Break Through with Strategic Productivity

Posted on May 8th, 2014

The Microsoft short film Productivity Future Vision (2011) provides a glimpse into a world where every moment in every person’s life is ultimately productive. Schedules, communication, travel, business collaboration, even philanthropy are marvelously, seamlessly integrated, shrinking the world literally to the palm of each hand.

While not clearly obvious in the film, such productivity is advantageous only because it is inherently strategic. Unfortunately, this type of #StrategicProductivity is not normally prevalent in business. In fact, @NickTasler identifies productivity as one of the 3 Myths That Kill Strategic Planning (@HBR), saying, “the (real) problem is that productivity is strategically agnostic.” True, yet productivity is often used interchangeably with competitiveness or at the very least spoken of in the same breath by most corporate leaders.

This presents a challenge, though one #TransformationalLeadership overcomes easily with attention to a few basic principles:

1. Understand and Leverage the Pigeonhole Principle

TooManyPigeonsSimply stated, the Pigeonhole Principle says that if there are more items to handle than individual places to handle them, some of the locations will be required to accommodate multiple items. (Maybe this should be called the “Kitchen Drawer Principle” instead?) This principle explains why faulty (or no) corporate strategy often falls victim to productivity.

When any organization tries to accomplish more than it has capacity to execute, resources are increasingly forced over time into plural duty. This is why responding to competitiveness challenges through workforce reduction seldom works. In fact, an understanding of the Pigeonhole Principle makes it easy to recognize why this strategy frequently makes matters worse and may even lower competitiveness … often rapidly.

Yet productivity is important and critical to the success of any organization. The only hope for sustained competitiveness is to achieve #StrategicProductivity, even if not the panacea depicted in Productivity Future Vision. For this to happen effective, intentional and consistent productivity prioritization must occur.

2. Prioritize on Strategy not Tactics

Even for those organizations that realize the need to prioritize productivity, there is often a lack of understanding of the difference between strategic and tactical prioritization. Using production volume or demand as examples , a tactical approach would dictate that the highest volume or demand processes would be required to be most productive and receive most resource priority. A strategic approach, on the other hand, would look at the volumes or demand identified in the prevailing strategy and set priorities based on that strategic intent. If the difference between these approaches is not astounding for any company, that company has an irrelevant strategy and will in time itself become competitively irrelevant.

The tools required to identify, calculate, and communicate strategic priorities for productivity are straightforward, easy to use, and very reliable. The key action is to make sure that priorities are deployed throughout the enterprise and impact appropriate business systems and processes, including measurement, reward, and decision making.

3. Measure & Reward on Strategy and Tactics using a dynamic time approach

Unlike prioritization, measurement, reward, and decision systems need to be driven by strategic and tactical intent. Because of this, the strategic time horizon must be used to determine measurement and recognition/reward goals and drive decision metrics at a given point of strategic execution. Early in the plan, expected performance levels will be more weighted to tactics, moving to a predominantly strategic weighting as the strategy periods draws to a close. This transition must be driven regardless of tactical performance at any given time. Otherwise, there will be little or no difference between tactical and strategic measurement.

Strategic Productivity only happens where #TransformationalLeaders are present. The enablers of heightened communication, collaboration and strategic view seen in Productivity Future Vision, though challenging, are conceptually achievable. Once achieved, bolder and more ambitious #StrategicPlanning results and competitiveness explodes.