The difference between a productive supply chain worker and an unproductive one is staggering in today’s knowledge economy. As per this recent article in the McKinsey Quarterly on boosting the productivity of knowledge workers, raising the productivity of these workers, who constitute a large and growing share of the workforce in developed economies, represents a major opportunity for companies, as well as for countries with low birthrates that hope to maintain GDP growth. However, those companies that fail to keep up with their competitors will soon be swept aside in the battle for supremacy in the knowledge economy.
But knowledge work involves more diverse and amorphous tasks than do production or clerical positions and is thus hard to automate or streamline. Plus, the real returns are often the result of creativity and ingenuity that spark a new innovation — how do you boost that with a system or process? Typically, you don’t. So how do you increase the productivity of your knowledge workers? Simple, you increase the amount of time they have to spend on creativity, ingenuity, and innovation. And you do that by identifying their time-drains and taking them away.
According to McKinsey Research, knowledge workers spend half their time on interactions. Half their time! If they’re not getting what they need from these interactions, that’s up to half of their time wasted. So what can you do? You identify the productivity barriers — which can be physical, technical, social, cultural, contextual, and/or temporal — and you remove them.
If distance is a problem, you get people together when needed. If the technology isn’t sufficient for the types of global collaboration required by your team, you upgrade it. If the organizational modus operandi isn’t appropriate to the locale, you change it. If your people are having trouble understanding their counterparts across the globe, you give them some cultural training. If marketing can’t understand engineering and vice versa, you upgrade their technical skills. And if there truly isn’t enough time, you admit that fact and adjust the project scope and timelines to be more reasonable.
In other words, Tina Turner was right. If you want to succeed, you have to break through the barrier.