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4 sure-fire ways to reduce productivity in your organization

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A lack of productivity is a serious concern because the more it costs us to produce something, the less competitive we are in the global marketplace. And the less competitive we are leads directly to fewer jobs, diminished earning power and a lower standard of living.

The usual explanations as to why we struggle with productivity frequently point to our lack of investment in tools, technology and innovation. But how we hire, deploy and develop people rarely gets a mention, but I would argue that they have the potential to significantly increase or decrease productivity.

Let’s look at four sure-fire ways you too can reduce your organization’s productivity:

1.     Settle for less than you need.

Canadian business is, by and large, an under-achiever when it comes to recruiting and hiring talent. For a business to undertake an international search for top talent below the C-Suite (senior executives) is rare and is often greeted with skepticism. The immediate reaction is often ‘don’t we have anyone local qualified for the job?’

However, leading organizations understand that talent is scarce and that to hire the best means looking far and wide.

From a productivity perspective, hiring someone who is fully capable and can hit the ground running is a strategic advantage.

2.     Under-value expertise.

Canadian business is chock-full of people doing jobs for which they were not trained or adequately prepared. Companies are awash in people who refer to themselves as ‘generalists.’ This frequently means they have moved around the business to fill a hole or satisfy an immediate need. The downside for productivity, however, is that they often lack the perspective and expertise to take a function to the next level. The most common victim of this de-valuing of expertise is Human Resources. There is an often erroneous belief that understanding and being able to relate to the business is more important than having the background and possessing the technical expertise required to actually run it. The result is a dearth of capability across an entire function.

Leading companies understand that it is more expedient and efficient to put experts in roles that demand expertise.

3.     Move people around for their development.

One rationale for moving people across functions is that ‘it is good for their development.’ No question that gaining cross-functional experience is a growth opportunity for leaders and a critical one for those being groomed to assume significant roles in the future. However, the casualty in these moves is often the team or function itself. It serves as a training ground for the inexperienced, a place where modest ambitions are expected and generally achieved. Leading companies understand that only those whose development is critical to the organization’s future should be moved into significant stretch assignments outside of their areas of expertise. They realize that the productivity of people on a steep learning curve will always be limited, so they make these decisions cautiously.

Balance what is good for the overall business with what is good for any one individual’s development.

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4.     Rotate people every 18 months.

There are still some companies that believe effective leadership development means rapidly cycling people through roles. Find a problem, assign a high potential to solve it, move them on to something else. There are at least three significant problems with this strategy.

1)     It takes people, on average, three years before they are a good return-on-investment. It takes 18 months to learn the job and 18 months more to get good at it.

2)     Emerging leaders in this scenario never have to live with the results of their decisions; their learning cycle is incomplete, and their growth stunted.

3)     Every time you move someone new into a role, they undo most of what their predecessor put in place, further eroding the potential productivity of a team or department.

I would argue that the reasons for faltering productivity extend beyond a reluctance to take risks and an unwillingness to invest in technology. The beliefs and practices of leaders around hiring, developing and deploying talent can have a positive or negative impact on the productivity of a team, an organization, and a country. Being smarter and more sophisticated around people practices and decisions can only have a positive impact on the bottom line.

Rebecca Schalm, Ph.D., is founder and CEO of Strategic Talent Advisors Inc., a consultancy that provides organizations with advice and talent management solutions. For interview requests, click here.


The opinions expressed by our columnists and contributors are theirs alone and do not inherently or expressly reflect the views of our publication.

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Rebecca Schalm

Rebecca holds a Ph.D. in Industrial/Organizational Psychology and has assisted organizations for over 25 years in building talent capability that enables business strategy. Prior to founding Strategic Talent Advisors Inc., she was SVP & Chief Human Resources Officer of Finning International Inc. and spent over 10 years at RHR International LLP.

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