I don’t know about you, but I have been put in the position where others have asked me to “increase productivity” to meet company goals. As a matter of fact, that has come up numerous times over a very long span of working. From selling newspapers and washing cars, to running retail stores and directing groups of consultants, I have been called upon to increase productivity (I hate to admit this) for over 49 years.
Trust me, I am not complaining, I fully understand the need to be more and more productive. I am in the management business and completely view productivity improvement as a positive thing. What bothers me is the inability for many companies to tell their associates HOW to be more productive. HOW can an employee “work faster”? WHAT can be done differently or not done at all to reduce the time it takes for an employee to accomplish their work?
Too often, I see a phenomenon that is an overall detriment to an organization’s productivity. That phenomena I call “DDTTDT”: don’t do this to do that. Replace “this” throughout an eight-hour day with “that” even though all the “this and that’s” are necessary to run the organization.
As an example let’s say Employee A has eight hours to; walk to their work area, set it up, move product or pieces to their work area, process those items into the corporate offering, check the quality of their work, close down and clean, and then travel away to a time clock or exit.
Now we begin to complicate the scenario. We still want the employee to produce or generate “X” units in an eight-hour day, but we also need them to answer the phone to take orders throughout the day. We have expanded the work for the employee. How do we tell them how to do the additional work and keep up their productivity? Do we just want them to “work faster”? That is pretty unreasonable is it not? Or, do we take steps to make the rest of their work less time consuming by say, eliminating distance to their work area, or reducing tasks to set up there are? Regardless of what we do we must improve their processes in order to save them time so they can do the extra steps and still be productive.
Unfortunately, too many companies resort to the “have them work faster” theory. This works for a short time, a very short time. Eventually though something has to give. An employee naturally slows down during the course of the day due to human fatigue. It stands to reason therefore that over the course of time, fatigue will set more quickly and you can expect a loss in accuracy and follow through. You may even put the employee’s safety at risk by just telling them “Faster”! Faster!”
A smart operation looks at the situation and asks itself:
– What can I change to improve efficiency and therefore productivity?
– Are there antiquated methods being used that we could convert to something more efficient and productive?
– Are there tools available or technology available that could help the employee increase their output speed?
– Can we clean up or re-route our work area so that we have less barriers for our employees to have to deal with?
Is our procedure served better by having individual handoffs of task from employee to employee, or conversely, is it more efficient to organize our employees to tackle a job as a team?
These are all excellent questions and there are no easy answers to some of them. Some types of modeling and experimentation are the best ways to find the shortcuts needed to help an employee be more productive. Additionally, the answers to these questions can and do change on a day to day basis. With new equipment being brought to market, new software being developed, and additional technology coming out of the test lab every day the answers change and change and change. Embracing these changes and dedicating your organization to finding, testing, and deploying them is the right path for finding out how your employee can be more productive.
I know it is very simplistic and obvious, but if we think about communication alone we can see where productivity can increase through the use of tools versus having an employee work faster. In the past, we would hand write or type a letter, mail it to an individual/company, have them create a reply, mail it back to us, and them act on the results. No matter how hard an employee worked in drafting, typing, addressing, and mailing the letter, it was still going to take 2-3 days on the front side and 2-3 days on the back side to finish this process. Now an employee can pick up a phone (from just about anywhere), or write an email, or post a comment on-line, or use instant messaging and get the 4-6 days of turnaround down to mere minutes. That is productivity through better process and better use of technology/equipment, not making the employee just work harder.
We all want our organizations and jobs to work more smoothly and efficiently. The last thing we need is someone just walking up and saying “Work faster, do more”. If you are a leader and you require more productivity to meet your business needs, look to the process, not the people all of the time.