Nifty ways to increase productivity now

A lot of business-related news lately has reminded me of one of my favorite South Park episodes, the one about the underpants gnomes. For the uninitiated, the underpants gnomes sneak into your room and steal your underpants. One night, the boys follow the gnomes to their underground lair to learn the secrets of corporate takeovers. The video below explains it all.

Translate this to how many companies are handling the current economic mess and you have a simple business plan:

I bet you have already skipped ahead and solved the puzzle, but just in case, step 2 is "people". A gut-wrenching, cost-cutting strategy won't make your company any stronger if your people don't execute. Your visionary, game-changing strategy won't make the company grow any faster if your people aren't carrying it out. Simply playing a recording that says "your call is really important to us" on your toll-free hotline doesn't mean your customers will feel their call is actually important to you.

The best way to get things moving is to engage your people in your strategy and ensure they are carrying it out. Here are five ideas you can use right now to make that happen.

Idea #1: Make a contest out of checking people's work. The best supervisors I've met make doing things right fun through contests and games. This approach can cause employees to welcome additional supervision and oversight since they know doing it right leads to positive results. Some enterprising employees may even bring their accomplishments to your attention!

Idea #2: Hold outsourced providers to the same service standards. Hotels, call centers, delivery services, and other companies often outsource business functions that have a high degree of customer contact. Outsourcing may save you money, but it will cost you customers if you don't hold these service providers to the same service standards you expect from your employees. Offer them training and resources to understand your service culture and check on them often.

Idea #3: Stand-up and listen. Many great supervisors use pre-shift meetings (often called "stand-ups" because they are so short) to keep the team focused and informed. Holding regular pre-shift meetings is a great idea, but you can also use this to gather and share valuable intelligence from the team. What is selling well and why? What problems are customers reporting that we can easily fix? Who has a success story they can share?

Idea #4: Don't miss an opportunity to upsell. Customers are pretty good at tuning out sales pitches, but you can train your team to upsell like a pro by arming them with a few simple questions they can ask their customers. A retail sales associate may ask, "Is there anything in particular you are looking for today?" to find out where to direct a customer. A hotel associate may ask, "Are you in town for business or pleasure?" to better understand which hotel amenities to recommend. Better yet, make it fun and create an up-selling contest!

Idea #5: Empower the team to do what's right. We all need a few guidelines, but make sure the guidelines you give your employees make sense. If there are exceptions to the rules, such as an opportunity to make a big sale or keep an important customer, let them know. At a minimum, train your employees to involve you if they think the rules need to be bent a little bit.