We are back to downward pressures being exerted on productivity, and to organizations looking for new ways to turn the situation around.
The downward pressure crimping productivity now is the result of three primary factors.
1. The Great Resignation
The Great Resignation continues to dull productivity numbers for some organizations. It remains difficult to fill roles vacated by people looking for greener pastures, especially in technology-oriented domains. Even if vacant roles can be filled, it typically “takes eight months for a newly-hired employee to reach full productivity.” That figure, cited by the Harvard Business Review, is from 2015, and we believe it’s now closer to 11 months.
2. Rising Interest Rates
If the impact of the Great Resignation was unevenly felt, rising interest rates promise to pressure a far broader cross-section of organizations into boosting productivity.
Rising interest rates mean the cost of money goes up and future profits are squeezed. Clips to earnings — both current and into the future — place additional pressure on organizations to think about how they can increase productivity to cover any shortfall in their forecast revenue and profitability.
3. Workers Are Pushed to the Max
Finally, one of the challenges of finding additional productivity now is that many individuals already feel completely maxed out. Flexible work arrangements initiated over the past two years are acknowledged to have resulted in improvements to organizational productivity. As PwC notes, “many [workers] felt pressure to be more productive and prove they were working” while at home. As a result, 46% of workers put in more hours than they would otherwise have done from an office.
While the aggregate productivity improvements were welcomed in a tough operating period, leaders know there’s a limit to how much more productivity can be extracted from workers.
Against this backdrop, what can organizations do to have a productive conversation about productivity? How can they incentivize people who already feel like they’re at the limit of their business-as-usual capacity to give up some of that time to move the organization’s productivity forward?
I intend to spend the remainder of this article offering some guidance on how we observe this conversation playing out in organizations.
Although some may believe this conversation is optional, organizations that have not started it may already be too late and feeling the pinch on their output and budgets. There’s considerable urgency for organizations to adapt to changing conditions, and to think differently about where their next set of productivity gains come from.
The next productivity gains are not going to come from initiatives that impact a number of employees at once. Where organizations may previously have had success targeting productivity-oriented initiatives at cohorts of employees based on common character traits or personas, new initiatives will need to be much more personalized — appealing to individuals, not groups of individuals; to persons, not personas.
When individuals already feel maxed out from a productivity perspective, and they are approached to do more, they naturally want to know “what’s in it for me?” This isn’t selfishness: it’s an acknowledgement of their reality. They’re already super busy, at the limit of what they can do in the time available, and potentially even sacrificing some early morning or late evening hours to keep things moving.
“What’s in it for me?” often isn’t about money, either. It’s about wanting to understand the vision to increase productivity and the actions that would be required to achieve that vision.
I had this discussion with a banking executive recently on how they are incentivising already time-poor individuals to participate in productivity growth discussions and initiatives. Interestingly, their pitch was based on career development. Individuals are more likely to step out of what they’re already expected to do and aid productivity growth if doing so represents a fantastic personal and career development opportunity.
Organizations essentially have to tailor their productivity pitch to appeal to an individual’s motivation — and then do that enough times to result in a broader productivity benefit. While intensive, it is one strategy that is already seen in enterprise environments.
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‘Nobody Goes to Work to Do a Bad Job’
A second layer of productivity improvements will come from a renewed focus on tooling, particularly in areas of the business that perhaps weren’t thought of as candidates for automation before.
There is a quote often attributed to American engineer W. Edwards Deming that “nobody goes to work to do a bad job.” It rings true. If someone isn’t as productive as they could be, it’s unlikely to be their will. It’s more likely that something in the way they perform their job isn’t going right, and if recognized, could be improved or fixed, removing the productivity roadblock and resulting in an improvement.
To identify these blockages, organizations engage in process discovery. By finding the repetitive things that people do and recognizing them as processes, they can be mapped out so that weaknesses are exposed — and can be improved.
But discovery can be an overly manual process, often requiring a day of workshops and documentation that time-poor people don’t have the bandwidth for. This has become an automation candidate, where AI software on employees’ machines can recognize unproductive processes and call attention to them automatically. This is a fairly recent development, but one that promises to find productivity gains that individuals are otherwise unaware of, or unable to devote the time to document.
And so there we have it: personalization and process discovery are two new ways to find productivity growth opportunities. With the current economic headwinds, it would be advisable to at least consider these approaches to keep productivity numbers up and the organization firmly in the black.
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