How to Increase Productivity Without Increasing Headcount

© Vitaly Usov -
© Vitaly Usov -

Companies are looking to grow again – but not grow their workforces. A recent article pointed out research showing:

Companies that are targeting high levels of growth need to spur worker productivity. The question is how can they do that when many companies are operating with an already lean workforce?

A new study, Strategic Performance Management, suggests that if U.S. companies are to reach their ambitious growth targets of 4.9 percent for 2011, which is well above the U.S. economic growth forecast of 2.8 percent released by the International Monetary Fund, they need to find new ways to increase and better manage employee performance. …

To meet their growth targets, the U.S. executives involved in the study estimate that their workforce productivity must increase by an average of 6 percent, with 69 percent of these leaders aiming for even higher productivity gains. Not surprisingly, two-thirds of these executives admit that these targets represent a challenge, particularly since 54 percent of these executives admit that their employees may already be too stretched to deliver current business objectives.”

The emphasis on that last sentence is my own. A consistent story throughout the media is employees stretched to the breaking point. Those remaining after multiple rounds of layoffs labor on under the strain of survivor’s guilt, an increased workload for colleagues who have been laid off, and growing expectations.

What managers need to do

If managers are now tasked with increasing productivity from these already stretched employees, they better:

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  1. Communicate – clearly tell employees what senior leadership expects as the business is likely changing to keep up with rapidly changing market requirements.
  2. Reprioritize – help employees jettison tasks that are no longer critical to achieving new expectations for growth
  3. Recognize – reinforce these new priorities by recognizing and rewarding employees for progress and achievements in these areas.

Is your organization looking to increase production without increasing headcount? What’s the plan to achieve that goal?

You can find more from Derek Irvine on his Recognize This! blog.

Derek Irvine is one of the world’s foremost experts on employee recognition and engagement, helping business leaders set a higher vision and ambition for their company culture. As the Vice President of Client Strategy and Consulting at Globoforce, Derek helps clients — including some of world’s most admired companies such as Proctor and Gamble, Intuit, KPMG, and Thomson Reuters — leverage recognition strategies and best practices to better manage company culture, elevate employee engagement, increase retention, and improve the bottom line. He's also a renowned speaker and co-author of Winning with a Culture of Recognition. Contact him at


2 Comments on “How to Increase Productivity Without Increasing Headcount

  1. Companies have already relied on employees to increase productivity over the past few years. But I’m not sure that continuing to ask this of employees is wise. As you mention, many employees are already at their breaking point. If companies want to increase project loads without taking on new staff, consider bringing in an RPO solution as an additional component to already existing in-house staff. This will alleviate some of the pressure on full-time staff while still allowing the company to regrow its business to pre-recession levels. More at:

  2. I’d comment that to do so we need to sharpen the leaders skills in accountability. Do we drive things weekly or monthly and are we working on the 12 -20 projects of highest importance and impact to the business / division each week.

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