A Business Thought Experiment

Being productive and being busy are different.  Is there something you can do about it?

I suppose the place to start would be where one always starts with quality issues.  W.Edwards Deming has pointed out that quality problems are nearly always designed in, so do a statistical analysis of the productivity failure.

Einstein might do it differently.  He was a big fan of thought experiments.

In the being busy versus accomplishing something arena he might find some obvious places to look.  Try these:

  1. Over accounting.  How much time do the people spend keeping track of what they do and how much time do they spend actually doing something?  Accounting is an interruption and for some jobs that is a productivity killer.  Be sure the data is useful before you require its collection.
  2. Inadequate resource allocations.  An old computer is okay for someone sending emails.  Speed is not a factor, but for someone doing modelling of any kind, photo or video editing, or CAD waiting for the task to finish is wasted time.  I suppose they could do the accounting then.
  3. Chaotic information storage.  A 10-inch thick paper file is useless.  Retrieving the information required is troublesome.  Digitize what you can so you can use a search tool, and store the rest based on some informationally derived scheme.  Be sure to purge out-of-date information.  The vacation schedule for 1998 should not be in prime time space
  4. Poor training.  While mistakes are your friend when it comes to learning, they are not your friend when it comes to productivity.  Assign tasks near the edge of the skill inventory but not outside it.  If outside, a mentor is a necessary part of the resource allocation.
  5. Poor prospects.  If the work is too easy people float.  Keep people growing and excited and many productivity problems go away.
  6. Poorly designed incentives.  Be sure the people that design incentives know how to do the work.  I worked in a factory when going to university and there was a job that ran about once a week that could generate 40 hours of production in one shift.  Easy to reach incentive pay thresholds there.
  7. Employee style issues.  Some people value their effort by activity.  Others value results or relationships.  Match the people to the jobs that benefit from their preferences.  Some allowances for style should be part of the system.  You cannot teach a cow to be a racehorse and your system should not require that you do.
  8. Micromanagement reduces productivity even though the manager might know the best way of doing whatever it is that you do.  People are most productive when the have some control over the method.  Delegate the results not the process.

Maybe you have seen something that gets you started.  Productivity includes the ability to avoid doing a statistical analysis.

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Don Shaughnessy is a retired partner in an international public accounting firm and is now with The Protectors Group, a large personal insurance, employee benefits and investment agency in Peterborough Ontario.

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