Continuing technological advances, increasing global competition, high labour rates, aging populations in developed countries and a variety of other factors are all reasons why productivity is becoming an increasingly important organizational topic. For many organizations, it can also be a major challenge.

Part of the problem is that productivity isn't always well understood and, therefore, not well measured. Workers who believe increased productivity means "working harder for less pay" might be hesitant to adopt measures introduced to enhance productivity. Organizations that continue to define productivity in industrial-era terms – "doing more for less" – may be generating greater quantity rather than quality. "Doing better" would likely be a more appropriate goal for most organizations, though determining exactly what constitutes as "better" may be a nuanced definition, specific to the organization, its customers, suppliers and value drivers.

Productivity may lag when organizations don't invest the appropriate resources in research and development, machinery and equipment, and information and communication technologies, as well as other "softer" capabilities needed to drive productivity, such as employee skills training and development. Some organizations deliberately hold off on making these investments, particularly when budgets are reduced, in an effort to improve short-term financial results. Other organizations, however, are unaware that they are under investing in productivity. They believe they are making the appropriate investments but are actually lagging in comparison to their peers – something that could be determined by comparing their investments to their industry norms.

Many organizations' productivity is inhibited by their own culture. Inefficient communications including an overload of emails, multiple and lengthy meetings, task assignments that come from multiple directions with conflicting priorities, and other activities that waste time can all disrupt productivity.

Productivity constraints may also be embedded in protocol. Requiring employees to do things "the way we've always done it" often perpetuates inefficient practices created in an era prior to the tools and technologies of today. Instead, organizations should revisit their protocols and practices on a regular basis with the objective of adopting leading practices wherever possible.

Finally, one of the biggest factors affecting productivity is ensuring that employees feel engaged and empowered to perform work that is clearly connected with their organization's strategy.

Thought leadership