Rethinking improvement of productivity | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, March 17, 2019 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, March 17, 2019

Rethinking improvement of productivity

Businesses think about revenue and profit ―and their growth. On the other hand, governments think of delivering additional services to citizens by deploying available resources.

One of the best ways of improving all these parameters is by increasing the productivity of human capital. This boosts production of goods and services by deployment of the same amount of human capital. Enhanced productivity results in enhanced satisfaction for stakeholders, including customers, citizens and employees.

Business organisations in Bangladesh have embarked on their transformation journey by adopting technologies, including enterprise resource planning (ERP) and analytics solutions.  Many of them have also undertaken business process reengineering initiatives to redesign some of their business processes.

While all of these are expected to deliver significant benefits and improve productivity in general, the time has now come to focus on productivity as a vital parameter to improve business functions.

Improved productivity will also make an emerging country such as Bangladesh globally competitive. Traditionally, the country has been able to create a globally competitive advantage in its apparel manufacturing sector due to its low cost of labour.

With economic growth, this advantage is likely to gradually decrease. However, its global competitiveness can be sustained by focusing on improving productivity.

Improvement of productivity will require several initiatives to be taken in parallel and converging their benefits into a collective set of business imperatives. The process should start with an improved understanding of a company's workforce, since most organisations have a limited knowledge of what their employees actually do on a daily basis.

They understand broad job responsibilities and activities in most cases, but do not have much organisational knowledge about the time required to complete specific tasks. And only a handful of organisations track their employees by their tasks on an hourly basis.

For those who do track their employees by their tasks, the resultant benefits have been substantial. This is one of the good practices all organisations should implement. Just by tracking tasks by hours, they can get a fair idea of the cost of every task.


Subsequently, they can analyse this data to identify the productivity spectrum of their workforce. This will enable them to slot their high productivity “stars” at one end of the spectrum and laggards at the other end.

Once organisations identify their productivity stars, they can engage with these employees to understand their work practices. On identifying and refining good practices for each set of tasks, organisations can train their workforce to learn and practice these in the workplace. As a result, collective productivity is likely to improve throughout such organisations.

According to an analysis conducted by the PwC for a global bank, the bank's Know Your Customer (KYC) process saw a 15 percent to 20 percent immediate improvement in productivity after deploying a robust task-tracking solution.

However, tracking every function within an organisation is not easy. Many functions operate with unstructured processes and an asymmetric set of information.

It is therefore prudent for an organisation to identify functions where industry best practices are available and employees are capable of adopting change faster. These functions can be selected on a priority basis for early adoption and accelerated benefits.

The other challenge for organisations is driving change. While it may be the best practice to track employees by tasks and hours, achieving this in practice requires significant effort. An effective change function can help to accelerate rollout of such new initiatives.

While organisations in Bangladesh have already embarked on this transformation journey, there are still not many instances of having change management roles in them.

In many cases, a line manager gets identified as the project manager, who also plays the role of a change manager. This is one area to which organisations in the private and public sectors should pay attention to improve their overall productivity.

Most importantly, creating a change function with a specific goal to achieve substantial improvement in productivity may help to synergise organisation-wide initiatives covering people, processes and technology.

Digitalisation is an important tool for achieving a marked improvement in productivity. Worldwide, as people live longer and work longer, training and retraining of existing workforces has become a crucial element for attaining business success.

In emerging economies such as Bangladesh, the unemployment rate is likely to go down, provided the right kind of training is conducted to develop the digital capabilities of human capital.

However, despite the importance of holding focused training programmes for the workforce, research indicates that current training and skills development efforts are not achieving the desired results.

For example, in the 21st Global CEO Survey 2018 conducted by the PwC, a significantly high number of CEOs revealed that they suffered due to lack of digital competence in their industries.

Development of digital skills goes beyond technical capabilities such as the ability to use certain software. Soft skills, including creativity, emotional intelligence, adaptability and the ability to innovate, are equally important competencies that need to be in place for development of a strong digital IQ.

Therefore, organisations should focus on developing these skills in tandem with technical capabilities. In the PwC's 21st Global CEO Survey 2018, many CEOs admitted that they need to strengthen soft skills in their organisations with their digital initiatives.

To motivate the workforce to enhance their skills, it is important to not let anyone opt out of training programmes. Organisations may consider making this a two-way trade. Those who train diligently should be given rewards in terms of a promotion, and a raise in salary and professional role, as well as other benefits.

Most importantly, it is crucial to focus not just on development of technological skills, but also on gaining a deep understanding of the interplay between business, experience and technology.

Organisations need to remember that their ability to drive digital transformation depends on their understanding of new business models, appreciation of the art of delivering a superior stakeholder experience, and integrating both these with the use of suitable technology. 

Finally, the journey of digitalisation should be made easy and fun. Organisations need to think of new learning techniques such as gamification.

Moreover, they should conduct tests to assess learning and create a competitive and dynamic culture in their organisations. This will go a long way in improving their speed of adopting digitisation.

And fostering a team spirit through team- based exercises will help them develop their workforce as a strong team. All these activities will contribute significantly to their final goal of improving their productivity.

We need to bear in mind that improving productivity in an organisation, government or private, is not an easy job. There will be a myriad of challenges. But concerted efforts will accelerate their journey of transformation and economic growth and lead to high stakeholder satisfaction.

So, private and public organisations would do well to start focusing on this parameter.


The writer is a partner at PwC. The views expressed here are personal.

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