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3 Keys to increasing your organization’s productivity

May 2, 2012

Recently I attended the BC HRMA conference and during a plenary session (Linda Nazerath), she identified productivity as a key economic driver, and suggesting focusing on that would help organizations navigate the still choppy waters of recovery (also known as the new norm, it would seem).

Productivity drivers she identified are: training, technology and innovation. Lucky for me that’s right up my alley.

It was also noted by an audience member that BC ranks low in terms of productivity in Canada (in our defense, it’s because we have so much natural beauty we are frequently distracted, like some kind of “outdoor distraction disorder”, but that’s another post, isn’t it?).

These are my editorial comments on those three things (not a summary of Linda Nazareth’s book/talk).

1. Training – this is not just organizational, and it is not a silver bullet, either.

I see training/education/development as having potential to really increase individual skills and help people do their jobs better. But, I think there is also a lot of bad training out there. Too many organizations over-train and under-support their employees, both in terms of job training and in developmental areas. I want more organizations to embrace performance support. I want more organizations to explore user-generated content. I want more organizations to think outside of the box when it comes to “training”.  If not, then it has the opposite effect. People aren’t working, but they ain’t getting better either, so you’ve wasted time AND money. Don’t do that.

Development outside of the workplace could potentially improve collective skills: as a region, province or country what are we learning to shape our future. I am not particularly expert at this, but do think that Dan Pink’s Whole New Mind has some sage advice, and wonder if Jeff Rubin’s insights are helpful as well?

2. Technology – at a macro level, tech can streamline and automate processes, but can also be an expensive bunch of bits without proper training.

First of all, my wish is that organizations would buy better technology and that vendors would make better technology (and focus on who’s going to use it). For example, HRIS and ERP software can be just awful, but we all get “sold” on how powerful the tool is, or what the business case is. However, if it is hard to use, then no amount of training will make it user-friendly. Remember that silk-purse/sow’s ear saying? Once you’ve purchased (the better) software, invest in “user adoption”, help staff know about it and how to use it. Too many organizations skimp on this, and it is short term-ism that will eat away at your technology investment. Also, I love technology, but make sure you do a good job defining your requirements. Bad requirements = mediocre returns.

3. Innovation – dangerously close to faddish, be careful

I hear my clients talk about innovation, some of them have programs or task forces to increase innovation. Sometimes I’m asked about innovation training. I don’t know the whole answer to this, but I would caution people to not chase the notion without taking a hard look at their own organizations first. Too many times I hear about “programs” and “initiatives”, which frankly fail more than they succeed. So, if you are serious about innovation, don’t just buy a book/program/approach, do some soul searching to make sure that you are willing to change, not just pay lip service to it, it means cultural change not programs. Which is a long term evolutionary process. I quite like the Heath brothers’ Switch, which is practical and attainable for most people.

You may find it odd to have a training advocate suggest to not train, but it’s more of a do it right message. Training is often seen as a panacea, when the actual problem is poor feedback, bad job design, crazy processes, lack of tools, or even boredom. Development is a slightly different ballgame, and I think there are a lot of “programs” out there that are touted to be the next greatest thing. Sadly, they are sometimes solutions in search of problems, and organizations love the sales pitch, so they buy it in the hopes that it will have some kind of magical effect.

By all means, focus on productivity gains. Implement training, buy software, seek innovation. Just be smart about it.

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