By Dennis Jones
Last week, we tackled the crisis in productivity that’s affecting the U.S. economy, which worryingly hasn’t seen significant growth in top line productivity numbers in decades. Specifically, we learned that the wider economy wasn’t productive, in large part because companies weren’t spending money on the innovative technologies their people could use to get more done. That’s not the whole story though. Companies haven’t developed a productivity culture either.
It turns out that although companies have been serious about moving the productivity needle, they’ve been going about it the wrong way. Instead of developing the productivity culture necessary to boost productivity, they’ve been prioritizing operational efficiency above all else.
So what does that mean? Improving productivity and increasing efficiency are usually part of the same upper management conversation. But the two organizational objectives aren’t the same, at least according to Bain partner, Michael Mankins, writing in the Harvard Business Review. And more to the point, preference for operational efficiency, which generally the C-suite in the U.S. has shown, too often comes at the detriment of improving productivity. The distinction between efficiency and productivity might be fine, but it’s important nonetheless. Here’s why, according to Mankins:
- Efficiency is about doing the same with less.
- Productivity is about doing more with the same.
In that light, what company looking for growth wouldn’t opt for improving productivity? But it takes work, obsessive work. Mankins gives a scope of the task ahead:
“Executives with a productivity mindset do everything they can to tap into every employee’s reservoir of discretionary energy. They strive to align the firm’s purpose with each individual’s purpose. They invest in improving the inspirational leadership capabilities of their managers at every level. And they build a culture of autonomy and accountability that provides every employee with the opportunity to do their very best work. While these steps may not inspire every employee, they can increase the level of inspiration across the organization and, with it, workforce productivity.”
Sound daunting? It is. But Mankin sketches out the three tenets that go into developing a productivity mindset; I’ve recast them as a three-point mantra every company should adopt to develop a productivity culture.
- Don’t get in the way of your people’s innate desire to be more productive.
- Put your most talented folks in the roles in which they can make the most difference.
- Inspire your people, so they’ll put their (otherwise) untapped reserves of creativity into their work.