5 hidden productivity killers organisations should fear

Published 14th November 2018 by Investors in People

Obstacles don’t reach the people who can clear them

Obstacles are an unavoidable part of every job. They come in all shapes and sizes, from interpersonal problems to budgetary constraints. One critical role of line managers and senior leaders is to clear these obstacles so employees can choose paths leading to the highest levels of performance.

But they can only do this if they know these obstacles exist. If employees bring these obstacles to their attention, or they happen to hear about them in passing, then they may be able to take action. Unfortunately, obstacles often don’t reach their ears. Why is this?

Many employees don’t want to be seen to be bringing ‘problems’ to their manager or – if the obstacle is interpersonal – to be seen to complain about an individual’s behaviour. Some staff may see the obstacle as ‘their’ problem to get over and view it as a personal failure if they need someone else to tackle it.

This leads to employees coping by ‘working round’ the issue. This can impact productivity for several reasons: firstly, the work-around is likely to be sub-optimal. It may also impact the employee’s morale and wellbeing. And if the obstacle is interpersonal, the work-around allows the friction to continue unabated, which could blow up in the future.

Everyday tasks and processes escape continuous improvement

Many organisations have adopted the debriefing process – used in the military – to embed a culture of continuous improvement, so that operational mistakes are identified and solved quickly and new ways of achieving outcomes are explored.

While this feels natural after bigger projects, managers are less likely to adopt the debriefing process for business-as-usual processes, particularly those that form part of an individual’s or team’s daily job responsibilities, because it can feel too much like negative feedback.

Managers are also less likely to debrief on everyday processes and interactions because they don’t want to ‘waste people’s time.’ However, since daily tasks form the majority of the value we add at work, it’s important that these processes are critiqued and debriefed in the right way so that everyone works towards superior outcomes in the future.

People stop giving opinions when they feel rejected

Many ideas are good ones, but there are reasons why they can’t be actioned. Budgets may be under threat, or senior leaders may be too busy, or it could simply be that the person being told the idea is too stressed to conceptually see why it’s a good one. In many cases, the employee suggesting the idea simply lacks access to key information which renders the idea impractical.

When this happens once, people tend to spring back and are still enthusiastic about offering opinions and ideas in the future. However, when this becomes a pattern – which it can do easily, through no-one’s fault and no malicious intent on anyone’s behalf – the employee may simply stop voicing their opinions, often because they don’t want people to think they have bad ideas.

This can happen at many levels throughout the organisation, from the macro level (as part of employee voice programmes, for example), all the way through to the team level (where one or two voices overpower and drown out the quieter ones) and the individual level (manager/employee).

This puts leaders in a quandary: they can’t simply implement all ideas to avoid this outcome. And yet it’s important that people suggest ideas openly and willingly if organisations are to innovate successfully and develop new competitive advantage. That’s why leaders at all levels must give clear explanations as to why employee-driven ideas are not implemented.

The returns from engagement and perks diminish over time

The law of diminishing returns, when applied to organisational life, suggests that perks, benefits and engagement efforts raise morale and productivity temporarily until they become ‘the way things are done round here.’

In other words, the positive effects lessen over time, with initiatives originally implemented as benefits or perks eventually morphing into hygiene factors. That’s why organisations must treat areas like wellbeing, engagement and employee benefits as requiring continuous innovation in order to generate the desired effects on productivity and employee satisfaction.

Otherwise, you can get a situation where – on paper – the organisation is spending time and money on engagement, wellbeing and benefits, but the positive effects are minimal. That’s why a simple overview of what the organisation invests in these key areas is never enough to get a sense of how employees feel towards their jobs and the organisation.

Mental overload pushes us to choose sub-optimal processes

With more digital tools being used in the workplace than ever before, it’s much easier for employees to feel frazzled and overwhelmed, which leads to a lack of mental energy, focus and patience.

We all follow a range of processes at work to get the job done. On every task, we tend to have more than process that we can follow and we choose one depending on how much time we have, how much energy we have and what else we have to get done that day.

The less time, energy and headspace we have, the more likely we are to choose a process that is sub-optimal, that misses out key energy-intensive steps and instead focuses on getting the task done with the lowest cognitive load.

Organisations must, therefore, focus on e-resilience as a key competency across the workforce if this technology-induced issue is to be tackled. Reining in the ‘email problem’ is a great first step.

Honest and effective feedback at all levels is a core driver of productivity in the workplace. Find out how you can create a feedback culture in your organisation to enhance performance.