The keys to developing a productive workplace
This illustrative report was written to the Managing Director of a mid-sized South African civil engineering organisation with 300 permanent staff.
As discussed with you, your organisation is faced with many people productivity issues. Before I propose specific actions, I want to provide you with some background. In my experience, I have found certain keys to having a productive workplace. These keys tend to be about getting the basics right.
Too often, organisations spend huge amounts on developing productive workplace programmes, yet a few years later these programmes are shelved – usually not having reached their objectives. I have noticed how some of those employees who have survived many of these management and consultant devised programmes have learnt the skill of “Lying Low”.
Lying Low means that you pretend to be enthusiastic, while actually participating as little as possible and causing as little disruption to yourself and others. You wait for the dust to settle after yet another new endeavour collapses!
The late Prof Anatole Goshi from the Nihon University in Japan, a regular visitor to South Africa representing the Japan Productivity Institute, said that in South Africa we have many management fads and ideas that tend to change because they are a type of fashion that changes regularly just like clothing fashions. Therefore, they are only short-lived. We tend to neglect the basics of productivity.
The basic keys that underlie people productivity
I have ranked these in order of priority, in my opinion. Number 1 should be addressed first and number 8 will probably fail if the others preceding it have not been sufficiently addressed.
1. PICK THEM RIGHT
2. TRAIN THEM RIGHT
3. PAY THEM RIGHT
4. UTILISE THEM RIGHT
5. MOTIVATE THEM RIGHT
6. DISCIPLINE THEM RIGHT
7. MANAGE PERFORMANCE RIGHT
8. LINK PAY AND PERFORMANCE (MAYBE)
PRIORITY 1: FIND THE RIGHT PEOPLE
I realise that your organisation faces huge constraint as there are not sufficient professional engineers and technicians in the South African labour market. Yet I think that you would do well to spend more attention to finding the right people – where you have the luxury of at least having more than one person to choose from. Let me give you some examples from my experience that would illustrate what management should do to improve productivity – even under difficult circumstances such as yours.
Example 1: Avoid prima donnas
One would think that a maintenance department would do well if their manager was well qualified and a leader in his field.
Yet one South African organisation had huge problems with such a manager. He held a doctorate in engineering and was often a speaker at technical conferences. Unfortunately, his maintenance department became a headache for his organisation. Not only was he actually neglecting his job in favour of the interests he had outside of his job, but he expected his organisation to elevate his department to suit his status – and this caused an unproductive and skewed organisational structure!
Example 2: Avoid over-qualified people with the wrong profile
In a similar vein, be careful of trying to employ the cream of available candidates if their profiles are not right.
A resource-rich organisation gave bursaries only to top-notch matriculants for professional training, missing the point that the best school students were not necessarily suitable for the job requirements once they qualified.
The jobs mostly entailed tough fieldwork circumstances, usually far away from fancy facilities and other specialists in the field. What was actually required was adventurous generalists who enjoyed the challenge of having to make do with crisis situations, not those bent on improving their qualifications and specialising as soon as possible – the type of candidate that the selection programme produced! The organisation would have done far better to define the profile of those that would fit the job circumstances, as opposed to being overly concerned about an academic profile.
The organisations in the examples above suffered the consequences of having the wrong people in the jobs concerned. I am convinced that is the most critical issue as far as people and productivity go. I have found many examples of organisations having problems, essentially because they had the wrong people in the jobs and, most often in senior jobs – and then trying to fix it with training or motivational programmes that we had to run for them.
In future People and Productivity articles, we will discuss the remaining productivity keys.