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spike bullet March 1998 - Improving Productivity

Productivity - What is it? Why is it important?
Finding common goals and using energy wisely
Where are you now and who is helping you get there?
Suggestions for retaining employees
Internet Resources, books and the lighter side

Productivity: What is it?

Webster's Dictionary defines "Productivity" as:
1: the quality or state of being productive
2: rate of production, especially of food by the utilization of solar energy by producer organisms

The definition of "Productive" is:
1: having the quality or power of producing, especially in abundance
2: effective in bringing about
3: a yielding or furnishing results, benefits or profits

To expand a bit on Webster, we define "productivity" for this article as using the energy of people to create better ideas, better products and better working conditions - all leading to abundance for the people involved.

To improve existing productivity means removing existing barriers and energy-wasters that divert valuable resources (people's available energy, time, money, supplies, raw materials, etc.) away from the production of better ideas, better products and better working conditions.

Increasing productivity means being able to generate greater results without more people, more resources, more money, more time or more energy. In other words, learning how to do the work so that less energy is required to produce the same results, producing higher results using the same amount of energy. The result is abundance for everyone.

Productivity: Why is it important?

Energy (or any resource) expended without producing something better is wasted. It cannot be reclaimed once it is gone. If a working environment is such that it sucks the life force (their available energy) out of the people who work there everyday, productivity cannot be improved. Hostile environments not only waste valuable energy, they can do severe damage to people (we've discussed this before).

Why are we concerned about productivity at this time? The last few years have seen major companies reducing their employee headcount without reducing the actual workload. People are struggling to keep functioning under increasing demands from management. Management is struggling to keep functioning under the ever faster pace of business.

This seemingly endless cycle must be broken in order to allow greater productivity and improved results. Most attempts at business re-engineering (BPR) start out with a goal of streamlining the work flow. However, many BPR efforts have had a hidden agenda of eliminating people without really eliminating the work. BPR is now getting some very bad press - some deserved, some undeserved. BPR fails most often is when it does not change the work environment enough to capture the wasted energy of the people involved.

If there is suspicion of management's motives on the part of employees, BPR cannot successfully accomplish a re-alignment of work. Where employees are able to understand the goals and use their energy in positive, creative ways as part of a solution that benefits them, they are able to focus their energy toward management's goals - rather than on protecting themselves or on resistance to management's proposals.

Far too often, employee's goals are not anywhere close to management's goals, leading to a conflicting set of goals that drains people of their energy and available resources. It becomes almost a war of control between management and employees.

Finding Common Goals and Using Energy Wisely

In our productivity consulting work, we use the analogy of a group of people lost at sea rowing a boat. "Management" is the captain of the boat and has the ability to see a far away island (management's goals). "Employees" (who have never been at sea before and are trying to row the boat as well as they are able) cannot see the island, but they can see that there is a huge sea all around them filled with sharks. If each employee focuses on rowing based on their own fears, the boat will go in circles and no one will get away from the dangers. When management is able to explain that they do see an island and give appropriate direction and guidance to employees who respect their leadership, management can empower employees to row together toward the island.

Another relatively common approach is for "management" to yell at employees to do better without giving them the tools to do what is being requested. For example, not giving employees oars, not explaining why they want to go a certain way, berating them for not rowing better (when they have never been taught to row), not allowing them rest/food breaks or not helping them learn that working together helps everyone.

Remember: management cannot get to the island without the help of employees, because the island is only visible if management is standing up. If they are standing up, they cannot row the boat themselves. Management's only job in this drama is to keep management's eyes focused on the island and to help employees see it (and believe it ) through their eyes. Employees cannot see the island and must depend on management to give them clear directions about which direction to row. Mutual trust and respect is critical in such an endeavor - key components of any team effort.

What about the sharks in the water? If all employees are watching out for sharks, they are not rowing as well as they can. What to do? The obvious answer is: appoint someone to keep an eye on the sharks. The shark-watcher must be able to do that job, let management and employees know when the sharks are a danger or they must kill them if necessary. Again, placing someone in this position requires a great deal of trust and respect - the entire boat of people may owe their life to this person's efforts.

What if the boat springs a leak? Who is bailing water and who is watching for leaks?

Suppose a sleek new engine-powered boat comes along side your boat and tries to lure your employees away with promises of a fast route to a safe island containing food, money and better working conditions? What rewards does management have to offer that will help keep their existing employees rowing toward a goal they cannot see for themselves?

Where is your boat headed?

Take a minute now and think about your own working situation. Are you the manager or an employee?

What is your goal and who must you depend on to get it done?

What types of sharks (or challenges) surround you? How are you dealing with them?

Who is rowing your boat? Who is teaching employees to row together in the right direction?

Who is watching for the island? Are they giving clear instructions to the rowers?

Are the rowers putting all their attention on getting to the island or are they diverted by fear of sharks, or tempted by promises of a better life somewhere else? Or, do they spend all their time complaining about management's inability to lead them?

How much energy is directed toward the common goal of everyone in the boat?

How much energy is wasted in activities, fears and concerns that are not productive?

Why should your employees (rowers) stay in your boat and continue rowing rather than jump ship for a better life somewhere else?

Why should your employees stay with you?

Employee retention has become a severe problem this year, especially in the high-tech areas. During the recession only a few short years ago, job-seekers were plentiful. Today, many companies are finding they cannot get good quality applicants and are having a hard time keeping the employees they already have.

The shortage is due to several converging factors: the extreme pace of growth in all technology sectors, the Internet explosion, the challenges facing companies dealing with Year 2000 issues, and the growing integration of computers and technology into every facet of business. Technical people are coming out of retirement and still there are major shortages of people.

The only true solution to the growing shortage of qualified employees is to increase productivity - to be able to accomplish more results with the same or fewer people. In order for management to be the "eyes" of the rowboat for their employees, they must be able to entice employees to stay with them.

(We have previously discussed changing management/leadership styles, managing different personality types and basic human needs in other newsletters. If you are not familiar with those articles, be sure to read them).

Suggestions for retaining employees:

  • Respect employees' abilities and their ideas.
  • Actively solicit and listen to their suggestions about better ways of doing things.
  • Reward them for bringing forth work-saving ideas and for implementing them.
  • Encourage them to be constantly on the lookout for ways to eliminate unnecessary work, hidden roadblocks and bureaucratic red tape.
  • Don't criticize employees if you think their ideas won't work - support them to try their suggestions, even if they are only small steps at first. The more you show support and a willingness to listen, the more employees will learn that they can trust you.
  • Empower them to make changes whenever possible. For example, if they think re-designing an existing form will reduce work, give them the responsibility for getting the form redesigned and implemented (or help them find a way to get it done).
  • Set aside a portion of your regular staff meeting for brainstorming with your group about how their work can be more productive.
  • Reward people who come up with suggestions - rewards can be as simple as giving someone 15 minutes off for a suggestion or a lottery ticket for bringing 10 suggestions. Think creatively!!
  • Set aside a portion of your meetings to acknowledge success stories.
  • Become an example by removing as many barriers as you can and eliminating unnecessary work yourself.
  • Teach your employees that you can be trusted to do what you say and that you are leading them toward a safe solution.
  • Make sure someone is watching out for leaks and sharks (hidden dangers, unforeseen challenges, threats to productivity, time-wasters, energy-wasters, resource-wasters).
  • Allow employees to have some control over their own time and workload. For example, many companies are moving to flex-time or modified work schedules, which have been shown to increase staff morale and productivity.
  • Make sure employees feel that they are a valuable part of the team. That may be helping develop a career path, providing training, providing better computers, giving them time off or a bonus for accomplishing a major milestone.
  • Make sure that each employee has a back-up person or a team-mate to share their work when necessary.
  • Encourage team mates to come up with ways to increase productivity in their jobs.
  • Make sure that every job has cross-training so that someone else can do a job when the primary employees gets ill, needs a day off or is unavailable. Employees feel major pressure when their house is covered by a mudslide, they get sick or their child gets sick and they are the only one who can do something that is critically important for the company.
  • Make sure that every person in the team knows how to contact others in case of emergency.
  • Encourage people to help each other when needed.
  • Keep abreast of current pay scales and benefits in your area and adjust as appropriate.
  • Give employees interesting assignments along with the "must do" jobs. Encourage them to come to you with suggestions for things they really would like to tackle themselves.
  • Encourage employees to talk to you when they are stressed, frustrated or there are rumors about possible changes. If people can express their fears and concerns openly and honestly, they usually can go back to work. However, if employees continually express their frustration and you take no action to resolve the situations, or you are not really trying to help them, they will stop telling you.
  • Encourage them to find at least one solution to any problem or challenge before they come to you. In that way, they will begin to accept responsibility for being part of the solution. You may need to help them learn how to uncover even more possible solutions. With some training, support and your encouragement, most employees can learn how to think through solutions and implement them.
  • Provide career paths for people who do not want to move into management. Not everyone is management material, yet everyone wants to make progress in their career and improve financially. For example, senior-level technical positions are now available that do not involve managing people yet recognize the expertise of individuals.
  • Monitor and report increased productivity within your work unit. For example, if your team increases the number of orders processed, produce charts showing the improvements over time for everyone to see.
  • Post thank-you notes from satisfied customers.
  • Tel employees how much you appreciate their efforts and increased results.
  • Say "thank you" personally whenever possible.
  • Other benefits include: providing child care/elder care, tuition remission, fitness and wellness facilities, stock plans, bonus programs, profit-sharing, telecommuting options, cafeteria benefits plans and spouse-equivalent benefits.

Remember, employees who like their job work harder. When everyone works harder, everyone in the company benefits. (If everyone does not benefit, productivity will fall). Productivity increases are easiest to obtain when everyone is working toward a common goal that is, everyone is rowing in the same direction.

To all managers who "don't get it":

Managers are only needed when there are employees to manage. If you treat your employees badly, they will leave. They may not all leave at once, and they may not leave tomorrow. But, eventually, they will leave if not treated properly. They have many options. Then, you as a manager become obsolete - there is no reason for the company to keep you. Your very existence depends on your ability to keep your employees working at their highest productivity level. Employees will only do that with proper encouragement and support from management. In the 1990's and into the new millennium, managers need employees much more than employees need managers.

World Wide Web graphic Internet Resources

world wide web - articles Articles

book graphic Books   -  Disclosure: We get a small commission for purchases made via links to Amazon.

smiley graphic The Lighter Side:

    Question: What is Business Process Re-Engineering � Really?

    Answer: It's what you have to call a project to get it funded!

The ABC rowing team challenged the XYZ rowing team to a 10-mile race.

The XYZ team won by more than a mile.

A management consultant was called in to help the ABC team. He found that the XYZ boat had two people overseeing six rowers, while the ABC team had seven managers and one rower.

The consultant suggests a radical reengineering program, then calls for a rematch. This time the XYZ team defeats the ABC team by two miles.

More consultants are called in. They find that the XYZ team were now using one manager and seven rowers, while the ABC team employed six management consultants, one senior manager and one rower.

The ABC team immediately fired the rower and called for another restructuring.

New words:

Alpha Geek: The most knowledgeable, technically proficient person in an office or work group. "Ask Larry, he's the alpha geek around here."

Blamestorming: Sitting around in a group discussing why a deadline was missed or a project failed, and who was responsible.

Chainsaw Consultant: An outside expert brought in to reduce the employee headcount, leaving the top brass with clean hands.

Flight Risk: Used to describe employees who are suspected of planning to leave a company or department soon.

GOOD Job: A "Get-Out-Of-Debt" job. A well-paying job people take in order to pay off their debts, one that they will quit as soon as they are solvent again.

Going Postal: Euphemism for being totally stressed out, for losing it. Makes reference to the unfortunate track record of postal employees who have snapped and gone on shooting rampages.

Idea Hamsters: People who always seem to have their idea generators running.

Seagull Manager: A manager who flies in, makes a lot of noise, leaves droppings over everything and then leaves.

Stress Puppy: A person who seems to thrive on being stressed out and whiny.

Uninstalled: Euphemism for being fired. Heard on the voice-mail of a vice president at a downsizing computer firm: "You have reached the number of an uninstalled vice president. Please dial our main number and ask the operator for assistance." See also Decruitment.

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