Increasing productivity may be the objective, but most of the time it seems like we are only increasing activity. A clip from an old animated cartoon makes this point in a hilarious and poignant way.
Here’s the bit, which comes from the original Pink Panther short released in 1964:
You have to admit, in only a few dozen hand-drawn frames, the filmmakers have captured much of what it’s like to be in the modern workforce.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve come across a situation at a client’s office that is strikingly similar to this video. We’re brought in to increase productivity, but first we have to help employees realize that the existing process and culture is the real enemy. Stakeholders are painting over each other’s work.
Even worse, much of the time people don’t even know about the wasted effort. Consider the following scenario, which I am confident has happened to you at work in the last month:
- An employee sends out an email to multiple recipients, which asks for feedback on a proposed idea or attached document.
- Someone replies privately with a few suggestions.
- Another individual replies later, with some of the same suggestions.
- The original sender realizes a mistake they made in the first place, and sends out a correction.
- In the meantime, another reply has been drafted that addresses the same error, but is discarded once the updated version arrives.
- One more stakeholder chooses to reply-all, but provides no critique. Instead they ask an unrelated question!
While technologies like electronic mail are intended to increase productivity, this is a clear case of multiple people painting a pole different colors at the same time. Because there is no clear process, everyone wastes their time tripping over everyone else.
It’s like micromanagement from every direction!
If you haven’t seen the phenomenon I’m describing, I challenge you to look harder. The basis of any program to increase productivity over the long run is by recognizing what others are doing and working collaboratively to make changes.
And: feel free to share this little movie at your next meeting to start the conversation.