Ben Yoskovitz over at the Instigator Blog has put together a really cool collective writing effort on the topic of Productivity. Some great ideas coming together from some very clear-thinking people. My $0.02 on the topic looks at the issue from a management perspective.
Productivity is defined as the rate of output per unit of input. When you are measuring how many widgets your production line is producing, that is a simple calculation. When you are managing Knowledge Workers it’s not so simple. How do you measure if Joe’s idea is as creative as Jane’s? How do you know if Jill’s online activity is aimless surfing or a slow-burn of idea generation?

You can, and should, slap key performance indicators down on the concrete stuff, but an awful lot of the work that’s going on out there these days is too abstract to be really measured in its raw state. So employers are left with hiring the optimal people and putting them in optimal conditions and … hoping for the best.

As a manager, what can you do to ensure that your employees are productive? There have been many tomes written on this topic, but I went back to elementary mathematics. I reckon you can describe fulfillment in the workplace with a 3-circle Venn diagram:
If you are doing work at which you are skilled and which stretches you in those skills; you should feel some level of pride, satisfaction and fulfillment in your work. However, experience shows that being good at something is not the same as enjoying that something. You may be the best salesperson on the team, but if you don’t particularly believe in your product, or if you don’t particularly identify with your company’s value system; it is likely that you are not fulfilled by your work. So the second circle focuses on those factors that delight you in your work, that give you a little frisson when you complete them. Third, seeing as most people’s major income stream derives from their career; you need to feel that you are being adequately and fairly rewarded for the work that you do – nothing turns human beings off quicker than the sense that they are being exploited.

The little red triangle above isn’t big enough to have you bouncing out of bed on a Monday morning with a smile on your face. Studies and surveys indicate that the overlap between these circles is way too small for the majority of workers. Examples:

  • Gallup’s global research shows just 20% of employees are actively engaged with their companies.
  • A Wall Street Journal survey in December 2006 found that 75% of employees would leave their job if an opportunity presented itself.
  • In Ireland, the Small Firms Association survey found that 66% of job-movers were moving for reasons other than money.

Too many companies are running to a World War One model – generals sitting in marquees outside Paris eating foie gras and sipping champagne while the troops fester in muddy trenches on the Somme. Unworkable strategies being foisted on the troops by people who have no understanding of life in the trenches. The challenge for employers is to recognise that the old rules no longer apply for Knowledge Workers and to move toward a model where the circles of Skill, Enjoyment and Financial Reward are more or less concentric – a big red circle.

My top 5 thoughts on this for CEOs everywhere:

  • Practice what you preach. People are not stupid, if you are saying one thing and doing another, you have no credibility. And if you have no credibility, you end up dependent upon greed and fear to keep things going.
  • Find your spine. Stop lurching from quarter to quarter panicking about what the analysts are writing. If you you believe in yourself and you know what you are doing, do it. If you don’t, have the guts to get out.
  • Set a clear vision. Make sure that your people are with you (and not just smiling from the teeth out). Set out your waypoints. Go there.
  • Fight for your people. Fight to hire the best. Train and develop them more than anyone else. Recognise that they are human beings, not interchangeable parts. If you actually do these things, your people will follow you off a cliff.
  • Communicate with respect. To everybody. Two eyes, two ears, one mouth …