Solving the employee productivity problem

Solving the employee productivity problem


SUMMARY: Improved employee engagement delivers value to the overall business, but employee productivity remains significantly low in many developed nations.

Most organisations recognise the impact and value that improved employee engagement delivers to the overall business. But while this should incite companies to encourage worker happiness and productivity, the sad truth is that employee productivity remains significantly low in many developed nations.

Andre Spicer, Professor of Organisational Behaviour at Cass Business School, spoke on this subject at a recent Oracle thought-leadership dinner, emphasising the role managers must play in helping businesses to address this productivity puzzle. Essentially, what Spicer and professors at academic institutions around the country have concluded is that much of the blame can be placed on low quality management – the so-called David Brent effect.

Two central themes emerged from Spicer’s talk. The first is the concept of the mismatch dilemma. In general, managers tend to assume one of six personas that define their approach and behaviour. These are:

  •  The Buddy.
  • The Saint.
  • The Therapist.
  • The Commander.
  • The Bully.
  • The Cyborg.

So, for example, the therapist tends to emphasise coaching and development, the bully’s approach is to knock heads together, and the cyborg’s authority comes from constantly performing at a near-inhuman level.

Similarly, there are also six employee personas:

  • The Friend.
  • The Believer.
  • The Patient.
  • The Soldier.
  • The Victim.
  • The interestingly-named ‘all too human’.

But while these mental models seem to mirror those of the managers, and while many would think a natural form of harmony would ensue, often just the opposite occurs. Commanders start managing victims, bullies begin managing friends, and so on. This is the nature of the mis-match dilemma, and working to address this disconnect will be a first port of call for HR when it comes to promoting a more engaged and satisfied workforce.


The second major focus-area according for Spicer is business transformation, and namely the skills required to effectively design and execute change initiatives. The irony at play is that while these initiatives typically require some degree of cultural reform across the organisation, the managers empowered to drive this change are often steeped in the very value system they are looking to restructure.

One only needs to look at current endeavours in the financial services industry to see how problematic this can be.

Banks are attempting to remould employees – who have for years been trained as ‘revenue generating machines’ – into experts in compliance, risk and ethics. This requires an organic behavioural change, and doubts must be raised about the ability of any bank to effect genuine change with their current personnel.

So how can businesses address the disconnect between managers’ varied skill-set and their shortcomings when it comes to effectively engaging their employees? There is of course no clear-cut answer, but technology certainly has a significant role to play.

HR should look to other parts of the organisation that make the most of their IT to better understand people. For example, marketing executives have been extremely successful using data analysis and CRM technologies to map their customers’ behaviour, model their actions, quantify their responses to particular campaigns and predict their propensity to take on a particular course of action under a given set of conditions.

And yet, many people within the HR function believe that understanding employee behaviour is an entirely different beast, more so an art than a science and one that relies entirely on intuition. They maintain that technology is not suited to understanding complex issues such as culture change and employee engagement.

Why is this? Surely employees are consumers when they leave work anyways.

Whether analysing how customers interact with a brand or exploring how employees engage with their work, the endgame is the same: to develop a clearer understanding of a group of individuals. To achieve this, managers will first need to break outside of their biases. Then they will be well-placed to begin piecing together their productivity puzzle.

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