The statistical equivalent of an Oscar was handed to Britain’s historically low levels of productivity by the Royal Statistical Society recently. Despite an exceedingly flat performance, this number – an average annual 0.3% growth – was judged as defining the issues of a decade, the 2010s.
What can we learn from this? When you drill down into the detail, the businesses which buck this trend and show greater than average productivity gains share some characteristics. They invest more in employees, they innovate, they embrace the possibilities of new technology, and they use what are judged to be better management practices.
These positive traits seem to enable these organisations to unleash the benefits of workplace technology. It was anticipated that new technology would make it possible to automate some aspects of work, increasing what human potential could achieve, doing more with less effort and raising productivity. But it is the people using the technology, rather than the technology alone, which make this possible.
Better Management Practice is the Key
This fact that higher productivity companies have adopted better management practices seems to me to be the most important factor. The key to increasing the productivity of the workforce, generally lies with the business leaders. They have to be able to share the vision of where the business is headed, to motivate and inspire the team, and then to let them get on with delivering the work.
A survey we did at Kimble showed the vast majority of workers in the UK – 73% – want to work in a collaborative culture where they have more control over what they do. They want a say in decision-making, they want more responsibility and they want to work for managers who coach rather than micromanage.
The key to building a great business, is to build a great team. And micromanaging people makes that much harder – our survey showed that for 60%, the relationship with the boss is a factor in whether they stay in their jobs.
Unwinding the SCARF
It might be helpful to loot at the ‘SCARF” model, created by David Rock to illustrate what neuroscience reveals about the workings of the human brain. People’s perceptions of Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness and Fairness at work are important in enabling them to do their best work.
When people feel they do not have the autonomy, this is likely to be perceived as a threat and will hamper their ability to do a good job. So in this example, a manager tries to help a staff member learn how to use new technology properly by sitting over them – but instead she makes the person defensive, resistant and less productive.
Getting the best out of people requires creating a team culture, where people feel they are working together to achieve certain goals.
Micromanagement Makes it Harder to Achieve the Benefits of New Technology
Micromanagement belongs in the last century. Then, people had to clock in and out and work certain hours, under the eye of a supervisor. Communication was harder – there was no easy way to keep tabs on what had or hadn’t been done. Middle managers would amass and keep track of information which they tended not to share with workers. Information would be passed up the hierarchy to the bosses, who would make decisions and pass them down the chain of command.
I have seen too many businesses where the benefit of introducing new technology has been hampered by a workplace culture reluctant to stomach any change from this model. In these places, the first question asked is, how can we use this new technology to do exactly what the old technology did? In these sorts of workplaces, information is hoarded and not shared, and decision-making is habitually postponed until the big boss has time. Not surprisingly, productivity remains flat.
Using Workplace Technology to Drive Productivity
But getting the benefit of technology in terms of increased productivity generally requires a willingness to look at the way the business currently works and to rethink it, streamlining processes in order to deliver a more joined-up experience for the customer.
Business which are able to innovate successfully, keeping ahead of the competition and delivering value for customers have to have engaged employees. The people on the ground are in the best position to innovate. They are closest to the customers, they can see where there is scope for doing things better.
These businesses tend to have a flatter, less hierarchical structure. People on the ground can innovate and experiment safely. They are given responsibility to deliver whole projects or work streams, rather than being given a series of supervised tasks. They have autonomy and they are able to make better-informed decisions sooner.
Having an engaged workforce in a leadership role is what makes an organisation more responsive and effective, and raises productivity. As Steve Jobs once said, “It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.”