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  • John Fawcitt

Transform your organisation’s productivity

Productivity seems to be continually in the headlines, or at least the lack of it.

Technology has enabled massive individual productivity gains — computers, spreadsheets, email, video calls, collaboration tools, automation and other advances. The efficiency drives of the last decade to streamline organisations, an increasing focus on agile delivery, and an explosion of data to support decision making. Therefore, shouldn’t productivity be increasing!

A Harvard Business Review article highlighted the term “organisational drag, the structures and processes [that] consume valuable time and prevent people from getting things done”. The research identified that "the average company losses more than 20% of its productivity capacity – more than a day each week" to organisational drag. The article further identified the potential benefits suggesting that the most productive companies experience "significantly higher profits … and faster growth.”

While 2020 has seen around five years’ worth of technology development, as we move into a new normal and organisations build back for the future, now is the time to ensure that your organisation sets itself up to optimise productivity and drive profitability.

What is meant by productivity?

Productivity is the ratio between output and inputs; it measures the efficiency of resources used to create a given yield level, a key source of growth and competitiveness. For an organisation, this means balancing all the resources that will provide the biggest output for the smallest amount of effort. Increased productivity means improved utilisation of resources (people, raw materials, capital, etc.), resulting in increased profitability.

Business leaders need to bring a productivity mindset to their organisation and remove workforce productivity obstacles to optimise profitability. Profit is the result of the performance of the business in marketing, innovation and productivity. It is ultimately the customer feedback on how the company is meeting their needs, wants and expectations.

Is efficiency the same as productivity? Many use the words interchangeably. However, the implications of following an efficiency or productivity strategy are different.

  • Efficiency is doing the same with less, reducing the level of inputs, such as time (the number of hours worked or machine hours) or raw materials, and therefore cost, to produce the same level of output.

  • Productivity is doing more with the same and using technology and process automation to free up peoples time to work on the higher value-adding activity. With greater productivity, an organisation can produce more products and provide better services with the same resources.

From a strategic planning perspective, efficiency reduces the input costs to improve short-term profitability, whereas productivity is about delivering increased top-line growth from the same workforce and inputs.

Productivity measurement

If you don’t measure it, you can’t improve it.

Productivity is central to businesses performance. As Peter Drucker said: “Without productivity objectives, a business does not have direction. Without productivity measurement, a business does not have control”.

An organisations’ goal is to target the level of productivity that optimises profitability. Improving productivity in one area to the detriment of others may not provide the right balance for optimum productivity. Increasing output at the expense of quality is not necessarily the right balance. Productivity metrics need to address all resource areas and ensure there aren’t any unintended consequences.

Coaching a charity COE on a balanced scorecard approach recently, we explored how they might measure productivity. The charity provides an alternative to Local Authority day care and supported living through frontline community workers. The primary objective is to support their members live independent lives, building their confidence in everyday activities. They identified two vital member-focused productivity metrics as Member Hours (total community workers hours supporting members) and Member Outcomes (net movement of member outcome across the eight areas).

Below is a selection of productivity metrics. However, it is about constructing the right metrics to drive the desired behaviours across your organisation.

Always be wary of averages as, by their nature, they hide variation in the data. Ensure your data and business insight tools allow users to delve into the detail to understand what is really going on.

Improving productivity

Efficiency and effectiveness have never been more critical. Work environments need to be adaptive and set up in a way that assists your business, its people, your customers and your suppliers. Technology and frameworks can help cut through the complexity, simplifying how your organisation operates, delivering more straightforward, responsive and robust customer experiences.

Organisations need to transform processes to eliminate wasteful activities, reimagine new processes with continuous monitoring. Focus on technologies that innovate the value chain operating model rather than chasing after cheaper and faster. Automate smarter, test and expand digital offerings, and invest in your people to make it happen.

Address Process Debt

Streamline and use technology to address process debt; optimise front, middle and back-office business processes whilst maintaining the appropriate level of governance. Processes such as:

  • Order to Cash (O2C) or Customer to Cash – digitising and streamlining the end-to-end customer journey from recruitment and onboarding through order management to reactivation and ultimately close down.

  • Purchase to Pay (P2P), covering new supplier RFP to onboarding, in life supplier management through to close down.

  • Recruitment covering the process from role submission, through recruitment, to new employee set-up and onboarding.

  • Customer verification - utilise technology to free up your call-centre agents to spend more time helping customers rather than verifying the customer.

Back-office Automation

Automation is about directing the digital workforce to do the heavy lifting, releasing your people from mundane, repetitive tasks to undertake more meaningful, engaging, and value-adding activities.

Hyperautomation combines technologies to create end-to-end process automation from the capture and classification of data to back-office automation. Think Purchase to Pay (P2P) – all those invoices from multiple suppliers landing with your accounts payable that need to be processed, input, approved and paid every month.

Enhance Data-driven Decisions

The immediacy of quality data is critical to accurate, timely, data-driven decision making that can make or break an organisation.

  • The data explosion (sources, types, speed, and volume) can make it challenging to get the clarity you need to make the right decisions with confidence. In organisations, analysts can spend up to 80% of their time sourcing and cleaning data, leaving just 20% to add value to the business.

  • Amid the deluge of data, which are the correct elements to understand the value chain, customers and create the actions that impact business outcomes.

  • Treat data as an asset, create a sanitised Single Source Of Truth (SSOT) addressing the data sprawl seen in many organisations, bringing together data from legacy and cloud systems, contextualising and democratising the data ready for mass consumption.

Boost Asset Performance

Employ technology to monitor assets, whether in the field or on the assembly line.

  • IoT systems play a vital role in improving how organisations work. Used to track assets, predict maintenance requirements, enable remote management and protect workers.

  • From improving worker safety to removing bottlenecks, IoT system plays a crucial role in improving productivity.

Supporting Field-based Engineers

Utilise augmented reality technology to make your field engineers more productive in their day-to-day activities.

  • A neighbour recently had fibre to the property (FTTP) installed (lucky them, I hear a number of you saying); however, due to the location of the junction box, the engineer was not able to install it. Another engineer also had to attend once they finished a job over 20 minutes away to help before the first engineer could complete their work.

  • This one instance created at least 60 min of downtime for the organisation. That is, over 6% of their working day lost.

    • Firstly, having quality data about the assets in the field would support accurate field engineer allocation.

    • Secondly, where this is not possible due to legacy processes and data capture utilise augmented reality technology. An attending engineer can access instructions in the field of operation or contact an expert to support them where they are unsure how to proceed, reducing downtime and improving productivity.

Improve The Meeting Culture

Employee time is one of the company’s most valuable resources. With the transition to home working, organisations have primarily moved meetings off-line to on-line. I’m sure you have experienced that day of back to back meetings, which on reflection, you feel has achieved very little towards your priorities, and now you need to get on with your work!

  • Consider is the meeting required (what is its purpose), and if so, who needs to be there?

    • Keep tactical and strategic meetings separate.

    • Limit the number of attendees using RACI based on the meeting focus.

    • Some organisations with a firm time management focus require a line manager’s sign off for meetings over a set number of people.

    • As an attendee, do not double book and then wait to choose which to attend.

  • Timely issue of pre-reading with notification of options and recommendations for decisions expected at the meeting.

  • Clear time-bound agenda

    • Strict adherence to agenda – car parking additional/off-topic items for later discussion.

    • Spend time at the end, ensuring all attendees clarify what they have agreed to and what they will communicate to their teams.

    • Follow-up notification of decisions made/deferred and actions.

  • Limit time to provide breaks between meeting (i.e. 20 minutes and 45 minutes rather than the standard 30 and 60 minutes).

    • Allows those attending a break, ensuring they are productive in the next meeting.

    • Start on time - a 5-minute delay at the beginning of any meeting waiting for the stragglers or non-attendees to turn up creates a drop in productivity.

  • If a meeting is not being productive, end it early.

Productivity is about creating the clarity of organisational intent, empowering your people to respond to what is most important right now to the business, with efficiency, fluency and speed. Finding the right solution to address your unique challenges, building the culture and skills of your employees to maximise profitability. Where can your business be simplified, standardised, digitised and automated?

Developing business productivity takes time through building the culture, monitoring performance and continuous improvement. Look into your performance data, prioritise and build the business case, undertake a proof of value, validate the business case and then undertake an agile roll out, continually monitoring the value and productivity improvements, adapting as the business learns.


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