Doing your bit to solve the productivity puzzle - Next Action Associates


Lack of productivity growth is a very hot topic in the news these days, and the source of much discussion and consternation in board rooms and among government ministers. The Conference Board, a global think-tank, reckons that global productivity fell 0.2 percent last year. Bart van Ark, their chief economist, was quoted in the Financial Times last week saying that “this is a global phenomenon and so we have to take it very seriously.” George Osborne, who is the chancellor here in the UK, recently said that higher productivity is the most important economic priority of the newly-elected UK government.

Now if I’m the chancellor I have influence on economic levers that can affect productivity on a national scale. I can implement corporate tax changes that encourage investment in plant and equipment to increase industrial productivity, say. Or I can influence spending on national infrastructure like roads and rails that might have macro-level impact.

Of course most of us can’t have much influence on national productivity levels, and many of us might not have much influence on our organization’s overall strategy either. But all of us have the opportunity to increase the productivity of our teams. We just need to ask different questions and use different levers.

How would you go about it? Start with a productivity audit of your team. I recommend you come at this from two angles.

First, to what extent are there sources of avoidable friction in the ways your people work day to day? Some questions you might want to consider:

  • Is my team equipped with the skills and best practices to maximize their productivity, while at the same time reducing their stress levels and encouraging better work-life balance?
  • Are we using all of the tools at our disposal, from our email inboxes to our mobile devices to our brains, in ways that optimize productivity?
  • Can we nimbly respond as the priorities of the organization and our clients’ needs change?
  • Do we have a common language of productivity that ensures clarity about accountability as well as tactical and strategic alignment?

Second, how confident are you that the team’s efforts are aligned with its tactical and strategic goals? Being efficient is great, but only if you’re making progress in the right directions. Some helpful questions here:

  • Do we have time, as individuals and as a team, to review, reflect, plan, and strategize?
  • Does the team feel like it spends too much of its time reacting, rather than proactively directing its energies in strategic ways?
  • Are we all clear which outcomes the team is working toward, and how those align with the organization’s strategy?
  • Is each individual aware of how the work they are doing supports the team’s agenda?

If you’ve answered “yes” to these questions, then congratulations are in order, and you might want to consider asking for that overdue promotion. If you’ve answered “no”, then there’s work to be done. Decide which of the areas above you need to tackle, and, as you evaluate potential changes to your tools and ways of working, ask how they would help move the needle in that area. The good news is that Getting Things Done provides tools and techniques that help you to answer “yes” to all of these questions, so expanding and deepening your team’s appreciation and implementation of GTD is a great place to start.

You might not be able to solve the global productivity puzzle yourself. But you can do your bit.

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