Mark Craemer No Comments

Is there a connection between working smarter and greater productivity? How do we actually work smarter anyway, and why don’t we do it all the time instead of when we’re forced to do it?

In spite of the current economy with rampant corporate downsizing, there are signs that most companies will actually improve their productivity in the near term. According to a recent survey, a clear majority say their firms will work smarter and that this will come about through improvements in work processes. These were the conclusions of a study by the Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp) and who surveyed top executives as well as lower-level managers and supervisors in January 2009.

According to the survey, 86% of respondents said “there will be an increased emphasis on productivity” over the next six months. This greater focus on productivity has already panned out according to numbers released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) of the U.S. Department of Labor, which stated that in the fourth quarter of 2008, productivity in the nonfarm business sector rose 3.2%. It also rose 2.8% for the entire year, which was the highest growth rate since 2004.

So just how do we work smarter? Should all workflow processes and procedures be subject to a rigorous test to find and fix inefficiencies? Are these inefficiencies all that universal and easy to detect? I suspect not and therefore external efficiency experts and consultants should be in high demand. After all, if inefficiencies were easy to detect and correct, these would be taken care of by the people inside the companies.

Half of those surveyed also cited that there will be greater effort and engagement by employees as well as more effective workforce management. Organizations are trying to further engage employees at the same time as they make these work processes more efficient. And one could argue that you can’t have one without the other. If employees feel they are working as efficiently as possible, they very likely will feel more highly engaged in their work. On the other hand, if employees are highly engaged in their work, they may very well find ways to improve—given the opportunity—work process efficiency. It is this symbiotic relationship between engaged employees and the efficient work process that all companies should be seeking.

Working smarter should be more than just choosing to correct an existing inefficient process, but as a new philosophy for approaching each and every workday. For example, working smarter could mean choosing to look at your email inbox only two or three times a day instead of constantly reacting to whatever message zaps your attention from completing the task at hand. You may be in a position to do this with your phone as well. One could also choose to hold or attend meetings only when they are conducted in a manner that is highly productive. For those who bring their laptops to meeting to get other things done at the same time, they might question the widely held belief that multi-tasking really is more efficient than fully focusing your attention on one thing at a time.

For a sustained rise in productivity, working smarter must become more than just a convenient phrase for leaders to tell shareholders. Working smarter means organizations must embrace the notion of helping to fully engage their employees and provide them with the opportunity to influence their work processes. The resistance to change is very powerful, however, so it will take strong leadership and commitment to see that these improvements are driven throughout the organization and remain in place.

Mark Craemer                     

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