The secret ingredient to productivity

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GrowExecutives who want to 'grow' their company may look at marketing, re-branding, restructuring, new processes. But, says Jack Rowlands, the best means to achieve greater success and productivity is right under their nose: their staff.

Take any business. It has assets, resources, customers, intellectual property, products, people, market and so on and it is achieving a certain level of performance. Invariably the executive of that business wants more than it is currently achieving – there is potential there that isn't being realised.

Photo of Jack Rowlands"The productivity gap is caused because too many people, in too many organisations simply operate way below their potential day after day, week in week out."

So what does the executive typically do? They institute tangible changes, e.g. new marketing, re-branding, restructure, new processes and systems, staff training, a move of premises, merger etc. Often these changes are necessary but they may also be time consuming, costly and require the utmost focus and energy. It can be hard, demanding work.

Unfortunately, in my experience, whilst these changes can and do lead to improved performance and results, they never produce the pay-off and return on investment, that was hoped for. There is always a gap, sometimes small, sometimes large, between expectation and reality.

On the change roundabout

So what does the executive do? They conclude that the marketing, the system, the restructure etc must have been flawed and they ditch the system, change the structure (again), sack the supplier and go through the whole rigmarole again.

And guess what? They still don't get the pay-off they're hoping for – they don't get to where they want the business to be; there's still a gap.

It happens all the time. Look at the NHS. Think about government IT projects. Think about any significant organisational change programme you might have been involved in.

People affect the expectation gap

What's the reason for the gap between expectation (or is it hope) and reality? People. The people in the business or organisation haven't changed. You might have a new system, new premises, new training, and it might have cost a lot in terms of resources and time, but you have the same old behaviours. People play the system – they always have and probably always will. People go on training courses, sometimes excellent training courses, but they don't implement that training. When was the last time you referred to the course notes from your last training course and changed your behaviour accordingly?

Manage behaviours not the numbers

The vast majority of managers believe they manage by managing 'the numbers' – the tangible, measurable outputs from any given job holder. My premise is you cannot manage numbers. Yes, the numbers are critical – that's why the job exists – and the sum of all the numbers adds up to the organisational results, which is why the organisation exists.

"What's the reason for the gap between expectation (or is it hope) and reality? People. The people in the business or organisation haven't changed. You might have a new system, new premises, new training… but you have the same old behaviours."

So, what do you manage? You manage behaviours, both quantity and effectiveness, and, if you do it well, the numbers, the results, follow from it. Actually, if you do it really well, the performance of people and organisations can be astounding. The manager is creating an environment where his/her people can give of their best. The productivity gap is caused because too many people, in too many organisations simply operate way below their potential day after day, week in week out.

So the key is to change behaviours.

But, here's the rub. We have poor leadership and management. We don't have leaders and managers who can effectively manage behaviours. Even managers who have received lots of management training aren't equipped with the skills to have 'difficult' conversations with their people when they need to – they avoid confrontation. As long as results are ok, managers who instinctively know behaviours aren't right turn a blind eye to them. And when results take a dip they don't know how to address the under-performance because the reality is they weren't managing when times were good, so they have little or no chance when times are bad.

Performance = potential – interferences

So how do we lessen this productivity gap? I believe most people go to work to do a good job and I believe their performance equals potential without the interferences.
Provided people have the potential through adequate training and the necessary tools to do the job, the job of the manager is to improve performance by removing the interferences; to get the boulders, the obstacles, that prevent me from performing at my best out of the way. Often those interferences are within the performer, e.g. a lack of confidence, de-motivation, harbouring misconceptions, not understanding true reality. A good, effective manager has the skills to unblock all of these and to release the potential in both individuals and their team.

The irony is that it doesn't take a genius to realise that the resulting better job satisfaction means a happier, more fulfilled workforce, with less staff turnover, achieving more. Isn't that a gap that's worth filling?

Jack Rowlands pioneered coaching as a senior manager in Royal Bank of Scotland's organisational change programme in the mid 1990s. This coaching success led directly to a strategic shift in philosophy and management style in RBS Corporate Bank.

Jack is a qualified business and personal coach. He has been a full-time business coach for 14 years. Clients include partners, managers and fee-earners in professional firms of various disciplines and sizes, ranging from chartered accountants and multi-national law firms to small partner practices

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