Productivity: People are the last link in the chain

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LONDON — Productivity seems to be the word of the moment. It’s in newspapers, annual meetings and reports, worthy business studies, even politicians seem to be talking about it with great sincerity.

It’s worth noting that it is being used to mean different things to different people. For some it can be about working longer hours, for others it’s about working harder, and for others it’s working smarter. So, there are agendas that can hide in there comfortably: the need to eliminate working hours legislation, or the desire to create Jobs for Life, for example.

But neither of those are what we’re talking about here.

Working smarter is the option most businesses and the public discourse from interlocutors like the MCA (Management Consultancies Association) is focused on.

We’re interested and taken with this idea too. Whether it’s about making individual roles and tasks clearer and better aligned, or on the other end of the spectrum, getting businesses to interact and cooperate in a more coherent and coordinated way — that’s where we think the time should be spent.

In the world of work, thanks to Lean manufacturing and Kaizen and other innumerable productivity initiatives, industry has taken all the fat out of the production lines. We are “just in time.”  We have taken the kinks out of the customer journey.

What we haven’t done yet is addressed people and what they can do. We call this the people side of change or Organisational Change Management.

Businesses and organisations around the world have locked down the people side of work: “This is your job. Do this over and over. You start on Monday at 9 am.” While for most people this is a comforting way to make a living. It’s not necessarily maximising human potential. “Pull the lever, get the pellet”, is the most basic of tasks that we can get mice or lab rats to do. Surely with our opposable thumbs and giant prefrontal cortex we can set the bar higher for people?

There are many definitions for productivity, but let’s go with this one:

“The rate at which goods and services having exchange value are brought forth or produced

So, the question we have is “how can people be made more productive?” And while there can be many answers, the Able and How view is that people can get a lot better at managing change.

Most people face a lot of change in work, from new products to build or deliver, to new strategies to pursue and achieve. How we adapt to these kinds of changes is a key feature of productivity in large, complex businesses. Therefore, the ability to adopt change quickly and efficiently can be a source of real, tangible competitive advantage and having an embedded, almost innate organisational change capability is the ultimate aim.

That’s what will drive productivity in the future.

That’s also what Able and How help businesses like yours to do.


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