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Overcoming the Productivity Paradox
Submitted by Leslie Allan on February 2nd, 2011
The well-known productivity paradox highlights how significant investments in computer infrastructure have not been met with increases in employee productivity. Many of us have felt this paradox in our own business. I have heard the complaint many times: we spend a lot of money in constant computer and software upgrades and in training our staffs and yet our productivity never seems to get better. In fact, it goes backward as we all learn the new systems.
Here are my tips for beating the productivity paradox in your business. First, remember that it is only to be expected productivity will go down whilst new computer systems are bedded in and employees learn how to use them. To shorten this implementation and learning phase, spend your efforts on these key activities:
Get supervisor and frontline worker input into the design of the new system and its implementation. They won’t take ownership of the new system at the end if you have excluded their thoughts and feelings from the beginning.
Clarify roles and responsibilities before commissioning the new system. Who is responsible for inputting and maintaining the integrity of the data? What reports need generating and who should export them?
Also before commissioning the new system, write up process flows and new procedures. Make them easy to understand and distribute to all of the people who need them.
Make the training highly relevant, practical and delivered “just in time”. Skip the theory and give employees plenty of practice during the training sessions. Give them a live (test) system to work on.
Even doing all of these activities may not help if you did not prepare adequately at the proposal stage. Did you write a business case for your proposal? Were you crystal clear on what productivity measures you were trying to improve? Did you take a baseline measure of productivity, before implementation?
Some executives act as if almost any problem can be made to go away by throwing some new technology at it. Nothing could be further from the truth. Human systems need to be congruent with the new information technology before it can be used productively by employees. Here are some initial questions to get you thinking about whether your human systems are ready for the new technology:
- Are frontline supervisors and middle level managers providing active and visible support for the new system -or are they “yes” people, supporting in public but sabotaging in private?
- What incentives are in place to motivate employees to use the new system, including financial and non-financial incentives?
- Are productivity goals clearly and unambiguously communicated up through all levels of management to the front-line worker?
- How is actual performance information – individual, team, department and organization – fed back to each and every employee?
I think you get the gist. Go back to your system implementation now and evaluate how effective your human systems are in supporting the new technology.
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