Improving productivity starts with each and every leader

Improving productivity starts with each and every leader

According to Business Council of Australia president Tony Shepherd, “If the government is serious about tackling our productivity and competitiveness challenges it needs to involve more stakeholders in the discussion going forward and we look forward to that happening.” (‘BCA demands more from Rudd’, AFR 25/7/13).

I agree wholeheartedly with Tony.

Improving productivity is the responsibility of a wide array of stakeholders including government, employees, politicians, policymakers and the unions.

But there is one stakeholder group that is conspicuously absent to date in any discussion on improving our productivity performance.


Surely any improvement should start with our organisational, political and business leaders.

If Gandhi is correct and you should be the change you wish to see in the world, where are the leaders today that are working smarter? Where is the kind of role-model behaviour they can point to suggesting that being able to do more with less is achievable and desirable?

I have attended, designed or facilitated literally hundreds of leadership planning, strategy and away days over the past 10 years and I cannot recall ever a leadership team talking about their own productivity. To be sure, there have been rigorous debates about lifting the performance of others, but interestingly, never their own.

Surely the greatest impact on an organisation’s productivity would be leveraging the productivity of the management and leadership team.

In fact, not only is it not on the agenda, individual productivity goals are not in place nor is it measured. As far as I know, it is also not taught in any MBA or business school programs.

Productivity is far more than time management programs. It requires creativity and a willingness to challenge what has gone on beforehand and an openness to try new approaches in the future.

The starting point for me with any discussion about leader productivity would be meetings. Yes, the humble meeting. I have not yet met a leader that did not complain about the number of meetings, the time spent in them and how ineffective most of them are.

Yet here is the rub. Leaders seem incapable, unable or unwilling to tackle this most basic of activities. It is a terrible irony that leaders spend all their time in meetings, complain vociferously about them and yet for the most part do not want to do anything about them. Then they have the cheek to complain about the productivity o others.

Another effective place to start might be for the CEO to start talking about the need for each leader to own their level of productivity performance. Perhaps every leader should have productivity KPI as part of their goals for each and every year.

I predict that the leader’s of the future, to be promoted, will have to demonstrate how they are working smarter and how they are helping others to work smarter.

Perhaps the appointment of a chief productivity officer for every medium to large organisation might also be another step in the right direction. Their responsibility would be to firstly define what productivity means in their business, outline why it is important and how it is to be measured.

I would go even further, my suggestion is that a new senior position should be created that combines responsibility for both innovation and productivity. In this way, innovation is grounded in creating real world value and productivity is driven by our imagination and creativity.

Only by engaging leaders in the productivity challenge at a practical and personal level will Australia lift its productivity performance by two percentage points as demanded by the Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd.


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