Picture this. A team leader comes in early before the team and starts to plan the day. They download reports and discover that a range of critical items are now outside service standard. “But I had a full team in yesterday; I don’t understand.”

Upon checking the reports, it is clear that a lot of tasks were completed, and the team had few distractions. Productivity metrics are consistently high at both a team and an individual level.

The team leader now has to figure out why so many critical tasks were missed, but also needs to focus on being able to explain this to their manager – AND plan out the day.

Productivity can present as many challenges as solutions

Does this situation sound familiar? Many organisations struggle with similar dilemmas. They’re hitting key metrics, but also coming across too many surprises that seem to contradict these same metrics.

In this scenario, the Team Leader faces a couple of real problems:

No visibility of work ‘inflight’

Most organisations struggle to provide an accurate real-time status of work, which prevents action being taken at a time when it can have a real impact.

The view of work performance is a ‘rear vision’ one

The focus on what happened previously leads to a lot of ‘explaining’ and not enough ‘action’. “We planned to do 100 tasks, but we completed 80 because one of the team was late and our systems were down for 30 minutes.” This explanation changes little from a customer perspective. And while it uncovers the cause of failure, and may impact management going forward, it isn’t useful for the project at hand.

Metrics are achieved without a clear purpose

When team members are tasked with hitting a productivity metric, they will work to hit it – especially if it impacts remuneration or progression. The result of this is that productivity targets are met, but some critical tasks are missed. This often ends up being a Sisyphean task, chasing an unobtainable mix of outcomes.

Productivity is an outcome, not a target

More often than not, team leaders are burdened with two unresolvable dilemmas:

  1. They don’t know what their people are doing soon enough to have an immediate impact; or
  2. They are asked to control the wrong metric.

What? Productivity is the wrong metric? Yes, and no. Fundamentally, productivity is an outcome of doing a whole raft of things right. It is a cost measure, and as such, it should not be the focus of the frontline manager and their people.

Management of costs – a critical metric – should sit with more senior managers. The frontline should focus on doing work on time and to the desired quality standard. Productivity – true productivity – is an outcome of doing the right work at the right time.

3 steps for improved control over productivity

Productivity is an important part of project success but proves beneficial only when it complements the work being done. There are a few steps you can take to improve productivity in a way that won’t skew or affect other key metrics:

  1. Provide managers with real-time visibility of progress through their work queues, rather than a final report on how they succeeded or failed.
  2. Provide managers with the right resources to do the work. How many people are there and what skills and equipment do they have?
  3. Set them up to be accountable to deliver to metrics of service and quality. Service is driven by meeting the commitments regarding when you will deliver your product or service in line with your customers’ expectations.

The current paradigm is too often akin to that of a crash investigation unit: figuring out why someone pranged the Barina. But by implementing these steps, you stand to create an environment where your frontline has true control. The preferred paradigm is one that enables your team to prevent that crash in the first place.

Organisations that enable their frontline managers to meet customer-focused metrics of service and quality deliver superior customer satisfaction. This is our view at Coxswain Alliance, based on years of working in many organisations and industries. Put simply, a focus on effectiveness leads to efficiency.

To discuss how to improve both productivity and overall performance effectively, click here to contact Coxswain Alliance.

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