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Omaha Magazine

Workplace Productivity: How Are You Addressing It?

Mar 17, 2023 12:05PM ● By Linda Persigehl

Nick Strawhecker | Shannon Lofdahl | Dave Nelson

Photos Provided.

Worker productivity fell at the fastest rate in four decades in 2022, according to a U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics report. Employee burnout post-pandemic, stress over inflation/finances, and lack of workplace engagement are some of the believed causes. We asked three business owners if they had seen productivity fall and how they’re responding—Shannon Lofdahl, president of Travelex; Nick Strawhecker, owner of Dante; and Dave Nelson, owner of SecretPenguin. (Answers have been edited for length and clarity.)

B2B:  Tell us briefly about your company, i.e. products/services, customers, years in business.
SL: Headquartered in Omaha, Travelex Insurance Services has been a leading U.S. provider of travel insurance for 26 years. Travelex offers an array of products designed to protect travelers and the moments that matter most while they explore the world. We are part of the Zurich family of global brands and a woman-led organization. 

NS:  We’re in our 14th year now. We do wood fired Italian and Neapolitan pizza and Italian wine. We also do events. The majority of our revenue comes from dinner. We have a location in west Omaha. Our demographic is the 40- to 65-year-old crowd with extra income. They come in and enjoy beautiful Italian wine and food.

DN:  SecretPenguin creates and refines brands to stand out. We do identity design, developing their brand’s identity (logos, colors, fonts, messaging, etc.) and experience design, because no matter how great a logo or ad is, a customer doesn’t become a repeat customer if the experience falls short. We’ve been in business for 23 years. Our clients include: restaurants/bars; nonprofits; living spaces; retail and services; arts and culture; healthcare; and localities.

B2B:  How do you measure productivity? Have you seen it fall the past two years? Why?
SL:  Travelex has a structured goal-setting process where our people leaders work with their team members to set SMART goals that align with the organization’s objectives and with the employee’s  own objectives. Goals are a fundamental way we measure employee productivity quarterly and annually. On a daily basis, our project managers lead cross-functional project teams tasked with executing our projects and initiatives to meet the organizational objectives. Over the past two years, we’ve seen productivity increase, and we attribute this to the transformation of our workplace culture using the CliftonStrengths® model, developed right here in Omaha by Gallup.

NS:  It’s very easy to measure productivity front-of-house from a dollars standpoint. We pay close attention to guest [ticket] average. But we can also look at back-of-house [productivity] and easily see if [employees] are doing their job or not. It’s not like an office setting or where you have a team working from home and have no idea what they’re doing. 

For us, productivity has actually increased. The restaurant business—and in fact, the whole hospitality industry—has completely changed since COVID, in part because we lost 20-25 percent of our workforce. Everyone decided they were working too hard for too little. Work culture has been pushed to the very front of our business. We take care of our team. We offer many benefits, including 401(k) and life insurance […] and we give them what they need to succeed, including a product they’re proud of selling.

DN:  We have financial goals we need to hit, but we don’t make that the reason to get things done. Instead, we focus on doing great work for our clients to make their lives easier.  Productivity got harder as we transitioned into remote work and processed the pandemic. It lowered at first, then rose back up. We really prioritized physical health, mental health, and relationships during that time because if anyone was struggling, how could they possibly do good work? As a by-product of prioritizing people, productivity excelled. 

B2B: Have you changed processes to address productivity? What’s been effective?
SL:  At Travelex, we care about [employees’] well-being and all aspects of their lives. CliftonStrengths has been significant in creating a positive, supportive, accepting culture with DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) inherently woven into it. We foster a strong learning and coaching environment where employees can find mentoring, job shadowing, and professional development opportunities to help them explore their strengths and interests. 

Employee recognition is another element. We use Yammer internally so employees can share information, knowledge, and interests. We have our #STARS group, where any employee can acknowledge another employee. We have a monthly Extra Mile Award, for which any employee can nominate another. We also have quarterly awards, like our Game-Changer Award for employees who’ve made significant contributions to advance the business. By creating a workplace culture where employees want to be engaged and can thrive, we’ve seen our productivity soar.

NS: This is a review-heavy business. It’s easy to see real guest interaction, and we give positive shout-outs  [to our employees] all the time. We give thorough training, then set expectations and let people thrive. My management team and I meet every Wednesday, and we’ve deployed EOS—Entrepreneurial Organizational System. It’s a tool we use that helps us determine our values, focus […] and achieve our goals. 

DN:  We stack our meetings so they’re mainly on two days of the week. This allows for more “deep work” the rest of the week. Mondays and Fridays—no meetings. And we’ve gone to a four-day workweek—Fridays off. This almost gamifies work tasks to try and get everything done so you can have an additional day of rest. This has actually increased productivity and led to more creative work. And first Mondays of the month are off. It ensures we close out all work tasks, billing, etc. by the end of the month so we can have it off. These days off mentally create an endpoint to hit versus a feeling of never-ending tasks. This all creates freedom. Objectives are made clear, but how you accomplish it is all up to you. The goal isn’t to control how someone works, but to have the end result be great. 

This article originally appeared in the April/May 2023 issue of B2B Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.  

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