20 March 2017

Low productivity? Take a look in the mirror

Greig Walker, director, Unleash & Engage

British workers are the least productive in Europe, and we also work the longest hours.

Depressing, but true. However, the reason for this lack of productivity could be down to you, as a manager.

Greig Walker, director, Unleash & Engage

Two things tend to happen when we get promoted. Firstly, we feel recognised for the hard work that we’ve put in, which makes it highly likely that we will put even more hard work in. That’s just human nature.

Secondly, we get invited to a lot more meetings, which gives us less time to do the (additional) work we now have on our plate. When these things collide, we work longer and harder on our own work, to the detriment of the team that we are supposed to be both leading and managing.

Yet, it doesn’t need to be like this. We can shift the situation to a better place; creating more time for ourselves, making work a better place to be and getting more of the right things done too.

We believe that by unleashing the productivity of the team, efficiency gains of at least 30% can be achieved by any organisation. There is no magic wand – just learning to do things differently.

There are three elements to this change: structure, visibility and culture.

Structure: Build your daily schedule; block out time for things that really matter to you. Whether it is seeing your family, exercise or walking the dog, these should be immovable.

Next set a time block aside for dealing with emails. This should never exceed two hours. Most importantly, block time off to spend with your team – about two to four hours per day. First thing each day have a focused conversation with the team about the work from yesterday and the work tasks for today so that everyone is on the same page.

Visibility: In a factory, it is often easier to see the flow of work through the process than in an office, but it’s just as important in both situations. The types of things that should be made visible are: backlog, priorities, workload, problems, attendance, performance against targets, where to find things and people.

Visibility is always helped by clearing out what isn’t needed, setting things in order, cleaning up and keeping things ‘VIP visit-ready’ every single day. The next step is the introduction of traffic light colours to indicate status in the workplace, where you then introduce guidelines and rules around these indicators to trigger responses and actions across the team.

Culture: Culture can be defined as ‘what we do when we think no one is watching’. In the workplace, this translates as ‘how things are done around here’. Left to their own devices, the most dominant characters in the team will shape the culture and you may not like it. With the time created in your schedule, use it with the team to observe behaviours and really focus on reinforcing the behaviours that you want to see more of to create a habit loop. When doing this, there are a few key ingredients. Firstly, be around to see and reinforce the behaviour when it occurs. Secondly, reinforce individuals in a way that’s wholly suited to them, so that it has the desired effect. To make this work you need to be seen in the workplace, for instance on gemba walks. You should aim to spend around 30-50% of your time doing gemba to be really effective.

We started off identifying you as the cause of the problem of low productivity. But the good news is that you also have the solution within you. You just need to unleash and engage.

Chris Beck

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