Productivity concerns HR

But not many firms track it well: Survey

Three years ago, PWO, an Oberkirch, Germany-based manufacturer, ordered all of its five locations to undergo lean manufacturing training to improve efficiency and quality.

Following the training, the head office also set specific targets, which the Kitchener, Ont., location met and exceeded, said Mike Atkinson, HR generalist at PWO Canada.

“What they asked us to accomplish in three years, we did in six months,” he said.

That training, and the company’s improved productivity, played a big part in the company’s ability to survive the recent economic downturn, said Atkinson. As such, he sees the value of training to improve productivity and boost business success.

“But it has to be the right training, not training for the sake of training,” he said.

This connection between investing in training and improved productivity is recognized by organizations, with 35.8 per cent of respondents to the latest Pulse Survey saying their organization has made the connection.

Another 43.6 per cent of the 435 Canadian HR Reporter readers and members of the Human Resources Professionals Association who were surveyed say their organization has “somewhat” made the connection while 20.6 per cent say their organization hasn’t made the connection between training and productivity.

“If it’s a new product line or a new service line, yes, training goes a long way to increasing productivity,” said Ted Clarke, an HR consultant in Peterborough, Ont. But for a mature product or service, increased training won’t increase productivity, he said.

“What will increase productivity is reinforcing the value and recognition of the work they perform,” said Clarke.

Productivity is definitely a priority for employers, with 62.3 per cent of respondents saying it has a lot of currency at their organization.

However, only 30.3 per cent of respondents say their organization closely tracks productivity. Another 47 per cent track productivity, but not well, and 22.7 per cent of the respondents don’t track it at all.

But it’s easy to track productivity, said Clarke.

“You look at total hours worked versus the average number of products produced or customers served. It’s a very straightforward equation,” he said.

But that kind of simplistic view about productivity can cause problems, especially with knowledge workers, said Zelda Craig, an HR consultant in Prince George, B.C.

Unlike in manufacturing, it doesn’t matter when the work gets done as long as it gets done and gets done well, she said. So if a knowledge worker does his best work between 9 p.m. and 11 p.m., then it doesn’t make sense to stand over him at the office between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. with a stopwatch to measure his output, said Craig.

“Productivity needs to balance these intense spurts of work where you’re getting lots of things done and then the sitting back, relaxing, connecting with your peers kind of piece and then diving back in,” she said.

“If you track accomplishments versus the number of hours your bum is in a seat or dictating what time you need to work, you can actually get a lot more done.”

Improving worker productivity should be a priority for HR professionals, according to 87.2 per cent of respondents. And 70.2 per cent agree or strongly agree HR professionals should take the lead with initiatives aimed at increasing productivity.

“It’s the one thing, in terms of our expertise, that we can bring to the table and step back and analyze and see beyond what the manager or operations people see,” said Clarke.

Operations people tend to focus on the short term while HR can see the long-term effects and the bigger picture, he said.

But it’s best if HR works with managers to improve productivity, said Craig.

“I think it has to be a partnership,” she said. “I don’t think one side has an edge over the other.”

Latest stories