Advancing to get more done with less might seem like an American pursuit championed by local productivity consultants. But some articles in the Australian press show that increasing productivity is an issue everywhere.
An op-ed by Peter Martin notes that productivity is not what’s put in, it’s what’s left out:
Productivity ought to be easy to calculate. It is a measure of how many units a nation or a firm gets out for each unit it puts in. Assessing the productivity of something such as car assembly is straightforward. If Holden or Toyota were to produce twice as many cars using no more labour and other inputs, they would have doubled their productivity.
But what about hairdressing? If the workers in a salon cut twice as many heads of hair per day would they really have lifted their productivity? That would depend in part on the quality of the haircuts. But it would also depend on something else. Some of what they produce is the attention they give to each customer. It is an output as well as an input.
Martin’s point is well taken. As any productivity consultant knows, efficiency is fundamentally about inputs and outputs. The hard part is identifying all of the inputs and outputs and then determining which ones are significant.
Customer satisfaction is an output of any business. But then again, so is employee satisfaction. Likewise, customer input is, naturally, an input. And so is employee engagement. All of these factors are part of the equation when determining overall productivity. Consultants who don’t talk about stakeholders as well as systems are missing the boat.
Furthermore, technology is an enormous part of making organizations more productive. An editorial from Manufacture Link urges businesses to put productivity first:
It is particularly concerning that overall business investment in new technologies is expected to decrease due to an uncertain economic outlook and rising cost pressures. Only 22% of all companies surveyed are looking to invest in new technologies this year. This is a drop of 10 percentage points compared with last year. Around a quarter of businesses (26%) expect to reduce expenditure on new technologies [which is] a 15 percentage point rise from a year ago.
Although technology is not a panacea for increasing productivity, the numbers quoted are an area for concern. Companies should be investing in the future. They should be working to figure out how to be more effective and efficient. They should reach out to productivity consultants who can help them identify the best ways to improve everything from machine operations to employee engagement.
The best ideas may come from the inside or from the inside, but the most important idea of all is to be open-minded.