How to Improve Productivity Quickly

Raise Productivity – Build on Your Strengths, Not Your Weaknesses

by  Andrew Cooke, Growth & Profit Solutions

Raising ProductivityToo often in business we focus on our business’ and staff’s weaknesses.  The reasoning is that by addressing our weaknesses we can improve.  This is a fallacy.  The only way that you can improve and raise performance on a sustainable basis is by building on your strengths.

Let’s look at it diagrammatically.

 

Building on Weaknesses

In this first chart we are looking to address a weakness.  This weakness means that we are currently performing below the level of performance that is expected.  We spend time, effort, resources and money on this and we raise the level of performance – but only to the expected level of performance.  The risk here is that, despite your best efforts, this may not be sustainable as once the pressure is off the individuals they may revert to their old habits

Building on Strengths

In this second chart we are looking to build on and leverage a strength.  Currently we are operating the level of performance that is expected.  We spend time, effort, resources and money on building  this and we raise the level of performance – to a level of performance significantly above that which is expected.  As this is a strength, and a good habit that is in place, it is likely that this improvement will be sustainable – even when the pressure is off the individuals.  Here people are working smarter, not harder, in a way that is aligned with what they do well making it on-going.

The Implications

So what does this mean for us as leaders and managers?

Firstly, invest more effort, time and resources in developing your best people – not your mediocre people.

Secondly, and this many seems counter-intuitive,  but it pays to assign the best workers to the best bosses because that strategy results in the largest productivity gains.

For example, if 75% of your business’ value/productivity comes from 25% of the workforce then getting a 10% improvement from your top 25% means you’ve increased organizational value creation by 7.5%. Not bad. Your remaining 75% would have to boost their collective productivity by 30% — triple the top performer’s rate — to match that 7.5% net increase.

What’s the better and more rational bet? That top management can get a 10% spike from their top people? Or that they can get the demonstrably less talented, less capable, less productive three-quarters of their enterprise to dramatically increase their value outputs by almost a third? Which group would you invest in? I know where I’d put my money.

So What Do You Do?

Firstly, leverage your business and key performers’ strengths and make it into a virtuous cycle.  Secondly, don’t ignore the weaknesses – but remember it shouldn’t be the squeaky wheel that gets the oil and the attention.  You have limited resources; use them to the best effect.  Thirdly, look at how you can remove the weaknesses – either by changing people to roles where they are better suited, training (if it can produce sustainable improvement and after investments in your areas of strength), or removing them (take out the dead wood and non-performers).

A recent piece of research entitled The Value of Bosses from the National Bureau of Economic Research empirically argued (unsurprisingly) that bosses matter. Better bosses generate better results. Underlying this were two findings:

  1. That the most significant impact bosses had didn’t come from their motivational skills, but from teaching workers how to be more productive, i.e. capability building. That’s important.  Research showed that replacing a supervisor from the bottom 10% of the pool with one from the top 10%  increases output about as much as adding a 10th worker to a nine-worker team. Not only that, but about two-thirds of the productivity boost from working under a good supervisor persists even after the worker switches bosses.
  2. The second finding is that the most efficient structure is to assign the best workers to the best bosses rather than have the best bosses bring the weakest workers up to speed.

So to raise productivity on a sustainable basis build on your staff’s strengths, in doing this the business’ leaders and managers need to be able to teach their teams how to become more productive, and to cascade this skill and associated capabilities throughout the business.

What are you doing to enable your leaders and managers to practically develop these skills, so that they can develop them in others?  For ideas, insights and any questions please email me or comment here.

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Click here to find out more about Andrew Cooke and Growth & Profit Solutions.