October 5, 2009

Slowing down to be productive

Storytellers make me laugh. I am a person who would not pass up hearing a good story instead of going about my assigned task. Does this affect my productivity? Yes. Yet, does my practice have any positive impact on my workplace? You bet. As my daughter told me years ago as she pushed me into professional speaking, “Daddy, be a story teller like Garrison Keillor”. And so I am.

I think it’s time to relook at the concept of “productivity” anyway. We live in a world of constant measurement. At the airport, did the airplane push away from the gate in less than 15 minutes of measured time? If your lunch is not delivered to you in 10 minutes, it’s free!

What began with one-hour dry-cleaning “while you wait” has degenerated into a world of FedEx, fast food and workplace expectations of working faster and faster. I was talking with a FedEx courier recently about the stress on him to increase his deliveries. As he told it, they dropped giving Rolex’s for package delivery and have traded down in watches while pushing delivery expectations up.

One downside to productivity measurement is the oft-overlooked issue of simply measuring the wrong thing. Or what we have measured does not get to the heart of the problem. For instance, most of us would think that technology and productivity would go hand in hand. Yet, consider the simple fact that an increase in technology does not necessarily translate to an increase in productivity.

Matt Richel, writing in the New York Times, NYT, 14 June 2008 concluded “statistical and anecdotal evidence mounts that the same technology tools that have led to improvements in productivity can be counterproductive if overused”.

While computers are the driving force behind every business operation today, who suspected that Facebook would be the favorite time waster at almost every level of the spectrum?

I ran across this story, which I think illustrates the quandary of productivity.

“One of the best marksmen in the FBI was passing through a small town. Everywhere he saw evidences of the most amazing shooting. On trees, on walls, and on fences there were numerous bull's-eyes with the bullet hole in dead center.

The FBI man asked one of the townsmen if he could meet the person responsible for this wonderful marksmanship. The man turned out to be the town deadbeat.

"This is the best marksmanship I have ever seen," said the FBI man. "How in the world do you do it?"

"Nothing to it," said the deadbeat. "I shoot first and draw the circles afterward."

Having managed many teams over the years, I have been subjected to some of the deadbeat’s crafty solutions of drawing the targets over scatter shots and being told how good their work was.

It finally comes down to not being the fastest worker or the shrewdest teller of how good their work was, but who does the RIGHT work. How the customer was delighted. How packages were ALL delivered to the RIGHT person.

And as a veteran of retail, how an item will STAY sold. Now, that’s productive.

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