In any process, productivity is a measure of output against the effort required to generate it. For a company, this usually means either the amount of work produced for the amount of time and effort put in or the profit generated by a certain amount of expenditure.
Any manager who has tried to improve productivity by asking employees to 'work smarter, not harder' is really just asking them to work harder and put in longer hours, usually without reward.
Productivity is a significant factor in whether a company will survive or fail, as well as a key indicator of the health of a nation’s economy. Low productivity inevitably results in falling profits, unnecessary expenses and can lead to apathy and a lack of engagement amongst employees.
Improving productivity means increasing what comes out, without increasing what goes in.
Clearly, there is only so much that can be done to improve performance without some kind of change. Working harder at the same thing, in the same way, may improve productivity but only up to a point. To some, improving productivity means making everyone work harder, but at a time when it feels that everyone is working all hours, this approach can have quite the opposite effect.
Any manager who has tried to improve productivity by asking employees to “work smarter, not harder” is really just asking them to work harder and put in longer hours, usually without reward.
Business owners and managers who look to improve performance by pushing employees to do more can create problems instead. Greater levels of stress and fatigue, increased absenteeism and a lack of motivation can all result from pushing people too hard. Rather than improving, this will have the opposite effect and make productivity even worse.
To ensure success, management must ensure the company is as productive as possible. Instead of driving everyone ever-harder, ways have to be found to be more innovative and innovation has to be at the very centre of everything the company does. The most effective way to increase productivity is to find more innovative ways of increasing output, rather than just putting more stress on existing systems and people.
At the heart of innovation is the continual search for more intelligent and creative ways to improve the way a business works, as well as improving what it offers to its customers. Company owners who have made innovation a priority are constantly improving the output of their employees and therefore their business while reducing effort and costs. They have discovered that innovation is the best way to truly increase productivity on an ongoing basis.
Innovation is not difficult. It is certainly not the sole preserve of experts or consultants. Innovation is about adopting a mindset and always looking at ways to do things better. It needs to be the responsibility of everyone in the business and can start with just a few small changes to help increase performance and therefore productivity and build from there.
If there is no clear place to start, specific areas or processes can be examined where it is clear things are not working as effectively as they might. There may be areas where the same or better results can be achieved by spending less; there may be systems or procedures in place that are unnecessarily complicated or time-consuming. Innovative businesses question absolutely everything and certainly never accept that things have to be done in a certain way or are simply done “…because we’ve always done it that way.”
For anyone running a business and focused full-time on maintaining its performance, an outside view may be of value. Locate East Sussex can, at no charge, support companies that are looking to use innovation to improve productivity at no charge.
Experienced business advisors can assess opportunities and help to develop alternative approaches by seeing things in a different light. By providing a combination of board-level commercial experience and practical understanding of what it takes to drive a business forward, they will find it easier to ask company owners, directors, managers and employees the challenging questions. Questions starting with “What is it you are trying to achieve here?” and “Is there a different, better and more effective way of going about it?”
Philip Johnson is Programme Director for Locate East Sussex. With a background in project management, design and marketing, Philip has worked together with major business, cultural and government leaders in championing growing enterprises. Philip’s ethos is to simplify the complex, create solutions and lay the groundwork for fresh ideas and new possibilities.
Need some advice about productivity in your business? Contact us