A 10-point guide to improving workplace productivity
Career & Education
BY NATALIE KINCAID Jamaica Productivity Centre
THE Jamaica Productivity Centre (JPC) hosted the inaugural National Productivity Awareness Week (NPAW) in September 2006. The event signalled the beginning of a process to foster a culture of productivity among Jamaicans, as well as focus attention on the multiplicity of benefits that can accrue from sustained productivity growth.
Since the activities of NPAW, several private and public sector companies have called the JPC, asking for advice or assistance in launching productivity improvement programmes. This 10-point guide for improving workplace productivity is a partial response to these enquiries.
1. Give productivity a face and a place in the organisation
Productivity is the single most important attribute, which determines the effectiveness and sustainability of any organisation. As such, productivity should be given a prominent place and face in both public and private organisations.
Top management must commit itself to a clear productivity improvement strategy and communicate this strategy to all segments of the organisation. Everyone in the organisation must understand that it is only through increased productivity that competitiveness, job security and job quality can be assured.
2. Emphasise punctuality
Lateness is too widely accepted as part of Jamaica’s culture. We are late for meetings and special functions; and we jeopardise our jobs by being consistently late. Douglas Orane, chairman and CEO of GraceKennedy Ltd, in his address during NPAW, quoted Michael Fairbanks (a celebrated competitiveness strategist) as saying that ‘People who show up late live in poor countries’.
According to Fairbanks, ‘being unpunctual does not necessarily make you poor, but being punctual is a precondition for creating wealth’. When people are late for work or take extended breaks, this does not add value to the organisation. Every business must establish a time management system to encourage punctuality. Consistent lateness should never be accepted as the norm at any workplace.
3. Reduce waste
In simple terms, productivity is units of output divided by units of inputs. Accordingly, productivity improvement can be realised by reducing wastes of inputs (labour, capital, materials, electricity, etc) as well as outputs (inferior goods). Poor quality outputs (goods or services) are unmarketable and must be deemed waste.
Reducing waste of inputs is equivalent to cutting costs. Examples include reducing the amount of paper wasted in a printery, fabric wasted by a tailor/dressmaker, man-hours wasted in processing clients in a service industry, and waste when unused equipment is kept running.
4. Manage Change
Industry best practices are constantly changing as competition intensifies, new technologies emerge and improved processes are commercialised. Every organisation must respond to changing opportunities and threats in order to gain or maintain competitive advantage. Companies that do not manage change will be managed by change.
Productivity improvement is about working smarter. Small adjustments in mind-set and techniques might just be what separates winners from losers. For instance, a construction worker could lose an hour each day searching for his tools (hammer, measuring tape, pencil, square, etc). Working smarter suggests that this worker should be equipped with a tool belt, which could significantly increase his/her daily output.
6. Reallocate resources
Simple audit of systems, processes, and methods can identify resources that are not optimally allocated. For example, the CEO of a production plant could ask his/her managers, supervisors and foreman for a list of activities for which they are directly accountable. This audit might reveal significant overlap in the responsibilities of say, managers and supervisors.
More detailed examination might uncover that a segment of the supervisory staff is making no distinct contribution to the process and could indeed be frustrating the efforts of the foreman. The key message is that concerted efforts should be made to eliminate duplications, redundancies by reallocating resources, thereby trimming overheads and improve morale.
7. Measure Productivity
“What gets measured gets done”. This adage suggests the need for a productivity measurement system in every organisation. Measurement is a means to an end, and serves at least four purposes
. strategic-benchmarking with competitors or related firms;
. tactical-controlling future performance of the firm by managers;
. planning the relative benefits from the use of different inputs; and
. internal management, including negotiating with input suppliers and trade unions.
Productivity indicators must capture both efficiency and effectiveness. Organisations without a performance measurement system have no way of consistently separating workers who are efficient and affective from those who are not. Such organisations will not be able to reward employees who contribute to increased productivity.
8. Making noticeable changes.
To significantly improve productivity, everyone must recognise that it will not be business-as-usual, but that changes must take place in order to maintain a competitive edge. Even small but important physical changes can send a powerful message. For instance, cleaning up untidy work areas or painting an area of the factory floor where daily output will be temporarily stored. This will send strong signals that important changes are underway.
9. Change techniques through training
Training in methods, process improvement and job simplification are sure strategies for maintaining long-term productivity in organisations. For instance, the productivity of secretaries, receptionists, and administrators can be improved through continuous training in the use of computer programmes, Internet, fax machines, photocopy machines and overhead projectors, etc.
To be more productive demands a certain mindset and positive work attitude that translates into always wanting to improve, learning how to improve, and knowing how to improve. Enterprises that succeed in combining changes in technique and mindset through training are more likely to significantly improve workplace productivity.
10. Motivate the workforce
“What gets rewarded gets repeated”. Employees are motivated by several factors, including money, recognition, and promotion. Motivation is important for improving productivity as workers will have to make changes to their daily routine, and must buy into the process for it to be successful. Therefore, the employer must identify the factors that will motivate workers, and implement a system that will keep motivation levels high.
Productivity improvement efforts may be disappointing if employees are not motivated to contribute their best or if they are troubled with job security issues.
One measure that could be more widely adopted by Jamaican companies to garner support for productivity improvement programmes is “productivity-linked wage system”, which guarantees the workers a share of the productivity gains. Employees also benefit from added job security that is usually provided by a more competitive organisation.
In your quest for productivity improvement, avoid settling for bronze when gold is attainable. In other words, benchmark your organisation with winners not losers.