Technological advancements just keep on coming, and all the while, we tout them as “more efficient” and “better.” In many ways, though, the technologies seem to only take care of “keep the lights on” tasks, mundane or routine undertakings that once “wasted” precious human time.
Are we really any more productive though? What do these technologies do to our ability to collaborate and innovate?
I recently took a trip to the grocery store with a year’s worth of change, and after about 30 seconds of dumping coins into a machine, I was given a total and a receipt for my 10 kilos worth of coinage. When I was younger, I would bring this same pile of change to the bank, and wait patiently while the teller spent 10 minutes counting it out. During this time, my parents would chat casually with one of the bank employees.
While this wasn’t a huge transaction, or even particularly important business for the bank, manually completing the task allowed time for relationships to be built between my parents (the customers) and various bank employees (the business).
Now the automatic coin-counting machine has replaced the teller for this task. Yes, that bit of technology frees up some time for the teller and allows him or her to “get more done,” but at the end of the day, is it really making any more money for the bank?
Getting More Done With Less
With all of these technological breakthroughs, most of us are able to be very self-sufficient in the workplace. We can accomplish dull tasks more quickly and more accurately than in years past. With that tech-based efficiency, however, we’ve adopted this idea that the same amount of work can be done by fewer people – and therein lies the problem. It’s true that technology allows us to be more “productive,” but what are the underlying costs to the organization?
A recent client of mine, an information technology group, reduced its team of database engineers from 55 to 45 employees. Because they are exceptional people with state-of-the-art technology, they were able to maintain the same level of customer and project support even with the reduction in staff. There was no noticeable drop off in performance or reliability. There were, however, some unintended consequences:
• The team has little to no ability to take on new projects
• Team member get over 400 emails every day, and that’s not including phone calls, instant messages, and texts
• Career development is stagnant – not intentionally, but because there is no time to dedicate to it
• Database interruptions, though rare, now take almost 30% longer to resolve
While the current workload wasn’t impacted, the reduced workforce left zero bandwidth available to take on anything outside of their narrowly defined roles. Customers were mildly disappointed in this lack of expandable service, and other IT teams found the group difficult to work with – because the level of stress (with no prospect of relief) has the team stretched tight like a drum.
Instead of looking at how to get more done with fewer people, organizations need to start asking themselves, “what’s best for the company?”
In an emergency, sometimes layoffs can’t be avoided, but it’s worth considering that a team with adequate resources and enough members is far more capable of scaling to meet demand. When every member of a workforce is operating at maximum capacity, there is no room for additional polish on a task, no room for an expanded market share, and perhaps most importantly, no time to devote to solving problems and innovating within the company itself.
Instead of looking for ways to do more with less, companies should simply be look at how to do things better. The push to “increase productivity” is a false measure of success, because efficiency is not necessarily akin to quality. Productivity is not just accomplishing more with fewer resources, or in less time, but rather the collective result of taking on greater workloads, improving efficiency, and delivering a higher quality result at the end of the process.
There is an assumption that technology has made organizations more productive, but is this really the case?
They may be able to get the same amount of work done with fewer people, but what about taking on more work?
What about coming up with innovative solutions to customer issues? What about fostering relationships?
At what point does squeezing efficiency out of a company become strangulation?
Anil Saxena is the President of Cube 2.14, an organizational development consulting firm that works with clients to increase both customer and employee engagement while decreasing turnover, improving customer retention, and increasing profitability within organizations.
Saxena is a certified High Impact coach and trainer and a Joint Application Design facilitator. He is also certified by both Rush Systems and IBM as a focus group facilitator. He is an inaugural member of Northwestern University’s Learning and Organizational Change program, and he earned his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the Illinois Institute of Technology.