Performance is about being on top of one’s work, of being able to achieve things both for oneself and for the organization, and inevitably, as night follows day, if we perform at a high level for any length of time we start becoming extremely productive. So being productive means that we produce ‘stuff’: products, services, ideas, innovations, value and profit. Possibly, then, being productive is the number one thing that employers want from their employees; it’s self-evidently mission critical.
What makes a highly productive employee? Who are the highly productive employees? If we remember the Pareto Principle, or the 80/20 Rule, we will be clear that these highly productive individuals can be up to 16 times more productive than their less successful counterparts. Sixteen times! That is a staggering achievement especially if we are dealing with, as we frequently are, people being paid the same standard salary. Further, and awfully, the Pareto Principle also clearly means that 20% of our employees produce 80% of our profit (or value-add), and sadly, 80% produce only 20%. The challenge, then, is to skew this law so that it works more in our favour: imagine how much more productivity and profit would be possible if instead of 80-20, we had 70-30 or even 60-40. In other words, imagine what would happen for our organization if we doubled the number of employees who are seriously productive?
But how do we find these ‘productive’ individuals? Productivity is a people issue. People make things happen – or not. This seems to be a revelation to some managers, as if merely pushing people around and simply paying them a wage leads to high productivity. The reality is that this approach leads to subtle sabotage and non-vocal resistance: lip-service to the organizations and its goals, but at root a deep dislike and resentment. Eventually, of course, it leads to outright hostility and then we go down the line of cost: somebody quits and we have to start all over again. Alternatively, bad managers take the view that they can discount their people because technology will do it all – how misguided can one be?
People are in one sense like bees: they like being productive, they like being in a well-tuned hive where everyone and everything has its place and all is purposeful. It produces honey and sweetness, and the sense of a life well spent. But what is productivity and where is it in the scheme of things? Now that’s the interesting thing; that’s the thing which if all managers understood they might get real about leading their employees instead of just paying them.
Productivity is what it says it is: it is the ability of the individual (and teams) to produce something – to create: be that a product (a thing), a service, or value. In short, productivity is about adding to the sum of existence: something that wasn’t there before is now there, and as a direct result of the individual’s efforts. You’d think everybody would want to be productive, not least because it boosts one’s own self-esteem; but if you think so, you’d be wrong. That said, however, the important thing to grasp is the position of productivity in the scheme of organizational activities.
For productivity sits midway between the two other vital ‘P’s: performance and profit! Productivity is the bridge to profits! As Dr. Alex Krauer said, “When people grow, profits grow”. We need high performing people to start with. We need therefore to focus on recruitment in the first instance and how we go about that. But clearly, productivity must involve employee performance too; there is no way round it. We have to go back to first principles. Yes, we want the profits and we can anticipate and plan for them, but we can’t just kick people into being productive; they need to be high performing individuals and teams. So if we are not happy with our current levels of productivity, then how are we going to change the situation? By doing some serious thinking about the performance of our individuals!
This can be done on an individual level, team level, and on the organizational level. But here is a quick, personal aide-memoir to ask yourself, and then to ask yourself about your employees: what one skill, if you had it now, would make the greatest impact on your own productivity? This could be anything – a technical, or interpersonal, or strategic skill. Whatever it is, now you’ve identified it, how are you going to bridge the gap?
Similarly, what one skill if your employees had it now would make the biggest difference to the productivity of the whole? Remember that the whole point about the ‘one skill’ that would have the greatest impact is that we are invoking the Pareto Principle – a small number of things, one even, can have a disproportionate influence on everything else.