees are also motivated and engaged. They bring their best selves to the office each day—physically or remotely. Thanks to our resilient teams in Asia Pacific, we were able to help manufacturing and industrial customers return to work and resume operations despite significant disruptions faced by many companies.
We also witnessed how technology unlocks flexibility and productivity in teams. Having robust digital capabilities helps businesses to be more agile especially in an uncertain environment, and as employees adapt from being in an office-based environment to a home-based set-up, having the right tools and tech enables teams to continue collaborating virtually.
In a time of remote work with little physical contact, how can teams and individuals be kept engaged to maintain good performance?
It’s on us as an organization to nurture high-performing teams and foster a culture of openness. I believe trust is the cornerstone of strong and engaged teams, and this is developed every day and through interactions between managers and employees. Our digital capabilities not only enable remote working—more importantly, it helps us maintain an open line of communication.
When things are changing very quickly and people cannot meet physically, it can be easy to feel isolated or disconnected from the team—we use technology to keep these connections alive and to add a personal or human touch when we’re engaging each other through a screen or over the phone.
Leaders play a key role in driving this kind of change and creating an environment where people feel empowered and confident. We train our leaders in RS to be mental and physical health champions while managing teams remotely. We also have a network called Amazing Leaders, where leaders from different markets around the world share experiences and insights on how we can further empower people and strengthen teamwork wherever we are working from.
How are you communicating important business priorities and metrics down through the various departments and teams, to keep everyone aligned with the broader objectives?
I have to admit that communicating to large teams can become complicated and impersonal, but in my experience, our size and diversity in the Asia Pacific region is a strength, and communication not only comes from me. Our team is geographically and culturally diverse, and we’re using technology to enable two-way communication and a feedback process across teams and time zones.
On a personal note, I am a believer of open and direct communication. Employees can reach out to me directly through email or chat and I make it a point to encourage teams to challenge their leaders, suggest ways to improve or do things differently, and take ownership of issues. These past few months, I also find myself using video conferencing more often to keep in touch with our teams and with customers. In these calls, I try to listen more and understand what I can do to support colleagues and facilitate problem-solving.
It’s also important to recognize that in a remote or hybrid work set up, some might find it difficult to log off at the end of their work day. Reminding people to take a break helps them come back with fresh minds and energy to tackle challenges and find innovative solutions. This starts with leaders—when we take care of ourselves, get enough rest and eat healthy—then we can also look after the well-being of our teams.
When leaders take time off to rest, it shows the rest of the team that it’s OK to take a break too.
Given the many changes of the past year, how in your view can productivity and performance be better assessed?
Technology like productivity software and performance monitoring systems help leaders assess productivity and performance—having said that, productivity might mean something different for each of us, and it’s even more true when you take a look at a global business like ours. Our employees come from different backgrounds and have different needs and motivations. Encouraging open discussions not only about business priorities but also difficulties and support needed by team members creates alignment and trust. This also allows leaders to remove barriers and help people focus on value-adding work.
Equipping employees with the right tools and providing training also allows them to do their job well today and prepares them to meet future needs of the business. Part of this involves ensuring employees are comfortable using digital tools so they can perform at a higher level now and the other part is about upskilling people and developing talent to become future leaders of the company.
Recognizing people and celebrating milestones is also important when we talk about tracking progress beyond performance reports and monitoring tools. More importantly, it helps leaders to show in a concrete way how people contribute to creating success for the customer. Celebrating successes is good for boosting team spirit and it enables employees to focus on the right behaviors.
What do you personally see as the driving factors that help maintain productivity, now that we have had the opportunity to better understand the advantages and downsides of remote working?
It’s an evolving situation and people continue to adapt to changes, every day. That being said, I can’t stress enough the importance of looking after employees’ health and well-being This is a core part of building high-performing teams. Embracing diversity and different ways of working and thinking also leads to policies and flexible work arrangements that support work-life balance. This is key to building resilience and maintaining business continuity long term.
In RS we launched a dedicated website, Keep Connected, containing well-being resources for all employees—this is also accessible externally. We gathered podcasts, apps, workshops, exercises in one portal to make it more accessible. We also recently launched a program offering employees and immediate family members access to a counselor who can provide mental support and guidance on work, family, legal or financial matters too.
It’s one thing to talk about the importance of good health and taking time off—this must also be followed by action and giving employees access to support and resources.
Making these available and empowering employees to take ownership of their well-being sends a strong signal that we truly care for people.