Everyone knows what productivity is, right?  After all, it is a term used in boardrooms all around the world, every single day.  So why am I asking about such an obvious question that everyone already knows the answer to?

I was recently drawn to an article by U.S. Leadership Expert Kevin Kruse, pondering Jack Dorsey’s productivity secret (he now runs two companies including Twitter once again).  Here is the article.

Kevin’s question is a fair one – ’how can Dorsey run two companies when most of us struggle to keep up with one job?’

I found myself asking two things in my mind…

  1. What makes Jack Dorsey so much more productive than other people?  Was he born with a productivity gene?
  2. What can others learn from his example?

Before I go answering these questions, let’s re-visit the original question about what productivity is.

According to businessdictionary.com, productivity is a measure of the efficiency of a person, machine, factory, system, etc., in converting inputs into useful outputs.Highly_Productive_Entrepreneurs_Shopify_Online_Shopping_Cart_Software_Blog

It is a measure – the simple productivity equation is outputs divided by inputs (so for example, profit per employee, or sales units per day).  Whilst these measures are certainly useful, they tend to be quite broad in nature.  The productive organisation is likely to have measures in place that are relevant to what is ultimately being produced.  In other words, they measure the right things at the appropriate level of detail

Is it about efficiency – understanding the efficiency of a machine is relatively straight forward.  Machines are often built to produce something to a standard, and so efficiency is about comparing to this standard.  However, when it comes to understanding the efficiency of a person, it gets a little more complicated.  People are complex adaptive systems, and are very different to machines (despite the fact we often treat humans as ‘resources’).  They think, they feel, they have fears and goals, and they weren’t built to serve the purpose of the organisation (despite the fact that we often believe they were).  Therefore, the productive organisation understands that they must interact with people differently to the way they manage other assets.

It is about useful outputs – This is probably the point I would like to focus on most.  Ask yourself this question:  Out of an average day, what percentage of time does the average employee spend producing outputs that are useful to the organisation?  I ask this question a lot, and the answers range from 30-80%, and average around 50%!    I appreciate that it is far from a random sample, but why is the answer never much higher than 50%?  There are two parts to this problem – the effort and focus that an employee directs to what is important, and the ability of an organisation to create the clarity and environment which is most conducive to producing the outputs.

Most organisations speak about Culture and environment a lot.  And it is certainly important.  My hypothesis is that many organisations are not helping their employees with where to direct effort and attention (both of which are inputs) on a day to day, moment by moment basis.

The Power of Focus and Attention

This is where I would like to get back to the article.  Kruse interviewed a decent number of people in his latest research, and found that a growing number of Leaders were establishing a clear weekly rhythm to focus on certain things, to ensure these things got the attention they needed.  If it isn’t important, it doesn’t get attention.  If it is important, it gets the focus and attention it deserves.  Some companies are doing away with meetings on certain days, in order to clear the path towards actually getting things done.  In today’s hyper-connected world full of distractions, it may be that the biggest productivity opportunity that exists for Leaders is to simplify messages, remove un-necessary distractions, and simply focus everyone on what is important and what needs doing.

Ironically, many of the processes and tools that organisations use to improve productivity often get in the way.  For example, how does a once per year performance appraisal help an individual to focus on what is important now?  And how do the results of an annual survey help the organisation to focus on what is important now?

The organisation which can foster the most number of productive moments, moment by moment, will be in a very strong competitive position.  Reducing the opportunities for wasted effort is a smart business move.

I can’t speak for Jack Dorsey, but I am sure he was fully aware of the power of attention and focus when he set his ‘drumbeat’ style of weekly activity.  By providing the clarity for himself and for those around him, he has removed distractions that might otherwise occupy an employee’s effort and attention.  This is productivity!

How much more productive can your organisation be?  We created a simple test which you can access here.

Jason Buchanan – General Manager; Insights & Innovation

2 Replies to “What Is Productivity Anyway?”

Mick Nash
November 4, 2015

The statement I agree with most readily, is this. Many organisations are not helping their employees with where to direct effort and attention (both of which are inputs) on a day to day, moment by moment basis.

Furthermore, most organisations do not educate people in a way that connects people to product and sales. So simply stated, inputs, outputs and process are the connectors to that link education, people, product and clients. Does your organisation do this.

To confound the situation, organisations in many cases do not educate those who lead (supervisors) to connect inputs, outputs and process to people, product/s and clients.

In many cases people promoted to supervisor roles are left to fend for themselves. The assumption being they are a good worker. good person, been here for years or worse its there turn, is the pre – requisite for being an effective supervisor.

Unfortunately, many front line supervisors are not embraced as part of the management team. In industrialised environments this is a critical failure. Humans are herd beasties. We need to connect, be part of something, we need to belong. The supervisor who is not part of the management team will in most cases connect to those they work with each day, the workface team. Nothing wrong with this, if its effective. In some cases it is not. The cost of belonging can be a blind eye to poor punctuality, poor performance, poor attendance.

In industrialised environments as many as 50% of supervisors are not effective in their role for most of the reasons outlined here. Many will make it, just by shear determination and effort. Some are fortunate enough to have a mentor.

It is not the supervisor who fails. Its the organisation.

Now combine the disconnect between our people to product and sales and our supervisors who are genuinely trying to succeed. Wonder why productivity is an issue?

The solution is not that difficult. It is definitely not an off the shelf frontline management course for your supervisors.

Its about education and people, connecting product and customer. A customer who wants your product because it the best quality and price, always.

November 4, 2015

That’s a skillful answer to a dicffiult question

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