Monday Mornings with Madison

The Highest and Best Use of Your Team, Part 2

Word Count: 1,496
Estimated Read Time: 6 min.

The best leaders, managers and entrepreneurs know that a company’s success depends on getting maximum performance from employees.   According to Anne M. Mulcahy, former CEO and chairperson of Xerox and Chief Executive Magazine’s “CEO of the Year” in 2008, “Employees are a company’s greatest asset – they’re your competitive advantage. You want to attract and retain the best; provide them with encouragement, stimulus, and make them feel that they are an integral their growth, performance soars.  So how does that happen?

Factors that Maximize Utility and Impact Individual and Team Performance

Research into what drives high performance in organizations points to a multitude of factors that affect utility and productivity.  Here are some.

1. Managing for Highest and Best Use

It makes sense that high-performing and innovative employees are the foundation of productivity at most companies.  While recruiting and hiring employees with exceptional capabilities and high levels of motivation that support the mission is key, training, directing and retaining those highly skilled, agile, performance-driven, and innovative employees is just as important if not more so.  Even the best employees cannot deliver top results without great managers who provide proper direction, tools, resources, trust and respect.  To get the highest and best use of employee time and talent, it starts with management.  Not only should a manager know what each of his/her employee’s most valuable skills are, but also the manager should assign work that cultivates and shows off those skills.  And, those employees should be encouraged and provided opportunities to learn new ones that complement those abilities.

For example, an employee who is exceptionally detail oriented and meticulously organized should be allowed to set up processes for managing tasks in departments, get additional training in scheduling and logistics, and be able to delve into complex projects where those talents can be leveraged for the highest and best use of the company.  That can only happen if the manager recognizes those skills and clears a path to develop and facilitate use of those skills.   It is no big surprise that great managers and leaders play a critical role in defining the direction, purpose, priorities, goals, and roles of the company’s workforce. The capability of the manager to develop plans, hire effectively, coach, motivate, and develop employees is crucial to success. Unfortunately, many managers are the weak link in the productivity chain. To achieve ‘highest and best use’ of all employees, every manager must accept and be trusted in the role of developing talent, moving talent to fill roles that are the best fit, and removing ineffective staff.

2.  Establishing Strategy and Direction that Embraces Highest and Best Use

A solid corporate strategy can also help increase productivity and maximize employee utility.  A company that has a plan or vision can then identify the skills needed to tackle the goals of that plan.  A well-communicated, competitive business strategy and strategic plan allows a company to direct the most qualified staff to work on the tasks that are the highest and best use of their time.  That, in turn, increases the chances that an organization will be successful.  Success builds employee commitment.  Commitment, in turn, fuels staff drive and excitement.   If the plan and the strategy are clear and well communicated, not only are employees more motivated and doing meaningful work that is an optimal fit, but knowing the strategic direction help them stay focused which then further increases productivity and success.  It becomes a virtuous cycle.

Managers and leaders need to develop a clear and communicated purpose that is both compelling and that makes employees feel important.  Keep in mind that employees are more likely to be committed to the purpose of the unit or team if they are involved in creating it. An unclear mission – or one that is developed without input from rank and file — will likely lead to a lack of focus and low level of engagement.  So even if employees are placed in jobs that are the highest and best use of their time and talents, they might not be motivated to give it their all if they feel disconnected or not a part of the plan.

3.  Setting Clear Priorities and Benchmarks that Targets Highest and Best Use

Prioritization for impactful allocation of staff time and skills is also key.  Setting clear priorities helps to ensure that time and talents are allocated to the most important and impactful tasks.  Employees need constant feedback about what are high- and low-priority goals, tasks, processes, and customers. Processes should ensure employee time and talent is allocated disproportionately to high priority tasks.  In fact, low priority tasks should be evaluated so that employees have as few of those on their plate as possible.

Just as important is having performance metrics that target highest and best use.  Benchmarks and reporting processes help reinforce that employees focus on highly-valued tasks and that those tasks make the highest and best use of each employee’s time and talents.  That is because whatever is measured and reported gets done.  Metrics provide focus and feedback and keeps the focus on maximizing utility.  It is as simple as that.

4.  Collaboration and Teamwork Supports Highest and Best Use

Few tasks in today’s modern, high-tech world can be completed by any individual employee who has no support.  Unless employees have complementary teammates, as well as the support of managers and employees outside the team, productivity is bound to suffer and employees will end up working on tasks that are not the highest and best use of their time.  As the saying goes, a jack-of-all-trades is master of none.  Any person who does a little of everything is likely doing a great many things that are neither the highest or best use of their time.  Instead, collaboration and teamwork improves productivity and utility by allowing each person in the team to focus on the tasks that are ideally suited to their talents and that are the best use of their time.  The question to ask isn’t “can this person do this task?” but rather “should this particular person be doing this particular task?”

When the economy was in Recession, many companies cut back on positions in order to save money.  Employees took on a myriad of tasks that needed to get done even if it was beneath their skill level.  When the economy recovered, however, those tasks were never reallocated to those best suited for those tasks.  In this way, companies continued to leave mass amounts of money on the table by having high over-qualified employees performing tasks that were well below their pay scale.   In such situations, it is time to revisit what tasks each employee does, determine who on the team is best suited to handle such tasks, and then rebalance workload for highest and best use.

5.  Highest and Best Use through Autonomy and Empowerment

Control and authority can hinder decision-making and make everyone inefficient and ineffective.  While lack of control and unfettered freedom can result in waste of time, duplication of efforts, and lack of focus, the other extreme is also bad.  Micromanagement and excessive rules can slow action, decision-making and progress.  The highest and best use of an employee’s time can only be maximized when there is an adequate balance of empowerment and oversight so that each employee has enough authority to make operational decisions for their job.  The most brilliant employee’s time and talents cannot be fully utilized if that person’s decisions are continually second-guessed and every action requires multiple stamps of approval and layers of permission.

6.  Barriers to Highest and Best Use

Even when every single factor affecting the highest and best use of each employees time and talents is considered, utility and productivity can be slowed or stopped by other impediments, some of which are real and some of which might be imagined.  Roadblocks can include individuals resistant to change, corporate politics, nepotism and favoritism, corporate rivalries, internal power struggles and even outside work issues.  There can be perceived or imaginative barriers that keep employees from even attempting any effort aimed at increasing productivity, being more innovative and/or ensuring that their time and talents are used to the highest and best benefit of the company.  These situations should be checked as it can undermine all efforts to get the most out of a team.

Aiming to get the highest and best use from each employee involves accepting responsibility for optimizing the ROI (return on investment) for labor expense, just as other functions do for their activities.  It is each manager’s role to maximize utility in order to increase productivity.  That means empowering, redirecting, training, investing, and freeing employees to think outside the proverbial box and bring their most valuable skills to bear on solving problems and creating new opportunities.   Only by constantly examining the factors that impact highest and best use of time and talents can a company improve the productivity and success of the team.  Highest and best use, therefore, should be every leader’s mantra.

Quote of the Week

“If an employee can demonstrate results produced in a way that the company didn’t think possible, then a new way forward can begin to take shape.” Jason Fried


© 2018, Written by Keren Peters-Atkinson, CMO, Madison Commercial Real Estate Services. All rights reserved.

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