Experts generally advise companies to seek productivity gains continually, not through concentrated productivity-improvement programs. Programs focused on short-term gains tend to be short-lived, especially if they do not achieve quick results. Moreover, experts say it can take as long as five years before measurable improvements are apparent.
Some practices that employers should consider when attempting to improve productivity include:
• managing productivity improvement,
• incorporating technological advances,
• providing training,
• ensuring a safe workplace, and
• improving employee morale.
Each of these efforts is discussed below.
Managing Productivity Improvement
Most experts counsel that increasing productivity is an ongoing process. With that in mind, companies can adopt a number of management practices that, over time, can result in continuing productivity gains. Such management practices include:
• Performing a workflow assessment. Before any changes are made, current practices involved in the production of the goods and services should be examined. Reviewing the flow of work can uncover unnecessary steps in the production process, causes of recurring problems, and whether certain resources are being over or underused. Information uncovered in the examination can be used as the basis for goal-setting.
• Setting goals. Goals should be clearly defined on an organizational, divisional, departmental, and unit level. Goals become the basis for action plans and periodic evaluations of progress. Productivity goals should be linked to other organizational goals, for example, increasing market share and improving quality.
• Communicating goals and policies. Workers need to know what goals have been set and what role employees have in meeting those goals. A mission or policy statement is one way of disseminating that information. Whatever communication vehicle is selected, it should describe management’s commitment and views, assign responsibilities throughout the organization, and state goals clearly. If a time frame has been established as part of the productivity improvement effort, that information should be made known. If an incentive pay system is established, employees must be able to understand the performance measures that will be used and how compensation will be distributed.
• Enlisting employee support. Employee cooperation is crucial to any productivity improvement effort. Employees sometimes question management’s motives in implementing changes because they fear productivity improvements will lead to downsizing or other measures harmful to their interests. Employees should be informed about how their efforts contribute to the overall health and competitiveness of the company.
• Recognizing improvements. Monetary and nonmonetary recognition of employees’ contributions to increasing productivity is important. If incentive pay is used, separating it from base pay helps to emphasize the benefits of superior performance. Nonmonetary awards should be presented in public with suitable formality and be commensurate with achievements.
Incorporating Technological Advances
Productivity growth can be affected by how readily companies incorporate technological advances into their operations.
Providing Training and Development
Rapid technological changes in many industries, shortages of certain kinds of skilled labor, and literacy deficiencies all contribute to the need for job-related instruction and development.
Employers should establish or make available formal education and training programs that have the following objectives:
• Teach employees how to perform new or unfamiliar jobs. This goal can be accomplished through pre-employment training, apprenticeships and internships, skill-based training, cross-training, and retraining.
• Help employees improve current job performance. Close monitoring, regular performance evaluations and feedback, and opportunities to participate in on- and off-site training programs and workshops help employees to maintain and improve their skills and subject knowledge.
Ensuring a Safe Workplace
A safe and secure work environment is a fundamental concern of both employers and employees. Consideration of ventilation, noise, lighting, hazard abatement, accident prevention, and security is necessary to provide a workplace free from recognized hazards and conducive to high productivity.
Implementing engineering controls to eliminate or minimize workers’ exposure to the potential hazards associated with the workplace environment is essential to maintain productivity and prevent health problems. Problems can be avoided or minimized if employers:
• closely monitor workers’ physical surroundings;
• respond promptly to employees’ complaints about the work environment; and
• correct identified problems.
Most behavioral scientists view morale as a key to motivation and performance. Creating an environment that motivates employees to perform at high levels requires considering numerous issues, including:
• Work environment. The physical conditions of a workplace can influence how employees feel about their jobs and how well they perform. A clean, safe, and secure work environment can promote efficiency and give employees a psychological lift. Personal work space, equipment and furnishings, lighting and acoustics, temperature and air quality, and privacy all figure into the design of a work environment.
• Work-life programs. Benefits and services that have no direct relation to basic wages or salaries—so-called work-life programs—are offered by many employers. Providing such benefits and services can demonstrate the employer’s concern about employees’ welfare and improve workforce morale. Examples of programs that help employees juggle work and life responsibilities include employee assistance programs, child and elder care programs and services, alternative work schedules, and legal and financial services.
• Job design and enrichment. Designing jobs so that they offer opportunities to excel and challenge employees to acquire and apply skills valued by the organization is important because it can affect, positively or negatively, job performance, job satisfaction, and even physical and mental health. Job enrichment might entail adding more variety to the work being performed, sharing power and control, assigning more significant tasks, or promoting greater self-direction and autonomy.
As mentioned above it can take years before measurable improvements are apparent. It can seem daunting to start a process today and perhaps not realized the desired results for a long period of time. A business owner needs to make sure that the long term realization of results does not prevent the business from making the initial steps required for success.
We suggest that clients begin by setting goal dates for implementing plans related to the five categories mentioned above; managing productivity improvement, incorporating technological advances, providing training, ensuring a safe workplace, and improving employee morale.
Perhaps meeting with your management group and discussing the five categories is the next best step. Making a good first step can lead to continual and consistent productivity gains.