One of the primary workplace demands is for greater responsiveness to change. It is widely accepted that organisational success is increasingly dependent on the ability to adapt rapidly to change. Managers globally are looking for the means to engender greater employee engagement and the ability to respond more quickly to change. But have they recognised that they need to change themselves? Are they guilty of expecting behaviours from their workforce that they are not exhibiting themselves?
According to an article, “The Time We Waste” by Helen Kirwan-Taylor in the September issue of Management Today, citing studies by AOL, Microsoft and Salary.com, “The average worker, apparently, now wastes 2.1 hours a day.” Assuming that ‘the average worker’ works a seven-and-a-half hour day, that means they are ‘wasting’ a massive 28% of their time. This may sound steep but doesn’t appear too way off the mark, for in a separate report published in Top Consultant News, Proudfoot Consulting states that, “Companies in the UK waste around 18% of all working time through inefficient use of labour, the equivalent of 40 working days per employee per year. And the financial cost amounts to a whopping £80bn, or around 7% of GDP, based on current average hourly wages in manufacturing.” Whatever the exact percentage, the problem exists and is of a scale that suggests cause to be concerned.
Yet, how appropriate is it to still be measuring productivity in terms of time, in an era in which the focus is on “knowledge work” and “knowledge workers”? Time as a basis for measuring productivity is a vestige of the Agricultural Age; and while it has continued to serve us well throughout the Industrial Age, its continued use is definitely open to challenge. The Best Buys case study referred to in Kirwan-Taylor’s article supports this position, with a Results Only Work Environment (ROWE) project improving productivity by 35% and reducing employee turnover from 36.6% to 6%. It would appear that not only are management wasting their own time by measuring people’s use of time, but in doing so they are compounding the very problems they are trying to solve - increasing stress and undermining employee engagement.
This corroborates Gary Hamel’s statement in the following article in the same magazine that, “What ultimately constrains the performance of your organisation is not its business model, nor its operational model but its management model.” Clearly management is relying on traditional tools and measures in a changed world, demanding change of their people, but seemingly oblivious to their own need to change. It is therefore inevitable that this will cause conflict and stress in the workplace.
Indeed the 2007 Proudfoot Productivity Report referred to earlier shows that more than three-quarters of inefficient working in 2006 was the result of three root causes:
• Inadequate workforce supervision;
• Poor management planning and control;
• Poor communication.
In the light of this it is hardly surprising that employee engagement is one of the most pressing challenges management faces. So, if they want to solve it, management are clearly going to have to look more closely in the mirror, at their own behaviours.
A new study by Watson Wyatt Worldwide, the global consulting firm, and WorldatWork, an international association of human resource professionals, reported in Top-Consultant, shows that a large majority of companies around the world are struggling to attract and retain top-performing and critical-skill workers. The study also found that workers rank stress as a top reason they would leave their company, while it is not even among the top five reasons identified by employers, who instead cite insufficient pay and lack of career development and promotion opportunities. "Worldwide, the frenetic pace of modern business is taking its toll on employees," said Adam Sorensen, global total rewards practice leader at WorldatWork. "There's no question that employees are more likely to leave or speak badly of their workplace if they feel overburdened. Companies that take steps to ensure that stress levels are not onerous will save money in the long run by reducing attrition."
I hope I am not the only one who finds this incredibly ironic: people wasting as much as 28% of their time at work, hardly correlates to people stressed “due to the frenetic pace of modern business.” One has to have some sympathy with management when they get such apparently conflicting reports.
Yet it may not be quite the paradox it seems. Any psychologist will tell you that approval and praise are the most important tools in the motivational box. Working in an environment where this is not forthcoming will inevitably cause stress, simply because – as a rule – people will always endeavour to do their best. So rather than being contradictory, it might indeed be the case of cause and effect that Watson Wyatt conclude.
If the use of time as a measure of performance is inappropriate, as we saw earlier, it is hardly surprising that workforce supervision is inadequate, for the two are linked. Inevitably, this in turn results in poor management and control and poor communication. It is a vicious circle rooted fairly and squarely in management’s own inability to either recognise the need for change or to identify how to change.
Treating and managing people as assets in exactly the same manner as any other assets provides an ideal solution to this conundrum. It will act as the catalyst needed to move away from time-based performance assessment, reduce the need for supervision, (which is in any case a relic of traditional thinking and wholly inappropriate in a knowledge-work environment) and thus invert the foregoing vicious circle to create a virtuous cycle where people are properly managed and there is effective communication. More than that, though, it will also provide the important first step in creating the new management model that Gary Hamel is calling for.
Management is ultimately responsible for an organisation’s performance, but managers facing the challenge of poor performance, need to recognise that they are also part of the problem and have to change just as much, if not more, than their employees. And they had better climb aboard now, if they want to ensure the organisation’s future success.