To close the productivity gap, we have to use digital to help people do more of the ‘right’ things
Concerns about the state of UK labour productivity show little sign of abating – the most recent reports indicate a mix of stagnation and decline – and theories behind the slide are as numerous as they are inconclusive.
While these debates are mostly limited to macroeconomic discussion, it’s little wonder that decision makers in the C-suite are thinking about the issue closer to home – particularly when it comes to digitisation.
Organisations see the plethora of emerging apps, software tools, mobile devices and other digitisation technologies, but have to consider: what are the business benefits and how can they be implemented quickly and effectively?
When we spoke to European business and IT decision makers as part of our Digital Tightrope study, 38 percent of decision makers said that workplace productivity was the main benefit of digitisation. Worryingly, only 21 per cent said that employee productivity is actually a priority in their organisations.
So, how can we speed up digitisation and focus on areas that improve productivity?
I think this could begin with establishing the difference between productivity gains and efficiency gains – two things that I find are too often inaccurately conflated.
Efficiency is about doing more of the same thing with what’s available. The oft-quoted “do more with less” maxim applies here. While productivity is about enabling your workforce to do more of the right things with the time and resources available.
If you digitise your business processes successfully then the result is increased capacity – this can then either be banked or reinvested with existing staff. For example, you might decide to allow sales staff to use the extra time to take on more clients.
This also raises the question as to whether digitisation is a net creator or a net destroyer of jobs. With technology, automation may be seen at a surface level by some as a job cutter. But digital, in freeing up people’s time and providing them with new capabilities, should be viewed predominantly as enabling employees to do a better job by being more productive.
Helping your employees to add genuine value
Take the example of social workers in the field. A demanding job at the best of times, the last thing they need is to be slaves to technology, losing hundreds of hours a year finding electronic files or having to return to the office to update case notes.
We’ve worked with organisations such as Cafcass to digitise casework and enable mobile working, allowing social workers to be productive wherever they are – in court, while travelling, or visiting patient family homes. The value-add of digitisation is more time spent with vulnerable people. In other words, helping employees do more of the ‘right’ things.
The upside isn’t just taking out dead time and filling it with productive time, but also having a happier workforce. This helps attract and retain the right talent. Another consideration is ensuring that organisations are culturally geared up for digitisation. My colleague Jat Sahi has a useful model for determining whether an organisation’s culture is digital or traditional (take a look at his post and decide what type of culture you work in!)
So how can we digitise faster to reap the productivity benefits? This is a subject I covered in a previous blog post, where I advocated a two-speed IT approach. We have to get out of the IT slow lane, and the best way of doing this is having a ‘fast IT’ approach, where the mentality is about starting small, learning fast and scaling quickly.
Ultimately, technology should be an invisible force in our lives. Through digitisation, we can increase our capacity to do more valuable and personally rewarding jobs. If we get this right, the macro-economic debate will become an irrelevance.
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