productivityI just read an article in Time Magazine titled We’re Working Harder Than Ever, So Why Is Productivity Plummeting? The article explores data which shows that, while workers are working more than ever before and technology that was expected to increase productivity has been widely adopted, measures of productivity show little or no gain. After reviewing and rejecting several explanations for the odd data—such as people aren’t really working harder or productivity is being measured incorrectly—the author concludes that, “What we need are new tools and training to make work that we do count more.” I would have said it a little differently—we need to work smarter, not just harder. To me working smarter means thinking and acting in a longer-term, more transformational way rather than being consumed by short-term transactional survival. Even though virtually every organization would say they are trying to work smarter, the harsh reality is that most organizations resist allocating the time or doing the work required to work smarter. From my perspective there are several underlying causes as to why organizations are not working smarter, and therefore not increasing productivity, including: • Businesses seem to believe that technology and reorganizations alone will improve productivity, instead of actually thinking about substantive, impactful change. Neither technology nor shuffling the same people around an organization chart has made much difference to productivity. • In order to work smarter, people have to take time from working harder to actually think about their work. This is the paradox of working smarter not just harder — an organization needs to allocate time and resources to thinking and most organizations are unwilling to set aside this time. • Closely related to not giving time to think is what I refer to as the twitterization of work. Everything has to be done in 140 characters or less and at hyper-speed. Micro-fragmenting work reduces focus and synergies and actually reduces productivity. • Organizations don’t actually care about working smarter. Part of not caring about working smarter is not caring about developing people. Most executives are making a lot of money and are not held accountable for long-term performance. Given the trade-off of investing in people to work smarter or just doing business as usual, business as usual is a lot easier and less expensive. There is little or no incentive to work smarter when leadership is doing just fine driving their people to work harder. This raises a larger question about the state of American corporate leadership – does productivity improvement matter to most organizations? We had an interesting experience with a client recently. The client loved the transformational leadership program we did with them and cited numerous substantive productivity improvements generated as part of the program. Yet they cancelled the program because, as they said, “these improvements, while everyone loved the program, didn’t actually matter to the leadership team.” The bottom line is that improving productivity wasn’t important to the leadership team. You might already have figured out that I believe that the real reason that productivity hasn’t improved is that leadership doesn’t see a need to improve it. It is certainly hard to increase productivity if such an increase isn’t valued – no wonder productivity hasn’t increased. Does your organization genuinely care about increasing productivity or is it only interested in working harder?]]>

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