Mid-July saw the staging of Microsoft’s first ever online worldwide partner conference known as Inspire. Instead of experiencing the bright lights, searing heat and carnival atmosphere of Las Vegas, the attendees, at least from our neck of the woods, had to content themselves with late nights, a radiator and a packet of crisps. And yet it worked. Well over 500 media-rich sessions were delivered flawlessly, covering topics like digital transformation, product development, business continuity, cyber security and organisational productivity.
And it was one of the sessions on productivity by Aaron Dignan titled “Brave New Work” that particularly caught my imagination.
Starting off by reminding us that despite the fact that we all carry around more computing power in our pockets in the form of a smartphone than took the Apollo missions to the moon, levels of productivity have been in constant decline for many years now. What's even more embarrassing is that many economic experts are not entirely sure why it is that we seem to be largely incapable of doing more with more.
The Productivity Problem
Interestingly however, most employees don't find it so difficult to put their fingers on the nub of the problem. Bureaucracy! Simply put, more and more we are getting in the way of our own productivity. Dignan has a handy little analogy to explain what is often going on.
Whenever you think of a crossroads, there are two main ways to manage the traffic at such an intersection - either a set of traffic lights or a roundabout. What is fascinating is that even though roundabouts have fewer accidents, more throughput and substantially cheaper operational costs, there are 90% more traffic light-controlled junctions in most developed countries. Why is that? Well, it seems we have come to prefer control and compliance in our lives rather than trust and autonomy. And so Dignan argues that most organisations have unhelpfully enslaved themselves in too much of the former and not enough of a latter, and is suggesting we all take a look again at our business operating systems and infuse them with much more ‘roundabout’ ways of dealing with our productivity challenges.
Efficiency Comes From Empowerment
As a technology organisation you might expect us to believe that productivity is entirely dependent on the latest hardware or software or gadgets or automation. Well, of course in the world of competitive advantage and technical advancement to a certain extent those things are vital if you don’t want to get left behind, but it is far from the whole story. What is becoming increasingly obvious is that productivity is equally reliant on things like trust and purpose and empowerment.
Take the simple example of working from home. Many of our customers had serious reservations about what would happen when their employees were facilitated to work from home during lockdown, and yet almost universally the result has been an increase in productivity, almost to the point where responsible employers are having to caution their staff to be careful not to work longer hours than they’re supposed to, and to ensure they are taking proper breaks.
A New Way of Working
At Nitec things were no different. We already had a ‘working from home’ culture but lockdown saw all of us, bar a small skeleton team at the office, doing it at the same time. And guess what? Our 95-page company handbook was largely irrelevant in guiding us through a fresh new chapter in our history. What worked were regular touch points to review our progress of adapting to the new norm, learning and monitoring progress as we went (something we are still doing), with a commitment to continual improvement.
And that is exactly how we run our Adoption and Change Management practise for our customers when it comes to the brave new work that is required around security and productivity. For the most part we believe the traffic light system of spending time once a year focussing on a technology upgrade is almost doomed to failure from the start. What has been proven to be much more effective is our unique style of account management that allows us to regularly collaborate with our clients in implementing and monitoring the incremental changes that, over time, can make a huge difference to the productivity landscape.
It may be that you too have experienced a few ‘roundabout’ moments in your business over the last 4 months. If so, we’d love to hear about them. Without stretching the analogy too far you might also have had a few ‘near misses’. Well, don’t worry - those are probably the moments that will be foundational as we discover that ‘fixing our productivity’ is almost certainly going to mean doing a whole lot of things differently.