Why we're struggling with productivity!

Productivity is one of the most widely used measurements to determine the economic contribution of a country, an industry, a business, or an individual person.

It’s a simple and easily understood barometer for progress – if a baker can bake an extra loaf of bread an hour, they are more productive and can likely command a higher wage for their services. In turn, the bakery can yield higher profits and/or reduce its prices to become more competitive, and at a macro level, this kind of productivity rise across the economy can increase GDP, improve wealth, and create competition.

Technology has always been a major driver of productivity, particularly in recent years as its adoption and advancement have dramatically accelerated.

However, there are signs we’ve hit a bit of a roadblock and that technology might not be making us as productive as it could be. An India Ratings and Research report showed India will have to raise its labour productivity growth to achieve its GDP goals.

Across the Asia-Pacific region we’re seeing productivity growth slow. While there has been some reprieve from the pandemic – which has enabled the workforce to be more flexible and productive – without fundamental changes to how the workforce operates, these benefits will soon peak.

How technology, people and processes (should) connect

We’re creatures of habit, and sometimes that’s to our detriment. Many of us would like to be more adventurous when, for example, shopping for dinner in a market or supermarket, but we tend to lean towards items and meals with which we’re more familiar. Even if a healthier or more diverse dining experience would benefit us, inertia and habit can ground us.

The same is true in how we use technology in the workplace. Even if a new solution promises to make our working lives easier, time and time again ‘the old way’ remains and people are hesitant to try something new.

Staying in the supermarket, with our bread example, we could increase productivity with systems that help maintain consistent supply in the bread aisle, as well as enough staff in the checkouts (or enough working self-service checkouts) to serve shoppers. On the other hand, if those shoppers have a bad experience in terms of selection or service, they might leave, resulting in a reduction in the supermarket’s productivity.

If we look at the bread manufacturer, productivity can be improved by optimising the machinery, the line start-up times, the packing, the data available to operational staff on all of the above, and the communication between the coal face and management to ensure the whole operation runs smoothly.

A dramatic example, but if the bread is eaten by someone who didn’t know they were allergic to gluten, they may need healthcare assistance. Their experience will be far more productive if the hospital systems in place for staff to easily register their availability, for managers to fill a suddenly vacant shift, or – as has very often been the case in the last two years – if workforce management procedures need to be quickly adapted to suit staff isolating or new government restrictions.

Why these industries lag in these kinds of solutions – which are plentiful in the market – is not due to a lack of investment in the right technology, but a lack of a concerted effort to align that technology to the needs of the people using it.

Australian aged care facility Montefiore is a great example of bucking this trend – the organization invested in a new workforce management system to reallocate shifts for staff in isolation, automate rostering, and provide a better staff experience as the aged care industry endures a major talent shortage.

Technology is a tool to enable this kind of transformation, not the transformation itself. This is where the disconnect between technology solutions and the people they’re supposed to help comes in – tech providers sell point solutions. Point solutions solve point-in-time issues. People, and other processes in the company, are not taken into account and staff don’t adopt to the new technology because their needs haven’t been considered.

Montefiore avoided this largely by creating a new Workforce Logistics Leader role and appointing an experienced member of its clinical staff to it. They could champion the solution, ensure it was designed to meet peoples’ needs, and work with those people to help them transition.

Better connection between people, processes, and technology doesn’t just facilitate productivity – it ensures staff are paid accurately and fairly, with regular time and overtime correctly allocated, which avoids issues such as underpayment creeping in. It also ensures the organization is compliant with human resources (HR) law, union guidelines, and the organization’s own policies.

Productivity may be a simple measurement, but changing workforce culture, embedding modern people innovation, and putting their needs at the heart of workforce management initiatives, is difficult and takes time. Tomorrow’s true people leaders will be the ones willing to take that time and put people at the centre of everything they do.

Jarrod McGrath

Author: Jarrod McGrath

Jarrod McGrath is an internationally recognized public speaker, thought leader and author on HCM topics including productivity, efficiency, technology, digital transformation and future trends. Jarrod leads inspiring conversations about the future of work, millennials in the workforce, innovation, and entrepreneurial thinking with audiences across the globe. Jarrod is quoted in key media, including CEO magazine and various HR magazines. Jarrod is author of “The Digital Workforce”, a book that documents his experiences and industry war stories from delivering people related programs of work. Jarrod defines a process to deliver these people initiatives through a customer lens with supporting customer, vendor and AI futurist interviews. Find out more at smartwfm.com/digitalworkforce. Jarrod is also Founder and CEO of Smart WFM, a leading service provider in the provision of HCM people related strategy and implementation consulting. Jarrod can be contacted on +61 2 8379 1292 or speaking@smartwfm.com. View all posts by Jarrod McGrath