Productivity issues in today’s business world should be a thing we read about in history books. With our portfolios of technology, AI, BI, cloud environments and an ‘App’ for everything, we shouldn’t still be talking about productivity issues; they shouldn’t even exist, shouldn’t even be growing and consuming millions of dollars in capital and operating expenses every year, and then we add in the human factor and chaos ensues.

So why do productivity challenges still exist? If our technology is the utopia, the best of the best, as the sales brochure says, why do we still struggle being more productive?

I don’t have all the solutions, but I do have two paths that might enlighten us on the ‘why’ and provide a glimpse into how changes in our approach and our expectations can help us get back some of our lost productivity control and possibly even some of the millions lost to this Jurassic problem.

Just so we are all on the same page, let me define ‘Productivity’ as I’ve used it here in this post.

‘Productivity’ is the measure of how much we accomplished for the cost associated with the output.’ Cost includes labour, lost opportunity, technology (new and maintenance), operational overhead, etc.

Maybe not the sexiest explanation, but it sets us up to be on the same script nicely.

The challenge with productivity, in my view, comes down to two main elements, technology and people. I’ll break out these two elements and focus in on a few key components that, if we focus on them, we will see our productivity increase (more accomplished for the same cost). These are not the only components available, but they are the ones I believe will bring the most significant return on your time and effort commitment in the short and long run.

First, let’s look at productivity challenges from a people point of view and their efforts to produce a result, whatever your product or service entails.

People, in the 21st Century, are the most educated, most skilled and most distracted since the dawn of man. Some strive for higher education (multiple Ph.D.’s in some cases), Some can speak numerous languages, and yet we, as a society, can’t seem to make it through breakfast without having to post an Instagram post about our toast or scrambled eggs, then we ‘Jones’ to see how many likes we get.

I don’t blame the ‘Instagram’s’ or ‘Facebook’s,’ nor do I necessarily blame the people who are stuck getting their kick of dopamine from an app. I do, however, blame society, as it is us who have changed what we consider to be ‘acceptable.’

And what we consider to be acceptable is where our productivity challenges start.

How much time do we lose to people checking their Facebook or Instagram in a single hour? How much productivity impact does this have on their role, on their department, on their team? A New York Post article by Gregory Bresiger in their July 29, 2017, posting claims the cost of lost productivity to personal activities reached $15 Billion in 2016, in the US alone. $15 Billion lost to people checking how many likes they got, or how many people gave them a thumbs up on their breakfast oatmeal; should we even care?

I know you’re thinking, ‘Thanks for the stat’s but what does that have to do with people and productivity issues and why can’t we blame them?’ Well, that answer is relatively simple; we can’t blame them because we should be blaming ourselves. You are a large part of the $15 Billion challenge and here is why.

  • People will do what they are ‘allowed’ to do and what is considered to be acceptable, so your culture has made it acceptable to spend hours a day on their non-work activities, costing you millions a year.
  • People will procrastinate on their activities and take as much time as is provided to accomplish a task and you as their supervisor let them keep pushing the time because you don’t understand what they do and don’t challenge them enough, freeing up more time to spend on Snap Chat.
  • People don’t understand how their roles help the organization be better, so they don’t see how a lost hour or two a week can have an impact. Your job as a leader is to ensure everyone understands how they fit in and how important their role is, to be more engaged with your people. Disengagement has a team and customer impact, again, more millions.
  • People don’t understand the priorities as management keeps changing the direction of their ideas — Cloud computing one week, customer engagement the next. People have long institutional memory and push back when management changes direction with the wind, so your job as a leader is to steer the business with a focus on helping your employees understand your strategy, driving a clear path and not switching for every flavour of the month.
  • Leaders need to learn to stand on their soapbox and communicate their vision with passion the ‘what’ and ‘why’ of the company and keep talking it up until you are sick of hearing your own voice.

When you create an environment where the culture doesn’t accept wasted time, where you understand your team’s roles and can ensure their positions are challenging, employees don’t get as distracted as quickly if their work has meaning, and they feel a commitment to their team. When you change directions, ensure you engage with your people, show them empathy, honesty, openness, leadership and focus on a well-thought-out direction people can get a feeling for; Something they can get behind. If you can’t communicate what you are doing or why its importance, no one else will know, no one else will care, and no one will choose to follow. You can’t expect people to get the message from one email or one speech; it needs to become part of your DNA, where people start to see how you will finish a sentence because you believe in is so deeply.

Now, as I described earlier, people are not the only challenge with productivity, technology can also be challenging and here is why.

Technology elements, at their core, are built to perform a single task, a line of code to add two numbers, together, a line to store a piece of data, to show an image on a screen, all simple until it’s not. We add challenges when we ‘shoehorn’ technology elements together to create something more than the original parts were meant to do; sometimes it works, many times it doesn’t. When we add these challenges to business components, we don’t fully have control over; the results are usually costly.

So, your thinking, STOP, it’s just technology, how hard can it be? Well, how often does your cell phone not react the way you expected, how often do you need to reboot your computer after it’s second birthday? Why do you feel a need to upgrade every two years when new apps come out, and your older technology isn’t compatible anymore?

Technology is anything but simple. Write some code of your own, and you will start to see the magnitude of the task to write a photo-sharing app or something as challenging as a ‘Phoenix’ pay system, and it’s calculations, storage, encryption, multiple access points, complex tax codes, etc.

So, I ask, how much productivity do we lose to technology challenges?

According to a June 26th, 2018 posting on ‘Facility Executives, 51% of digital workers at ‘technology laggard’ organizations are frustrated with their employer, 47% say the technology challenges are making them less productive, and 11% of employees at laggard companies were more likely to leave for a role in a competitor who utilized technology more effectively. Picture for me the cost savings for your organization if you could reduce your turnover by 11%. Millions I expect for some of you.

Technology has its uses, and we couldn’t survive in our world today without it, but it shouldn’t be the only element of any solution, after all, technology supports the business,  it isn’t ‘the’ business, so be careful when we start letting the tail wag the dog.

Here is what I mean by that:

  • ATS (Application Tracking System) systems, used as a tool, would support the search for skilled and highly qualified resources for an organization need. When the tail wags the dog, ATS systems filter out candidates with all the right skills and experience because of the terminology they use to describe their experience. The business doesn’t gain quantifiable value from the technology
  • Significant technology failures are not only a technology challenge; they have far-reaching implications on the company they are intended to support as well. Looking at a behemoth application like IBM’s Phoenix Pay System, which cost hundreds of millions of dollars and lacks the flexibility to be implemented effectively considering the ever-changing tax and benefits world of HR. The business is crippled while the technology groups figure out how to manually cut employee paychecks. How much impact would that type of solution have on your company after spending $1Billion for the solution? Is this a tail wagging the dog scenario as well?
  • Business rules have not evolved with regulatory and technology necessities and create known and unknown risks for organizations because the manager doesn’t understand how the regulations and technology work together. PCI regulations, Living Wills, Data Governance, rules all work with technology only when the business thinking evolves.

So how do we ultimately make technology work for us, to make us more productive, to give back control to the organization?

Limiting technology in some situations is an answer, so it going back to pen and paper, but how practical is that solution to the long-term viability of the company?

How about if we got back to the table, brought technology and business together, encouraged their discussion on how they can both work to meet the ‘vision’ of the leadership team.

How would your organization prosper if your groups worked together, pulling your proverbial oars in unison, to change the culture, drive a deeper understanding of the business, drive more engagement from the entire organization? How would your employees prosper and grow? How would your customers and clients benefit from more productivity from your employees and your technology? Why not try some of my suggestions and find out.