Organizational productivity improvement


Productivity is a term we all have used at some point. You see, it’s clear to us that we need to elevate work performance by eradicating tasks that don’t add value, avoiding “reinventing the wheel moments”, applying best practices and so on.  However, just as it is clear, how many can actually say that they turned productivity into a solid and long term strategy?  Embedded it into business goals? Standardized practices among business units?

These are questions that help us to quickly understand if “productivity” is really not just a fad or a work philosophy. Just as any other strategy, it requires processes and measures that will allow us to clearly understand how business is actually functioning and the steps needed in order to boost performance. Some plan is required and people must be made responsible for it.

So let´s kick off by understanding what productivity means. No complicated definitions are needed; the concept is very simple to understand:

Productivity means boosting organizational performance by becoming more efficient in specific areas: finance, project management, supply-chain, etc. This is done by applying specific methods, tools, metrics, etc. and the end result is organizational excellence.

The hard part is putting into practice the methods, tools and metrics. In fact, do we know just how many methods are there and how to put them into practice? The above definition also mentions “specific areas” since we can´t cover everything at once. We need to take a small step forward and start analyzing specific areas in order to determine priorities.

Before taking a look at the tools and methods which can be applied, we need to understand where productivity is situated in organizations. Also, a model is required in which we can clearly see the relationship between productivity and other key areas. From my experience, I have seen that organizations that align productivity with innovation and support the chain with knowledge management, can achieve high performance levels in the short run.

When organizations don’t start with productivity they’re bound to have bumps along the way. Every time you seem to get somewhere, there is a small bump that doesn’t allow you to go further. Sometimes it’s the small things that matter. For example when teams don’t practice effective meetings the results can be really hazardous. Time is wasted, agreements are not registered and followed up, the wrong parties are called up, etc. So we cannot overlook anything. We must start with a detective like work in order to understand how the organization is functioning and its weak points.

Kick off

We all need a starting point. For productivity, it´s necessary to have a meeting with the business unit manager in order to understand current business needs and future perspectives. Some of these things may be written down somewhere but we need to investigate further. A meeting is required with business managers in order to get them to talk about their business needs, risks, markets segments and critical knowledge. This information will be very valuable since it will pave the way for analysis and problem detection. We also need them to direct us to critical employees who have responsibility over critical processes. Once we identify them, the next step is to interview them and garner information regarding the processes they develop, risk issues, problems and other information which may help identify weak spots and productivity issues. By doing this we would have covered two strategic levels: business unit managers and critical employees (process managers, project leads, supervisors, etc).

However, we need to go one step further and gain insight from employees that are on a third level, which usually consist of employees who carry out the processes first hand. Their vision may be less strategic and far more rutinary, but they live each process first hand. The information that can be found on this level may be far more critical than the information found on the second level. Nevertheless, it’s necessary to scale down the pyramid and after we have garnered all the required information, we need to go up once again, level by level, this time in order to validate every piece of information we have uncovered. This way we can senior leadership approval, all the way up to the business unit manager.

They need to see the problems their unit is facing and be convinced of the solutions. Otherwise the project will not gain their approval. Facts and evidence is crucial. It’s not just about “comments”. Like a doctor who carries out a patient’s diagnosis, he needs to show with evidence the patient is having a particular illness in order to demonstrate that the cure will be the best path towards recovering health. The same X-ray is required for productivity.

Big data is also important. Stepping up to see the details might prove rewarding. There´s plenty of information being churned out in daily processes so we need to take a closer look in order to surface trends and predict certain outcomes.

This is just the starting path. After detecting the problems, solutions are required. Some of them will not depend strictly on the person in charge of productivity. The required actions will need to be distributed among business unit managers who will also be held accountable for accomplishing them. It is vital that it becomes part of their objectives and that their performance management considers them so that they are not just evaluated for their technical performance.

Don´t miss the next post on productivity series: productivity implementation and tools

©Jose Carlos Tenorio Favero

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One response to “Organizational productivity improvement

  1. That is so true.
    Right now, because it’s the start of 2014, as a team, we are trying to figure out what we did that are ineffective and that costs a lot of time last year. We want to change something that will result on us being more productive and effective employees. There is always a room for improvement.
    For now, we’re using this blog post as a guide and it’s been pretty helpful:

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