Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The 5 "Departments of Productivity" Most Organizations Miss

Healthy Me Bicycling
Photo of "Healthy Me Bicycling" by Donghyeon Lee via Korean Resource Center, Flickr

In a work organization, the only thing that matters is productivity.

Mathematically speaking the goal is to put forth X amount of work for the sake of returning X* return (the * being whatever multiple or exponent can realistically occur.)

Productivity has gone through historical stages. Roughly:
  • In the past, work was mainly physical and took place on the farm or in a factory: To produce things, you had to be physically strong and able to not-think for long periods of time.
  • With the advent of technology, the new product was knowledge and to deliver it you had to know technical subject matter sufficiently to generate insight out of data.
  • Now with advanced technology + the connective power of the Internet, it is not sufficient to master knowledge but to master new knowledge quickly and also to work well with other people to deliver a joint result.
Our organizations have not kept pace. 
They have not institutionalized the capabilities required for people to generate profit in an environment where the brainpower (the capacity to learn) + relationship skills are the key ingredients for productivity, as follows:

1 - Fitness: The organization ideally should actually provide healthy food, gym facilities, and sufficient time to work out. For most people doing a 1-hour workout this is about 1.5 hours per day. If your body is not functioning right neither will your brain.

2 - Emotional support: Life is stressful. Work is stressful. Balancing work and life is stressful. And working with other people is stressful. People are at work most of the day stretching into the night. There should be emotional support available on-site.

3 - Training: Most people do not have time to leave work and go to school. There should be comprehensive hard and soft skill training available at the click of a mouse, at lunchtime, without requiring any supervisory approval. If someone is actually willing to take the time to learn, there should not be any barrier in their way (of course assuming they are doing their job).

4 -Technology: Technology is advancing much faster than people's knowledge about it. Organizations to be maximally productive must offer immersion training to ensure that people are fluent. If it sits on the shelf it doesn't help anyone to be productive.

5 - Community: When you work with other people for 1/3 of your waking hours or more it helps if you are part of a living community not just someone who shows up and leaves. When there are conflicts there needs to be a space to hash them out. When strategies emerge people must reflect on what is and isn't sensible. After crises occur the community should gather and conduct an after-action review. This is a self-regulation mechanism more advanced than internal communication because it is generated by the employees themselves but "gardened" or "shepherded" by the organization, which facilitates productive discussion aimed always at corporate goals.

Similar to Vineet Nayar's thesis in Employees First, Customers Second, employee-centric management is not indulgent but rather a rational method of investing in bottom-line business results. We take care of the employee and then get out of the way, so that the employee can take care of the customer and earn profit for the organization - and thereby a living.

One has to ask whether we want a workforce of stressed-out, burned-out people or a happy, relaxed but very focused group of employees who are dedicated to achieving organizational goals?

I personally would choose the latter.

Good luck!