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6 Guidelines for Improving Government Productivity

By: Ray Houdtzagers, PMP

As part of a strategy mandated by the Trump Administration to eliminate waste and improve government productivity, managers need to focus on coaching direct reports and fellow staff effectively. Whether you need to orient employees to a new responsibility or improve colleague performance on an existing assignment, smart coaching can lead to immense, measurable benefits for your team and their overall productivity in the workplace.

Before implementing the productivity tips provided here, it is crucial to set the stage appropriately with the person to be coached. Although it’s true that the need for coaching is often tied to underperformance on the job, I find it optimal as a manager to position the coaching in a positive light. Employees should understand that the coaching process is a way to help them succeed as individual contributors, improve their performance reviews, and gain recognition as outstanding team members.

Coaching Tactics for Increased Productivity in the Workplace

Once the employee is open to the process, you can follow six key guidelines from the AMA seminar Coaching and Counseling for Outstanding Job Performance to enhance your coaching. Look to include these tips in your government employee training, especially for managers and supervisors:

Be specific and concise. There’s nothing worse than getting very general input from a manager, with no clear direction on how to improve. So instead of saying that the employee should respond to a constituent’s complaints faster, give the direction that all emailed complaints should be responded to within 48 hours, or 2 business days.

Describe behavior. Illustrating and exemplifying the ideal way to improve productivity on a particular task will often “turn the lights on” when you’re coaching a colleague or direct report. It’s important not to criticize or focus on what the person is doing wrong. By describing in detail the optimal or ideal manner for handling a task, you’ll best show where the gaps are to improve performance.

Ask probing questions. Exploring the root cause of a lack of productivity can expose the reason for the gaps and pinpoint the behaviors needed to close them. Employees will appreciate a frank but, again, positive discussion of any underlying issues, flaws, and measurable results, especially with the correct positioning. This discovery discussion can be very enlightening, helping you to identify issues and causes of underperformance that you may have been completely unaware of.

Use “I” statements. In performance or coaching conversations, it is a generally accepted rule that using “I” as opposed to “you” can seem less threatening or accusatory. The person being coached needs to feel comfortable receiving input based on your observations, thoughts, and reactions. The frequent use of “you” will make him or her feel defensive and more concerned about rationalizing past behaviors or gaps in performance.

Focus on the present. You’ll obviously need to refer to the past to discuss the task being coached, and it would be advantageous to mention any positives in the employee’s past performance of the work. But to keep motivation and drive high for the person being coached, focus on moving forward in the mutual spirit of continuous improvement. Make a commitment to keep yourself available for support, check in frequently, and provide positive feedback as you see improvements in the employee’s overall workplace productivity.

Ask for improvement ideas. If you’re in an agency culture or work environment that feels a bit directive and bureaucratic, your colleague will welcome a request for his or her input, especially in a coaching situation. There may be thoughts and ideas from his perspective that you haven’t considered, and this input could move you forward that much more toward lean and efficient operations. When the ideas are successfully implemented, be sure to recognize them to provide motivation and create a positive team culture.

Coaching can be an uncomfortable process, especially if you’re new to it. But as long as you set the stage appropriately in terms of its benefits, and then approach it in a positive and helpful light, the process will ultimately boost your department’s image as a leader in walking the talk of agency efficiency and continuously improved performance. 

AMA’s tailored training solutions help government agencies meet current business challenges and develop the employee skill sets they need to grow.

About the Author(s)

Ray Houdtzagers, PMP , is director of learning solutions at American Management Association. He has been with AMA for over 15 years and has nearly 20 years of professional project management experience, primarily in the development of professional education programs for both classroom and multimedia-based delivery. His current focus is on AMA’s catalog of project management seminars for open enrollment, custom development, and delivery of learning solutions for Enterprise clients in the Western region of the United States, as well as for the government sector. He also serves as the head of the Project Management Office (PMO) for AMA’s USME seminar division.