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Recently, I was involved in a conversation about a topic so many of our customers are facing: working to improve the performance and efficiency of their organization. In that conversation we discussed how my colleagues at Viva Glint and even at the highest levels of Microsoft are dealing with our customers’ (often unjustified) concern about the productivity of their employees – especially as hybrid and remote work is being refined and adjusted.
But beyond flexible work schedules, we’re hearing more and more about needing to help ensure that work is getting done effectively, efficiently, and consistently – wherever and whenever it is completed. As part of the effort, our customers are seeking to remove bottlenecks, inefficiencies, and other factors that get in the way. They’re focused on reducing the barriers to execution.
How are employees experiencing barriers – and what do they want?
Employees want easier, more logical, more useful processes to do their job well. They want fewer hassles and hoops to jump through to do quality work. One small example of a frustrating barrier we all experience is passwords. Well, that, and meetings. Yes, and also passwords that are required to get into meetings. You get the idea. The question we all have is how to eliminate unnecessary steps and complexity to allow us to focus on what matters most in our work.
More specifically, in our research with LinkedIn on this topic, survey respondents indicated that their top 3 “barriers” were:
- Too Many Priorities (26% of respondents chose this option)
- Changing Priorities (21%)
- Insufficient Tools or Resources (13%)
I’m sure we can all relate to being frustrated by barriers like ineffective tools, resources, processes (more meetings anyone?), policies, or even staffing levels. But those aren’t the biggest perceived barriers here. The biggest barriers are problems with focus – with our work priorities. Strangely enough, that’s good news! That means that we don’t necessarily have to redesign entire workflows to improve efficiency and productivity. However, to start removing barriers to execution, we do need help and support to prioritize our work more effectively and in alignment with business priorities. Our managers and leaders can and should always help their teams focus (or refocus) their efforts on the things that matter most.
Why does removing barriers to execution matter to employees?
Being able to execute effectively is not just about short-term efficiency, but also about issues like employees’ fulfillment and longer-term effectiveness. Of course, removing barriers to execution is important, but not just because we need to get stuff done at work to meet deadlines, quotas, and targets. Those are extrinsic (external) and typically short-lived motivations for us to be effective, productive, and efficient. Removing barriers to execution matters because of the longer-lasting, intrinsic motivations (coming from within) that enable and encourage us to be: effective, efficient, persistent in the face of setbacks, and innovative in our solutions and ideas. Glint research, spanning millions of data points, has found that when we have fewer obstacles in our path at work, we are more likely to be engaged. That Engagement, in turn, affects our sense of empowerment, wellbeing, and desire to continue getting stuff done – highlighting a sort of emotion-work looping relationship.
How does Glint measure “Barriers to Execution”?
Viva Glint surveys can measure barriers to execution in number of ways, but one of the most effective employee survey questions we use to measure the topic directly is asking employees if their organization is good at removing things that slow down their work.
The foundation for this survey question is Viva Glint’s People Success Framework. The framework highlights six People Success Elements we’ve found through our research of those elements that are crucial for creating thriving cultures, people-centric leaders, and engaged employees: 1) Purpose, 2) Growth, 3) Clarity, 4) Connection, 5) Wellbeing, 6) Empowerment to do our best work (including barriers to execution).
How to remove barriers to execution?
Many of the answers lie with our managers and leaders. As I noted above, the top 2 barriers to execution were related to poor prioritization. Reinforcing that point, an in-depth study by the Viva People Science team highlighted the importance (and difficulty) of effective prioritization – especially when so many managers’ approach to work is “everything is a priority.” That kind of (not-uncommon) work culture, proves the wisdom of the saying “when everything is a priority, nothing is a priority.” So how can managers help employees focus - or refocus during times of change - their efforts onto the efforts, activities, and outcomes that matter most?
One answer to that question brings us to the 3rd barrier to execution: insufficient tools or resources. We now have a set of promising Artificial Intelligence (AI) tools and resources we all can start to bring to bear on the challenges of the first two barriers: priorities (among several related challenges). Using AI (such as Microsoft’s Co-Pilot for Teams and other M365 applications), employees now can leapfrog many of the obstacles to superior and motivating execution of their work by: summarizing meeting and document content, simplifying email and document creation, accessing needed information - all the while enabling a tighter focus on key priorities and high-value work.
We also often hear from our customers about how they are addressing barriers to execution. Some great examples can be found here from my fireside chat with Brambles, a global sustainable logistics company that has made impressive improvements in this challenging space.
What are the next steps to realize these benefits?
Some of the first steps for leaders and managers are about communicating clearly with employees about:
1. Their organization’s priorities (updating those as needed when those priorities evolve)
2. How those priorities apply specifically to each employees’ job
3. Employees’ ability and responsibility to confirm or question their tasks’ relevance to those business priorities
4. How to access and use the tools they need (like Co-Pilot or other AI resources) to help them stay focused on the critical few priorities they are trying and wanting to execute
The effort to remove barriers to execution can be a large, enterprise-wide effort that encompasses long term projects and redesign of processes, policies, and organizational structures. But we believe there is a quicker and more effective way to get at the problem: smaller, local efforts that each manager and employee can use to more quickly and responsively address many of the execution challenges. This is consistent with Viva Glint’s principles for survey design and action taking: to focus on each team’s challenges and taking small steps to improve.
In the case of Barriers to Execution, we’re suggesting that those longer-term, large, enterprise-wide efforts be one channel for making organizations more successful. But that each manager and their team, can take immediate, smaller-scale steps that will have a positive impact on employees' fulfillment, engagement, and longer-term effectiveness by enabling each employee to understand, direct their energies toward, and safeguard their business-relevant set of work priorities.
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