All managers want to improve the productivity of their groups, but it’s often difficult to identify and implement effective strategies. Here’s the good news: there’s a simple technique you can use to increase the productivity of your group while also improving morale and employee engagement.
An introduction to Focus Fridays
The idea is to schedule a meetings-free day once a month to allow your organization to work on important tasks that they have trouble getting to because of their daily workload.
The first time I did this, we tried it as a pilot with the hope it might give employees a one-time chance to catch up. But, the reaction was so overwhelming that we decided to schedule the days quarterly and, when even that wasn’t enough, we made the last Friday of every month a meetings-free day and named it “Focus Fridays.” As an additional perk, we allowed employees to wear jeans on these days.
On Focus Fridays, employees have the time to work on tasks they know are important but have trouble fitting into their schedules. One popular activity is professional development as there never seems to be enough time to do training. Other employees are happy to have time to clean up their email inboxes and complete required, but less important tasks, that were nagging them.
One activity we pushed on Focus Fridays was to encourage employees to test out ideas they might have to improve the technology environment. We often found groups of employees working together on ideas they had for moving the business forward by researching new technology, streamlining processes, or implementing system enhancements. This culture of grassroots innovation was a benefit of Focus Fridays that surprised us.
Keys to making Focus Fridays successful
To make Focus Fridays successful, there are a couple of keys:
- Everyone must participate. If the CIO and management team decide these days are not applicable to them and start scheduling meetings, it will derail the initiative.
- There should be some exceptions. For example, it would be counter-productive to miss important meetings with key business partners. And, of course, customer or production issues are obvious exceptions.
On the second point above, an interesting development happened with our Focus Fridays. When business partners tried to schedule meetings on those days, we told them what we were doing and asked if the meeting could be held at another time. You can guess what’s coming: our business partners loved the idea and approached their management about implementing Focus Fridays in their groups. Before long, the concept spread across the company and I remember receiving a call from one of my overseas partners asking “what is this Focus Friday thing you guys are doing that my employees want to implement here?”
One potential impediment to implementing Focus Fridays is that it is seems too simple to be effective. I had one senior person, who was not doing it in his group, look at me funny and ask “you really think this works?” His perception was that our Focus Fridays were a lost day of productivity each month and he was reluctant to implement it because he felt that project delivery deadlines might be missed.
Benefits of Focus Fridays
Looking at Focus Fridays as a lost day of productivity is a tactical way of looking at your organization. There are many benefits for management and staff personnel.
For management, Focus Fridays provides time to move away from day-to-day activities and think strategically about how to best move the organization forward. There is also time for relationship-building as you can walk the floor and talk to people you might not often see in your meetings. Finally, there is a large benefit when your organization feels empowered as this translates into more strategic thinking and increased employee morale.
For the organization’s staff, Focus Fridays enhances productivity by allowing employees to focus on a task without interruption for an entire day. Employees feel empowered to do what they believe best aligns with the goals of the organization. And, to reemphasize an important point, Focus Fridays fosters an environment of innovation by allowing employees to try new technologies and techniques.
I remember the first few times I realized Focus Fridays had a much bigger impact than I expected. One day I was walking to my car after work with an employee from my group. I asked how things were going and she said she was a bit swamped with work but she knew Focus Fridays was coming and that would give her an opportunity to catch-up. The story might not mean much to you yet but the missing piece is that this conversation was on a Wednesday and Focus Friday wasn’t scheduled until the following week. But, it was important enough to her that she had it circled on her internal calendar.
Another time, I received a call from an important business partner thanking me for a technology innovation we had implemented for their primary system. When I went to talk to the person who did the work, he told me he had been thinking about the innovation for close to a year and just decided to do it on a Focus Friday. That was the day I knew we had something special.
While most productivity ideas are difficult to implement, this one is simple. Just one day and you can see if it works for your organization. I know it will. And you are going to be very surprised when you see the reaction of your team. Good luck!