People engagement: Solving the productivity puzzle

We have the most advanced technology in human history yet are currently mired in the longest and most sustained period of declining people productivity since measurement began in the early 20th century.

This is not just in the West but is the case around the world and across industries – organisations large and small. The decline began in 2010, while we were in the throes of the “Great Recession” and has continued ever since. Surely the coronavirus pandemic has not helped this, right? Well, probably not, however it may have lit the fuse under a solution. That may be People Engagement, Innovation and Performance.

people engagementThis conundrum is something that has caught my attention and is something that I have been researching to better understand. When I sat down to mull over the challenges impacting productivity, I asked myself: are we measuring productivity correctly? Why doesn’t all our new technology help solve the problem? Not every organization has issues with productivity, what do they do differently than others?

Which led me to draw on my rather long career as an HR management consultant at large enterprises such as Accenture and IBM, as well as my time as the Managing Director of a medium sized organisation of just over 300 people. As I went back through the many companies (big and small) that I worked with, I kept coming back to the things I observed that top performing companies do very well:

  1. They are exceptionally good at getting the right people, in the right place, with the right skills, at the right time, with the right motivation
  2. They are very adept at aligning people to increasingly intelligent technology

These organisations have this mindset embedded in the management ranks and put in place the processes and technology to take advantage of this capability. First, because they create highly engaged workforces, second because it is very clear what work there is to be done and who will do it, and lastly, they have the tools and processes to work effectively no matter where the work is being done.

This capability is summarised in an “equation” I call PEIP – People Engagement, Innovation and Performance

It is this kind of “working smarter” that I believe is going to reverse the productivity decline trend. I think the current crisis is going to put a real focus on thinking and doing differently and therefore a fuse has been lit to help us solve the challenge. With more and more people working from home in a distributed manner, it is requiring organizations to change the mindset, change processes and implement human-centric technologies that will help, not hinder, workers to be successful.

Which brings us to the second aspect of the solution. If we take PEIP, as above, and turbo-charge it with emerging AI and machine learning, to augment humans, we create the potential for a quantum leap in our ability produce more (creating a bigger pie to divided up) and create a healthier and wealthier society for our children and grandchildren.

AI and machine learning are enormous opportunities to improve people productivity. Smart technology isn’t about replacing humans; quite the opposite. It should wrap around and augment humans, making them better at their jobs. Like how cars evolved from slow moving, uncomfortable horse-less carriages to what will soon be semi or completely autonomous vehicles. Cars have become an extension of human beings initially allowing them to go farther and faster than before and now becoming increasingly comfortable and intelligent making them more efficient and safer, by reducing human effort and potential for error.

This new way of working is not always dependent on size of organisation or industry. In my experience organisations with 150 or more employees are not that different in requirements from large enterprises. Once your organisation gets above the size of “everyone knows everybody else” you need to consider implementing PEIP, turbo-charged with smart technologies to take the next leap in performance and growth.

Certainly the shock of the coronavirus pandemic has had a negative impact on our job performance, and on overall productivity however, the enforced working at a distance, using technology to help us just may be the revelation we need to think and do differently. We could be on the cusp of something truly revolutionary. Sometimes a crisis comes along and knocks us on to a new and better path. Which may be towards People Engagement, Innovation and Performance. Is this one of those moments and what will you do about it?

Tim Ringo is an author, speaker, board advisor, and senior executive. His new book Solving the Productivity Puzzle published with Kogan Page is out now