by Treb Gatte

How to destroy productivity in three easy steps

Apr 23, 20155 mins
BudgetingBusiness IT AlignmentIT Leadership

Are productivity killers adding to your resource capacity challenges?

There’s been a lot of discussion recently on the personal effects of overwork. From the corporate perspective, productivity killers like overwork, are adding to the problems outlined in our previous article, Your hidden ‘everything else’ resourcing problem. They are also driving up labor costs in a subtle way, as we are getting less productive hours per employee.

What is productivity in IT?

Productive time in IT means the employee is making good decisions and is acting on those decisions in a timely manner such that the corporation benefits from the effort now and into the future. This requires clear thinking and time to assess the situation before jumping into action. We want to avoid Cubicle Hero behavior, where working long hours leads to firefighting, reactive behavior.

Organizational work context matters.

Productivity seems to be a personal issue at first glance. We spend tons of money each year on time management books and classes. At last glance, there were over 120,000 time management-related books on Amazon. Assuming average thickness of 1 inch/2.5cm, this equals a stack of books 5 times the height of the Empire State Building.

If the productivity issue were solely personal, a successful, effective employee would be able to work at any company and see success. We see examples in the news every day, proving this to be a false assumption. Productivity issues are as much about corporate context as they are about the individual. Therefore, the context we create has a huge impact on the overall productivity of our employees.

There are three common productivity destroying behaviors that I’ve found, which create cultures of interruption and churn. The net effect is busy staff who are not effective in their roles.

3 steps to destroy productivity

1. Rewarding the wrong behavior.

Are you creating an unproductive culture by inadvertently rewarding the wrong behavior? Did you reward for results or for effort, the last time you gave out recognition?

I witnessed an award given to an IT team for putting in the extra effort to get their project back on track. I had been working on their PMO software and knew the project execution to be a disaster. The extra effort wouldn’t have been necessary had the team followed best practices. Another project was the poster child for good project management practices and was delivering results in a timely manner. However, that effort went unnoticed and unrewarded by management. Ensure your rewards and attention are reinforcing the right behavior.

2. Never saying no.

Some managers can’t say no to new requests and thus, schedule their employees as if their time is infinite. These managers are afraid to say no in meetings because they want to be viewed as responsive or a team player. Ironically, saying no demonstrates greater organizational awareness and power. Instead, these managers overcommit their team, who in turn, tend to under-deliver and deliver late. This type of infinite scheduling is making us lazy as managers, inefficient as organizations and unable to react quickly to changing market conditions as your staff struggles to maintain sanity.

Saying no also forces prioritization, which is a very powerful and unutilized technique. Prioritization must happen at all levels to ensure that the appropriate work is being done at all times. Time limits force focus on the right tasks, leading to greater effectiveness.

3. Tolerating inefficiency.

Are your employees giving it 150 percent, staying late to get the work done? They aren’t alone. A Gallup poll, done on August 29, 2014, suggested that half of the salaried employees are working more than 50 hours. For all of those hours worked, effective productivity has fallen to a mere 26 hours per week. The cumulative effect of mental fatigue increases mistakes and bad decisions, which creates rework and reduces the effective productivity.

This productivity loss also raises the net cost of labor. For simplicity sake, let’s do a back of the napkin calculation of the impact. Let’s assume we are examining one $100,000/year salaried IT professional. Thirty-five productive hours per week is typical in many work studies for office personnel. This translates to 1,750 productive hours per year, assuming 2 weeks of vacation. The raw cost is then approximately $57 per hour (100,000/1,750). When we factor in the impact of chronic overtime on productivity, the net productive hours for the year falls to 1,300, now at a cost of $77 per hour (100,000/1,300), a $20 per hour increase. Now extrapolate that across the organization and the impact is significant.

In my experience, excessive work hours were signs of inefficient processes, resulting in increased operational time needed to keep the organization running. People had to put in the extra time to do the project work, at the expense of their long-term effectiveness. The other effect was a greater dependence on contractors, brought in to augment capacity for project work. This too, raises the overall cost of operation.

A better approach would be to leverage the power of constraints to force creative solutions. Set a constraint on the team with the directive to work out how to get their work done in forty hours, without sacrificing service levels and customer satisfaction. This engages the creativity of the team to solve the problem and benefit from the solution and forces inefficiencies out of the workflow. Also, set aside some precious time for the team to generate those ideas. As a former manager used to say, “you can’t tie your shoes when you are running.”

It’s time we look at downsizing the business itself rather than simply downsizing the workforce to get costs under control.

Agree or disagree? I look forward to reading your viewpoints and experiences in the comments below.