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Which is the most important factor in improving productivity people or process?
Which is the most important factor in improving productivity – people or process?
The phrase "our people are our greatest resource" is often heard, yet the way in which companies act at times seems to belie that statement. Companies seem to have little regard for their greatest asset when times are hard – they seem to "downsize" very rapidly, seemingly preferring to incur the wrath of (part of) this great asset rather than that of their shareholders.
Similarly, we know that skilled labour is vitally important to organisations – and to the nation. Yet, we continually hear of skills shortages. Presumably those same companies – and the nation – cannot get their act together long enough to undertake the planning, and to make the investment, to ensure a ready supply of skilled labour.
This is starting to seem like a rant – and perhaps it is. What started me on this train of thought (can we in the UK have trains of thought any longer – or is it an inappropriate metaphor for a country whose rail system seems to be in terminal decline?) is reading Good to Great by Jim Collins. This attempts to find out what separates the merely (!) good organisation from the great – where "great" is defined as beating the prevailing market performance by a factor of three each year consistently over 15 years. This avoids "lucky" short-term performance and, for the most part, avoids the single inspirational leader who may not embed long-term success. What Jim, and his research team, did – after identifying companies which met this tough criterion – was to compare them with a similar-sized company in the same industry that was less than great (though some of them were pretty good).
The single most important factor that emerged – to me, anyway – was that it's not mission, or vision, or strategy that drives such success (so tell those PR people writing your new mission statement to cool off for a while) … It is "the people on the bus". In fact, the quality of the team is so important that you should assemble the team (get the right people on the bus and, just as importantly, get the wrong people off the bus) before deciding where to go. Jim sums this up as:
"People are your most important asset" turns out to be wrong. People are not your most important asset. The right people are.
So, where does that leave us productivity professionals? Are we wasting our time looking at process and procedure and working methods and … ? Of course not. I prefer to look at it as though someone (the boss, the management team, the HR department) is responsible for assembling the right people –appropriately skilled, motivated, empowered, rewarded. What they do is create potential.
However, that potential still has to be realised. And that is where – in part – we come in. We can make a significant difference to the realisation of that potential – the potential for high productivity and high performance. Unless those right people are working within effective systems, processes and procedures, their potential gets sapped, their energy declines, their motivation goes – and we have – at best – a good, certainly not a great company. So, the bus has to be well-driven, properly maintained, regularly serviced and occasionally cleaned. Now, where are my overalls?