Fueling Productivity

By John Wright, Canadian Management Centre

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Increased productivity.

It's been a driving force behind a variety of organizational, technological, process, and workforce changes since the dawn of the industrial age. All companies want it, shareholders value it, and competitive pressures demand it. So, how do you actually ‘do it’? Improving your organization’s 'thinkware' may be your answer.

Let’s start with a concise definition of ‘productivity’: the effective and efficient use of an organization’s resources to create the necessary outputs and outcomes to achieve its goals. 

Each organization will have its own catalyst that drives productivity growth, but common drivers include: investment, innovation, technology improvements, competitive environment, new business opportunities, and workforce skills. Focusing on the last item, workforce skills – or the ‘thinkware’ inside an organization – it's clear that productivity improvements can and should be encouraged and created at all levels.

Here's why.

Senior leaders. Starting at the top, leaders need to set clear goals, directions and plans for the organization to pursue. It's vital that they gain organizational buy-in and alignment, so that the right work is done, using the right resources, resulting in the desired outcomes. Senior leaders also set the tone and pace for productivity expectations across the enterprise, in part by the priorities they specify, and through the support they provide to fuel sought after productivity improvements. Finally, their willingness to truly listen to the opinions and suggestions of employees can be the difference between driving and enabling productivity growth, or stifling gains when they're needed most.

Managers. Next, function leaders, people leaders and managers are those who create the daily cultural environment in which productivity either grows or withers. Engaging and motivating employees is this group’s most essential contribution. To do this effectively, they need superior functional knowledge to teach others, effective planning, strategy creation and critical thinking skills, excellent performance management discipline, feedback and coaching skills.

For people within this level, superior communication skills up, down and across the organization are also vital – they enable the desired business alignment to be created, maintained and even challenged when necessary. These leaders will also be your champions for innovation and effective change management when broader-based productivity initiatives need to be implemented. Are they capably equipped?

Individuals. Finally, individual workers need to be engaged, motivated and aligned to the organization’s goals and clearly understand how what they do contributes to achieving those goals. Again, functional expertise is essential, but so too are communication skills, critical thinking skills and the ability to work in an environment of empowerment. Many frontline innovations and process improvements spring forward within positive, engaged work environments. In contrast, disengaged workforces rarely care enough to innovate to benefit their customer or employer. In fact, negative environments breed active resistance to change, and cause most productivity improvement initiatives to fail.

While you may think about productivity improvements through the lens of hardware, software or process engineering, the fact is that most successful organizations also realize that these improvements are ultimately people-driven. This means that more attention needs to be paid to the ‘thinkware’ that people at all levels of the organization are equipped with to fuel and manage productivity gains. It’s certainly something to think about!

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