Daniel Markovitz wote an article for Harvard Business Review titled Productivity Is About Your Systems, Not Your People (January 05, 2021).   

« To make a real impact on performance, you have to work at the system level.

« Leaders are always seeking to improve employee productivity (including their own). All too often, that quest goes no further than time management training provided by the HR department… The problem isn’t with the intrinsic logic of any of these approaches. It’s that they fail to account for the simple fact that most people don’t work in isolation. They work in complex organizations defined by interdependencies among people — and it’s often these interdependencies that have the greatest effect on personal productivity. »

« As legendary statistician and management consultant W. Edwards Deming argued in his book Out of the Crisis, 94% of most problems and possibilities for improvement belong to the system, not the individual. »

« Tier your huddles… Many highly productive organizations have instituted a system of tiered daily huddles, with a clear escalation sequence for all problems. The first huddle, consisting of front-line workers, begins at the start of the workday. The next huddle, consisting of supervisors, follows 30 minutes later. Managers meet 30 minutes after that, followed by directors, VPs, and finally the executive team. Problems are addressed at the lowest possible level. If a decision can’t be reached, the issue is escalated to the next level. This system improves the linkage between the C-suite and the front lines; it accelerates decision making; and perhaps most importantly, it improves productivity by reducing the number of scattershot emails about a variety of problems. »

« Make work visible… Physical or virtual task boards (such as Trello, Asana, Airtable, Zenkit, etc.), where every task is represented by a card specifying who is handling it (and its status) enables a more equitable distribution of work. It also eliminates both countless status check emails and the need to cover that topic in meetings… Similarly, making downtime visible is equally helpful…  (i.e., afternoons or evenings totally disconnected from work and wireless devices, agreed-upon email blackout times, or uninterrupted work blocks) led to greater job satisfaction and better work-life balance without compromising client service. »

« Define the “bat signal.” … With no agreement on what communication channel to use, workers are forced to check all digital messaging platforms to ensure that nothing slips through the cracks. That’s toxic to productivity. Companies can make work easier for people if they specified channels for urgent and non-urgent issues. »

« Align responsibility with authority… Too often workers are made responsible for tasks but aren’t given the authority to deliver results. This misalignment leads to frustration, stress, and overburden… The rule is simple: if an employee is responsible for an outcome, they should have the authority to make the necessary decisions, without being forced into an endless string of emails, meetings, or presentations. »

Daniel Markovitz is the author of  The Conclusion Trap: Four Steps to Better Decisions  (2020).

Related Reading:

Thinking in Systems by Donella Meadows

The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization by Peter M. Senge

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