Talent Management: What Does Productivity Really Mean and Need?


A 28 February article in the National Post titled “Innovation can be small-scale”, pagesFP1 & 7 by Jay Bryan about a Conference board of Canada Report made a very interesting observation about what productivity means and does not mean.

“Productivity, which measures how much value a worker produces in and hour, is not a gauge of how hard people work. It’s an indication of how good a firm’s equipment and management is.”

Readers of this BLOG know that I rail on about solving TM issues through improvements in productivity, especially role productivity. The problem though is in our society, productivity has  become a dirty word meaning faster treadmills and engaging in literal and figurative sweatshops.

This is why I appreciate Bryan’s observation – improving productivity means anything but. Why “but”? Simply because making people work harder does not support sustained increases in productivity unless you have two essential ingredients: slave labour and a virtual infinite supply of it. In fact I seem to recall many years ago reading about how unproductive slave labour is. If this is true it is likely for a least two important reasons: the need for constant oversight (overcasts are comparatively high) and a lack of desire to do more than the minimal.

I find it generally interesting to hear how busy people are and how they almost boast on how many hours they put in doing business related activities. Several years ago I met with a dear colleague who was a “strategic” HR Officer. We had been trying to get together for lunch for about four months and when we did she related how busy and how her calendar is booked solidly for six months. I asked her, “In your capacity as the strategic HR Officer, how much time have you been able to allow yourself to just sit back and think about what is happening in your field and world?” Her answer was obvious – none. I then asked her had she scheduled any downtime for such a task in the next six months?” No.

My intent was far from trying to make her regret having lunch with me. I genuinely interested in how someone in her capacity had ended up in such a place – she did not have time to be strategic (unless it was closely linked to the implementation aspects).

She was in a pivotal role in my mind. She was (and is) extremely talented and intelligent.

In my mind she could have benefited largely from applying some basic TM approaches to her own role.

Conceptually, what had happened to her role?

It all comes down to understanding how system boundaries are needed to work. Boundaries do two critical things:

  1. they provide clarity around what is expected
  2. they are rigid enough to minimize distractions to doing what is expected

Previous posts readers have heard how I consider system boundary permeability as an incredible lever in solving TM issues. BUT, regardless of the level of needed/wished for permeability, the two design features for role design noted above need to be respected. What varies of course is how specific role boundaries are setup – rigid where needed, open where appropriate.

I am going leave you with some questions and a learning assignment.

Select three distinct pivotal roles in your organization and consider the following questions:

  1. In the course of two years, how much does their knowledge field evolve as a %?Realistically how much effort is required to keep onto (even at the leading edge) their field?
  2. Does their schedule over the course of three months enable them to keep up to speed on the “company’s” time?
  3. On their important/significant assignments is there a discipline around doing post assignment learning?
  4. How does your organization recognize, acknowledge, show appreciation and make use of these roles contributing new ideas?
  5. How does your organization enable these pivotal roles to stay on track and not be caught in systemic/chronic distractions (Note: we all have to do urgent less important [in terms of the role’s key purpose] things from time to time)?
  6. What would the expected additional benefit (what & how much) be to the organization if we could better enable these roles to be more focused on prime task?

One final thought.

I recognize that even the most “strategic” of roles spend a lot of time doing non-strategic work (in fact its necessary). But this is what makes it so difficult. If a role needed to be 90% strategic, this would be easy to see, accept and support. But what about a role that needs to be strategic about 25%? These situations are the ones that the questions above are really addressing. How are we at protecting the 25/75 ratio? It is not easy, straight forward or obvious. Especially over time, how should we think of the ratio? On a daily basis? A weekly basis? A monthly basis? A quarterly basis? a semi-annual basis? Annually?

The semi-annual and annual basis are of course inappropriate (in this 25/75 ratio scenario). Why?


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About 123stilllearning456

As a management consultant I am passionately interested in talent management and risk/uncertainty issues. In the area of talent management I propose that we seek strategies that look beyond the staffing/employee centric frames of reference. I have been frustrated at the "closing down on possibilities" by these more conventional staffing/employee centric approaches. I have been impressed where people have found systematic solutions to their talent management issues by going beyond the conventional approaches. In the area of risk and uncertainty, I am interested in making this topic relevant to more normal decision making situations. My conceptual foundation is to use the micro-economist's fixed/variable cost theme. I also think it is important to look at these issues for people through their emotional and psychological lens. As a premise I think risk and uncertainty only exist where there is a person who cares about possible events and its consequences. Hence, risk and uncertainty are social based concepts (no sentience, no risk and uncertainty). A major influence on my thinking in this area is Nassim Taleb of "Black Swan" fame. This BLOG provides me with an opportunity to express my thoughts on topics that interest me. As this is an online diary, content is more important to me than polish. I apologize if this distracts from readers' enjoyment and learning. Still I find this a useful way to live up to my namesake, learn more from others and hopefully provoke creative thoughts and ideas in others.
This entry was posted in Decison Making, Risk & Uncertainty, Talent Manangement. Bookmark the permalink.

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