Articles

The workers – bees or brains?

In Uncategorized on May 27, 2010 by Tim Aikens

At the end of the day it is the folk on the shop floor, in the call centre, and behind the counter that deliver on strategies and plans and products and services.  Without them businesses would not function.  Yet how much do we invest in understanding their viewpoint and  getting them to be a core part of improving productivity?  Many quality and performance programmes in the past like TQM and continuous improvement place emphasis (quite rightly) on harnessing the strengths and skills of the workforce. But I wonder how long this all lasts.  Given the rise and fall of so many of this type of programme you begin to wonder if there are enough ‘flavours’ in the jar to keep everyone motivated for more than a few months at a time!

There is no doubt in my mind that managers generally underestimate what the workforce have to offer.  Equally they underestimate what it takes to instill a productivity culture that sits at the heart of the organisation where everyone eats sleeps and breathes productivity.  In fact this may be almost impossible to achieve.  I think there are two steps.  The first is to get everyone to realise that productivity gains are a major source of increasing wealth (for everyone if they are fair).  The second is then to instill the desire to improve productivity on a continuing basis.  For many organisations the major productivity gains come with a lurch, either when there is major investment in technology, but more often when productivity improvement is a survival issue.

As I mentioned in an earlier blog, UK manufacturing seems to be doing quite well at improving productivity.  Perhaps the service industries could learn and adapt a few things from them.  For example the way many manufacturers publicise metrics.  The workforce understand them, know that bonus is dependent on good performance and adapt their behaviours to suit. In the service sector creating and managing metrics is much harder.  It is less easy to ‘micro manage’ individuals or groups against specific metrics.  One alternative is to increase the size of groups being monitored (and they will have little tolerance for poor performers) or to increase the length of time a metric is measured over.  This balances out peaks and troughs that can occur in services).

One thing is for sure. If you do not engage the workforce in your deliberations you are setting yourself up to fail or at best have limited success. Here’s an example.  An employee in a service organisation is told that their job ‘no longer exists’.  They will be asked in the next few days to sit down and explain what they do. The expectation then is that the individual will be redeployed to a different job in the next couple of months. Meantime the individual is carrying on doing the job that ‘is no longer needed’!  This is a real example. It looks like no one engaged the workforce before starting to make arbitrary decisions.  Not really a way to engender the idea that productivity is king or that employees have something to say about productivity.

Next time I’ll look at persuading folk about the importance of productivity!

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