Strategies to Improve Productivity in the Workplace

People in the Big Seats, It’s Time to Step Up

Job cuts are putting more strain on employees leading to less retention. Here’s some proven strategies to improve productivity in the workplace.

Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

-Albert Einstein

As we enter the first month of the ramp up to the “golden quarter” of this new decade (where does the time go?) it saddens me to see so many of us doing very little to change.

Instead of leveraging technology to drive revenue and growth, many of us are continuing to “cost cut our way to prosperity.” And while tactical measures are sometimes necessary (hello COVID), they are not good enough for the long haul.

Making people redundant and asking those who remain to now do the work of two, sometimes three people is not the answer.

“Do more with less!”

“Work smarter not harder!”

These slogans (yes I have lived through them all) do nothing to improve things.

Instead the result is low morale for the now overwhelmed error-prone workers who are frustrated and afraid that their jobs will be the next to go. Many will eventually leave—or worse—remain while burning out.

How can we expect our teams to perform at their best when salary increases are capped and bonuses denied? How can we recruit and retain the best and the brightest when we treat them like this? I’ve had more than one conversation with more than one Chief People Officer and employee recruitment, retention and skills development are a major challenge.

Recently a store manager told me that when she was asked to make some of her staff redundant, she offered to cut her own hours to save jobs. Her request was denied. So she quit. “Enough is enough,” she told me.

Since 2000, more than half of the Fortune 500 companies no longer exist. Yet less than 3% of the FTSE top 350 have digital savvy boards (and if you don’t believe that, just watch the congressional hearings with Facebook’s founder Mark Zuckerberg. Some of the congressmen didn’t know the difference between Facebook and the Internet).

And according to Paul Martin, KPMG Chairman Global Retail Group & UK Head of Retail, “50% of retail companies could disappear if they don’t change their business model.”

We are doing this to ourselves. This downward spiral needs to stop.

People in the big seats need to step up. It’s time for strategic thinking. And that strategy includes technology.

Former Burberry CEO Angela Ahrendts used to say, “Great product is a given—without it we will have nothing. But it’s marketing and IT that are going to drive this brand forward.”

At Burberry information technology was moved from the “back of the bus” to the “front of the bus.” Angela changed the reporting structure so we reported to her, no longer reporting into Finance, where most IT departments remain. (No offence to our bean counters, but knowing the cost of everything and the value of nothing is not strategic.)

I nearly fell off my chair earlier this year when an industry colleague told me that his board had directed that they shut down a Product Lifecycle Management system. They were to return to working on spreadsheets because the cost of software maintenance was too high and the adoption had been too slow. Spreadsheets!?! And how, pray tell, will those be data mined for insights when the market shifts or another force majeure or Act of God presents itself?

I’ll never forget my conversation with one CIO who told me it was her job to protect the existing brittle legacy systems. Protect!? How about replace? Today’s retailer must be agile in these times of uncertainty. They should not be fixed and inflexible, held hostage by cobbled together technology that the vendor hasn’t supported in years.

Remember Lotus Notes? Yes ladies and gentlemen, some IT departments are STILL coddling that!

I know of one retailer who’s store staff are not permitted to reboot their printers. You know, the printers used to print labels and customer receipts? When the printer jams, the store staff have to call the IT help desk. And often they are told that a printer reboot is not a priority so someone will be back to help in a couple of hours. Honestly, you cannot make this stuff up.

We are in an exciting era where we can now, “commoditise technologies that do not differentiate the brand” (a phrase I coined at Burberry some eight years ago). Our IT teams must be empowered to do more than deliver—they must be allowed to innovate, to play, to contribute.

But don’t take my word for it. According to the Harvard Business Review, Digital transformation transcends technology.

“Digital transformation is often viewed through a narrow technology lens, as just another mobile project or e-commerce initiative. Fundamentally, though, digital transformation is the result of enterprises seeking to adapt to the storm of new technology affecting markets and customers.

“Effective internal systems, processes, and value chains will always be essential, but enterprises will increasingly need to harness the skills, capabilities, and passions of the external market. Digital transformation forces wholesale change to the foundations of an enterprise — from its operating model to its infrastructure, what it sells, and to whom and how.”

According to Buddha, every human action can be attributed to one of two emotions: love or fear. Every action.

Isn’t it time we stopped creating fear based businesses and instead started creating love based ones?

(Image by Razvan Chisu).

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