Don’t forget productivity is in the hands of people

Engaging the hearts and minds of your people towards improving productivity enables them to become your invaluable partners in success, writes Dave Hanna

Tough financial times call for increases in productivity. This sends managers in a frantic search for the right buttons to push. Budgets? Downsizing? New marketing campaigns? Supply chain logistics?

International Society for Performance Improvement research has shown consistently that only 30 per cent of organisational improvement initiatives (including productivity) are successful (see infographic). Among the 70 per cent that failed, many managers no doubt believed they had pushed the right buttons.

Where to start?
In your search for the right buttons to push to improve productivity, I recommend you start with people. Not necessarily to reduce headcounts and staffing levels, but to identify ways to change what people do every day so that they add more value to the bottom line. Start by looking at your culture, for it is a very strong, though intangible, driver of productivity. Consider these two examples.

A major concert was organised to raise donations for the victims and families of the 9/11 World Trade Center disaster in New York City. Musical stars donated their talents for the concert so that all proceeds would go to these individuals. Two days before the concert, the company responsible for handling the donation call centre informed the organisers that it would be unable to do the job. There was too much to do and too little time to pull together everything. In desperation, the concert organisers approached the Capital One Financial Corporation and asked for help. Capital One executives put out an email message asking for volunteers. Within hours they had more than 7000 volunteers who organised the transaction process and handled more than 300,000 calls during the concert. Notice the difference in these cultures: Capital One took action; the other company took a seat.

In a case cited in a workforce health and workplace productivity report from The Royal Australasian College of Physicians and The Australasian Faculty of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, a service industry company appointed a new CEO whose approach was dictatorial and demeaning. This change in organisational climate led to a loss of morale, resulting in 28 per cent of the company’s middle managers leaving for other jobs. The costs to this employer were extensive, conservatively estimated at $176,000 for recruiting and training new managers and another $440,000 in reduced productivity due to lost expertise and stress on the remaining workforce. As these examples demonstrate, your organisational culture can either add to or diminish your levels of productivity.

The role of leaders
Research has shown that productive organisations are characterised by leaders who truly enable others to be the best they can; by people who are responsive to marketplace changes and who are good collaborators. Productive organisations know how to solve problems, are always learning, and are disciplined in delivering budget targets, business plans, and developing new business opportunities. All of these attributes are products of an organisation’s culture.

Acknowledge that your organisation’s productivity is in the hands of your people. Engage their hearts and minds towards improving productivity and they will be your partners in success. After all, they are the ones that push all the other buttons.

Culture keys to improving productivity

  1. You understand the few critical needs of your most critical stakeholders and strategise how to fulfill them. The few things that, if you do them and nothing else, you will still be successful.
  2. You shape your strategy in a way that engages associates to follow it instinctively. Not a statement on the wall or in the annual report. What people aim to do without supervision.
  3. You design work processes and supporting systems to be aligned to consistently fulfil the strategy. Thus, you become perfectly designed to get the results you want.
  4. You develop your associates’ skills and flexibility so they can solve problems at their source. Improving productivity through the right skills at the right place at the right time.
  5. Individuals and organisational units become more flexible and skilled over time. All become more self-sufficient to add strategic value.
  6. Partnerships and teamwork are a natural approach every day. Synergy emerges from new relationships. 1+1 = 3 or more.
  7. People monitor important changes in the marketplace and adapt quickly. They make it their business to understand external forces that might affect productivity and survival.