Productivity: Getting The Most From Your Most Expensive Asset

Unlock productivity. Unleash human potential

The media is bristling with predictions: Big Data. AI. Robots. Blockchain. Increased automation. Technological unemployment. There’s no denying it, technology is changing everything. But, as we worship at the altar of these mystical superpowers, we should not lose sight of one important, if not techno-sexy, fact. People are, and will continue to be, our most expensive asset. If we don’t get the best from them, if they resist (or sabotage) transformation, we can invest in technology all we like, but will continue to haemorrhage money. Leaders from every sector, public and private, should focus on an often ignored, but increasingly important, question: How can we unlock productivity, not by replacing pesky talent with technology, but by unleashing their full potential.

Engaged people are more productive

The data paints a clear, if somewhat depressing, picture. Engaged employees are more attentive and vigilant: 57% more effective, have 48% less accidents and make 41% less mistakes. According to Gallup research, organisations experience a 240% rise in performance related business outcomes when employees are involved in collaborative innovation. Absenteeism and illness are significantly lower in engaged organisations.

Unfortunately, Gallup also reports that only 13% of employees are highly engaged at work and a whopping 67% are disengaged. Lets inspect these stats from a different angle. If you were a senior exec of a hotel chain and only 33% of the rooms were regularly booked, this would be considered a cost management crisis. Why, then, do we accept that talent, our most transformational, expensive resource, is idling at a small fraction of full capacity.

Disengaged employees are 87% more likely to resign

There is an inverse correlation between the rising cost of recruitment, accelerating employee churn and plummeting employee engagement. Less than a third of employees would recommend their company to a prospective employee. 44% of the British workforce regularly suffer from stress at work. Payouts for stress, illness and reputational crisis are rocketing.

Gallup reckon $600 billion is lost every year as a direct result of reduced productivity from disheartened employees. . . and that’s before we imagine the potential uplift in sales uplift from “employees ambassadors.” Unlocking human potential is a commercial opportunity too massive to be left in the hands of often under resourced, dispirited HR departments.

Engagement? What does it mean?

William Kahn coined the “employee engagement” term in 1990. His definition: “when engaged, employees express themselves physically, cognitively, and emotionally.” Lots of alternative definitions have been proposed over the last 30 years: spanning rational and emotional commitment, going above and beyond the call of duty, presence, positive attitude towards the company, energetic involvement, passion and harnessing potential.

Whichever definition you choose, it’s hardly rocket science. Employees are people. People are more fulfilled, productive and loyal when their contribution is respected, rewarded and recognised, when they feel connected to their colleagues and understand/ buy into why the company exists. Productivity increases exponentially when people are authentically involved in decision making, when opinions and expertise are valued. “Clocking in” type behaviours melt away when people care about what they are doing.

Look at NASA

Ask any employee, from senior physicist to cleaner, what NASA does, they will tell you the same thing: “We send people into space.” What they do is less important than why they do it. Everyone is proud of contributing to a stellar cause. Literally.

Dan Ariely’s research has proven what really motivates (and demotivates) people at work: Purpose is key to wellbeing.

So what do we do?

I’ll share what most companies do so you can learn from their mistakes.

They launch twenty disconnected projects that offer a glimmer of hope before unceremoniously shutting them down. They hire agencies to sprinkle pixie dust and scatter posters littered with cute cartoons and smart messaging. People don’t like to be patronised. They give employees a suggestion box, then allow them to watch ideas and opinions disappear into a void, never to be seen again. Better not to ask than to ask and ignore. Employee experience and knowledge can be priceless, but people will only share if leaders are trusted to listen, learn, and take appropriate action.

Happy Employees Drives Sales

While companies tinker with well-meaning, ill defined, poorly resourced engagement initiatives, they continue to spend vast amounts on PR, on Media and Creative Agencies, who devise increasingly Machiavellian ways of getting the right message in front of the right people at the right time to build brand awareness and drive sales. Now, I’ve worked in agency land and I can assure you ROI can always be proved, and spend justified. If marketeers can’t tell powerful stories based on cleverly edited data and statistics, I’m not sure who can.

But looking at the data this investment may be wasted: Edelman surveyed 33,000 respondents across 28 countries to assess levels of global trust. For the first time, Media has become the least trusted institution in the world. Nearly half of the global population has totally tuned out from mainstream media. Trust in authority (private and public sector employers) is at an all time low.

Trust and change

Even investment is turning away from short-term shareholder value toward long term purpose. Employees expect the C-Suite to stand up and lead on issues ahead of government. People expect business to drive positive change while making money.

Customers trust messaging from other people (ie employees) far more then those from the dark arts of marketing. Employee evangelism and purpose driven leadership drives trust, and therefore loyalty, and sales, better than any traditional marketing.

All of this may make you want to rush into an ambassador programme, to incentivise employees to spread positive brand messaging across their social networks. But beware. Trust has to be built into your organisational DNA before you can build trust, and therefore loyalty, with customers.

Authenticity is all. If an employee is proud of how her company operates, how it nurtures and respects her and her peers, she will become an evangelist. If she is convinced the company she works for is making a positive contribution to the world, she will be an genuine ambassador and do your marketing for you.

“Talking the talk” is not enough

If companies really want to unlock productivity, they need to change the way they do business. Systemic change needs unerring commitment from the very top, and appropriate levels of investment over realistic timescales to support that commitment. Leaders have to paint, commit to and widely communicate a roadmap towards Enterprise 2.0: a future where “can-do” attitudes reign, expertise is valued, success is celebrated, knowledge-sharing is incentivised, failure is learning and people accept accountability with pride.

But driving change is notoriously difficult, Strong, strategic, transparent communications is key to success.

Having analysed the data, I think we can safely predict that the most successful companies will be those led by a new breed of leader, who are brave enough to reallocate resource away from traditional marketing towards ways of building authentic engagement, trust and loyalty, outside and in.

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