Human Nature Driving Productivity

If someone was to ask you what the most precious commodity on the planet was to you personally, I wonder how you would answer?

My personal experience in life has told me that most people would chase ‘The Coin’ (money), to provide the best life they can for their loved ones. This is a typical response in the UK, where success is often measured by the bank balance.

From a business point of view, the Profit & Loss is King and the balance of competing priorities (service, cost and cash) requires our companies to constantly demand more for less (more service for less cost) from our workforce.

So, a key question to answer is: How can we drive productivity, reduce costs, make more profit and simultaneously deliver the most precious commodity to our workforce?

The answer for me lies in the very fabric of our DNA – Human nature if you prefer.

Before I give you a real example, let us agree what the precious commodity is (which is not money) the answers ‘Time’. Something that no level of ‘Coin’ can buy and yet we so easily give it up, to fund our various lifestyle choices.

With our baseline commodity agreed, let us consider the following example:  A company who has a large, skilled workforce, delivering maintenance contracts needs to find ways of increasing productivity. The management team believe there is a considerable amount of waste in the process, but to date have found little in the way of change management to create the results they need. Teams of different trades have worked for years on 6 days per week and projects often run over deadlines, with circa 20% overtime bill to boot.

The management style is to drive productivity targets into project management teams and get the managers to really scrutinise the daily work and push their team’s harder. This is clearly a ‘top down’ approach, which has been proven several times not to work, so what to do? 

For this example, the proposal was to:

  1. Let the workforce know that they would automatically be paid the 20% overtime, whether they work the additional hours or not - a bonus, if the critical project dates were met.

  2. The workforce could leave on a Friday afternoon if the total project schedule was up-to-date – all trades, not just your own team, or workload.

  3. Any breach in health and safety (H&S) by any of the individual team members would result in penalties for the whole project team – reduction in the bonus.

There were a few other conditions, but these were the main points.

Several significant changes in behaviour were projected:

a. Within 6 weeks, no one would be working 6 days a week.

Why? – Human nature suggests that if they are getting the money anyway, there is no reason to stretch the work out longer than required.

b. Within 6 months, the project team would be leaving on a Friday afternoon.

Why? – Human nature suggests that if they put the effort in as a team, they could now be working 4.5 days per week and not 6.

c. The project management team would no longer need to constantly chase for productivity.

Why? – The trade leaders would be approaching the management team with ideas of how to reduce the time required to do certain tasks because human nature suggests it would be in their interest to make the process as slick as possible.

d. The trade teams would quickly identify all those individuals that do not ‘pull their weight’.

Why? – These individuals would be putting the bonus at risk, so the rest of the team would inform the management of whom does not fit in and why.

e. H&S records start to improve, as ‘interventions’ (usually reserved for managers) are constantly self-managed by the trade teams.

Why? – If the management spot any infraction, there is a consequence to the whole team bonus. There is also a key train of thought here, which is that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line and H&S often does not allow this, so it must be closely monitored.

The management team said of the proposal, “Are you crazy? Why would I consistently pay the 20% as a bonus or overtime?”

The reasons and the benefits for the business takes a little time, but is as follows;

  1. In the initial (trial) project, you prove productivity. Six days per week comes down to 4.5-5 days and the projects are delivered on time.

  2. Once productivity is proven, you can use the teams feedback on non-team players, to reduce the size of the teams themselves.

  3. Future projects are running with more motivated, smaller teams, with a keen eye on H&S.

  4. The team members constantly drive productivity, whilst the total cost of headcount reduces.

  5. Every member of the team gets more time to spend with their loved ones. Time that money cannot buy!!

Human nature offers the answer to productivity and lots more, we just need to press the right buttons.

Andy Taylor is a Co-Founder and Director of Teal Partners Ltd, who specialise in providing interim resourcing for supply chain and operational solutions helping to drive business performance

Andy Taylor