Driving Productivity Without Revolution (Hint: trust and openness are critical)
I’ve just read another article bemoaning the lack of productivity of the contemporary workforce, with doom forecasts of stagnant real incomes for workers for most of my remaining lifetime.
While that article questions the ability of capitalism to solve the problem, pointing the way to more radical (and, by definition, scarier) solutions, I want to look beyond politics to the human beings that are the fount of all productivity in the workplace.
Since the dawn of the industrial revolution, and maybe since mankind’s turn to agriculture, we’ve been looking for ways to do more with less; to make better use of the resources that we have, not least of all the working hour.
Technology is going to alter our workplaces and working habits beyond recognition, at a pace that even now few can imagine – I still do a double take when reminded that the smartphone has only been around for 10 years.
To perform in this rapidly changing world, all companies will have to evolve or die.
Of course, many recent start-ups will most have foreseen the future and created a culture where this rapid change can be accommodated.
However, in my experience of the world of work, many will need help to prepare for the oncoming storm, to create a culture robust enough to handle such fundamental change.
Company structures have evolved little since the industrial revolution.
Military-inspired command and control structures dictated a hierarchy for cascading communications and direction, but permitted managers to align subordinates to their personal views of culture and strategy.
With social media, it’s now perfectly feasible for the CEO to speak often and directly to employees, removing the control – and risk – exerted by managers’ (usually unwitting) interpretations.
With the right messages and tone, the CEO can now inspire and align employees directly, in a way not conceivable even five years ago.
Such direct communications break the command and control structures and allow all employees to contribute more directly to the vision and strategy of the business.
To traditionalists, this will feel like heresy. How can employees possibly contribute to strategic direction – surely confusion will reign?
But this thinking belies a lack of trust – built by many years of corporate dogma about the role of the worker and the manager, and a way of thinking that needs to be cast aside as all employees become increasingly aware of the nature and performance of the business.
We want to help companies prepare, and be prepared, for this change.
The habits that employees, managers and leaders practice during this transition will determine how effective the business will be in handling change.
The language used to communicate the change, helping employees quickly align to a very new of being, will be critical.
Openness and trust will be the foundations of change.
And what would be the promise at the end of what will be a significant and challenging effort?
We think there is an opportunity to create a business defining and difficult to copy competitive advantage; plus achievement of that most elusive of all corporate and political goals – increasing productivity.
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