Increasing Retention And Productivity: Let Employees Do What They Do Best!

If you ask average employees what percentage of their time they spend “doing what they do best,” most answer a disheartening 30%. If this was baseball, and you had your pitcher playing first base two-thirds of the time, everyone would think you were crazy. Well in business, it’s no different. If you want to retain employees and increase productivity, there are some basic approaches that make a big difference. One of them is a simple as the proposition above: make sure that your top performers spend most of their time doing what they like and what they do best! A major study by Gallup has confirmed what should be common sense – a key retention factor is letting people work on things that they do best. But take a minute and ask yourself… what part of your job duties do you enjoy and do best? Then ask yourself what percentage of your average day you actually spend on those tasks. Scary, isn’t it? It makes logical sense to let people spend most of their time doing their best work, but few managers even know what employees do best. If they do know, they often want “control” over the employees, and won’t let them do it. Of course, you can’t let all employees do what they want, but managers do need to make sure that people in key jobs, and all top performers, spend most of their time doing what they do best and what they enjoy doing. Unfortunately, when you survey key employees, they are often not happy with the current mix in their job. Finding Out What They Do Best Here are some questions all employees and managers should ask if they wish to increase the percentage of time employees spend doing what they do best.

  1. What do you do best? List the tasks are you really good at doing.

    • What percentage of time do you spend on those tasks?
    • What percentage should it be?

    List your best skills and competencies.

    • What percentage of time do you spend using those skills?
    • What percentage should it be?
  2. What do you like to do? List the parts of your job that excite or challenge you (and thus enjoy the most).
    • What percentage of time do you spend on those tasks?
    • What percentage should it be?

    List the parts of your job that relate to the original reason you took your current job.

    • What percentage of time do you spend on those tasks?
    • What percentage should it be?

    List the parts of your job that frustrate you and make it less fun.

    • What percentage of time do you spend on those tasks?
    • What percentage should it be in order to minimize your frustration?
  3. What new skills and duties would you like to add to your job? Also, be sure to ask yourself (or your employees):
    • Are there people that you have to work with that frustrate you?
    • What part of your job, if changed, would cause you to consider quitting?
    • What new job element (if an outside recruiter offered it to you) would excite you enough to consider leaving?
  4. Does your boss help you do what you do best/ like to do?
    • Does your boss ask you (or know) either what you like best or do best?
    • Have you told your boss about what you like/ do best?
    • If your boss knew, would they help you increase the percentage of time doing what you do/like best?

Conclusion Letting top performers do what they do best will excite them and increase their productivity. Now you might ask, “Who will do the unwanted tasks?” First, maybe someone else prefers to do those tasks. If so, give it to them. If not, give those tasks to low performers, part-time employees, interns or even temps. Or outsource them. Just be sure to let the star pitchers pitch… all the time. It’s that simple!

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Dr. John Sullivan, professor, author, corporate speaker, and advisor, is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high-business-impact talent management solutions.

He’s a prolific author with over 900 articles and 10 books covering all areas of talent management. He has written over a dozen white papers, conducted over 50 webinars, dozens of workshops, and he has been featured in over 35 videos. He is an engaging corporate speaker who has excited audiences at over 300 corporations/ organizations in 30 countries on all six continents. His ideas have appeared in every major business source including the Wall Street Journal, Fortune, BusinessWeek, Fast Company, CFO, Inc., NY Times, SmartMoney, USA Today, HBR, and the Financial Times. In addition, he writes for the WSJ Experts column. He has been interviewed on CNN and the CBS and ABC nightly news, NPR, as well many local TV and radio outlets. Fast Company called him the "Michael Jordan of Hiring," called him “the father of HR metrics,” and SHRM called him “One of the industry's most respected strategists." He was selected among HR’s “Top 10 Leading Thinkers” and he was ranked No. 8 among the top 25 online influencers in talent management. He served as the Chief Talent Officer of Agilent Technologies, the HP spinoff with 43,000 employees, and he was the CEO of the Business Development Center, a minority business consulting firm in Bakersfield, California. He is currently a Professor of Management at San Francisco State (1982 – present). His articles can be found all over the Internet and on his popular website and on He lives in Pacifica, California.



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