Becoming remarkable by redefining productivity

This blog is part of a series that originated from my original blog “What shifts are shaping the opportunity to become remarkable (again).” In that blog, I discussed four megatrends that drive new opportunities to reimagine the core of what we do. This blog zooms in on the third impact of these shifts: The opportunity that arises when we reimagine productivity.

What’s happening

Technology has always had a significant impact on productivity in general and how we have led our lives. Up to today, the shifts have come in waves where typically a single advance in technology was central to the impact. Think about the introduction of Windows back in the early 90s and how it impacted our productivity in the office, the way internet changed B2B, and B2C commerce early 2000, and how smartphones blended our private & business life by redefining mobility from July 2007 onwards. We’re now experiencing a wave however that’s bigger and stronger than all of these earlier waves together — at least that’s how it feels to me. Multiple forces have come together at the same time, allowing us to rethink pretty much everything we have become so familiar with. Just consider the massive availability of data, infinite accessible compute power, technologies like AI and Machine Learning outgrowing the labs and becoming available for mass consumption, and matured cloud and mobility infrastructures supporting fast and affordable adoption. It allows us to ask new questions, challenge the status quo, and reimagine productivity completely.

What could be?

Over the past years I have had many discussions with people around me where we asked out loud: Why does a consultant need to put in their timesheets manually. Why do we have to spend the precious private time we have to submit our business expenses every month? Why do people have to surrender their Friday afternoon to deal with piles of approvals? Isn’t there a better way? We leave so many trails on a day to day basis, and so much of what’s required to deal with this smartly is already available inside enterprise systems. Isn’t there a way to make this all go away? The answer to this: yes, it can, and yes it should. The target is not: ‘let’s build the most user-friendly and sexy [name your task] app,’ the target is: ‘let’s use technology smartly so that’s we never have to enter [name your task] at all.’

But the quest goes beyond the tedious tasks that nobody likes. These examples are obvious but are not the moments where the real value is being created. Value is created where we improve the outcome of our work.

  • Think project success in PSO or NGO. Why for example can’t a project manager be advised in-the-moment about specific outcomes in his/her portfolio that are at risk? Isn’t there a better way to grow project success in general?
  • Think employability of students in education. Why can’t a teacher or professor be informed earlier in the process that a student is at risk of dropping out, or take it even further, why can’t that same student be intelligently coached through technology about shifts in the labor market, and consequences to his or her current curriculum choices?
  • Think product quality & delivery reliability in Supply Chain. Why can’t a production manager be made aware of tiniest demand shifts further up or down in the value chain so that production schedules can be synched in real-time, inventory can be smartly replenished thereby avoiding not being able to stick to promises or suffering from dead stock?

With the technology advances that have blended over the past years, we can think big — and we should. Reimagining productivity should not be (only) about freeing up our precious time, but instead about smartly using the power of the data and technology that’s accessible today to grow our impact. Once we do that we can take the quality of life to an entirely new dimension. Just imagine what impact this could have when not for profits are empowered to multiply the number of people they help get out of poverty, disaster or refugee situation. Or when education institutes succeed in helping the majority of their students to stand firm in society, able to deliver impact and create a sustainable living on their own from the moment they graduate.

But is that all?

Just imagine we’re all freed up from the mundane tasks. No more timesheets, no more expenses, no more unnecessary meetings, and just having to deal with exceptions. That would finally allow us to shift our focus on adding true value — to our colleagues, students, customers or citizens. Not a fraction of our time, but the bulk of it. Our work would shift to the non-routine, the cognitive, the creative and complex problem-solving work that uniquely differentiates us from machines. With that happening other questions arise: won’t we be chasing a moving target? Think about it…

In my previous blogs, I have outlined two other impacts reshaping the workplace: The redefinition of value and the redefinition how work is done.

For example, we’ll see the transformation from output to outcome when we look at the value side. At the same time the organization of the future will very likely transform to one that’s more self-guided, quickly configured (around projects), fluid, location independent (virtual), has distributed teams and is composed of a mix of fixed contract and freelancers.

This means productivity is not only about evolving from the workplace we are familiar with. It means anticipating and incorporating all the other changes that are arriving that will influence our productivity going forward. I refer to:

  • Delivering outcomes instead of outputs places a different expectation on us, and as such how our productivity is measured.
  • The changing work-relationships. Organizations will start to blend in a higher % of free-lance workers for scale and flexibility, and at the same time, Millennials tend to change employers faster to pursue their career aspirations. This raises the challenge of how to capture and protect corporate knowledge, and how we bring it back into the organization to increase competitive edge.
  • Changing structures. Organizations will start to shift to organisms with less, possibly even no managers, where work is structured around projects, rather than the traditional divisional silos. Again, a change that has the opportunity to raise productivity levels and momentum as a group, but requires solid thinking how technology can a) enable this new way of working and b) support this to ensure maximum value can be delivered.

How to start

Like I’ve stated in my earlier blogs, it might be overwhelming to consider all the options and come out with a strategy that’s right for your organization. Looking beyond a five-year horizon is virtually impossible, but a way to approach it is to break it into pieces and start thinking like a futurist about your organization. Think of scenarios across these five angles:

  1. Start planning from your vision, instead of from your present. Rethink customer value by starting with the end in mind. What’s the ideal outcome ‘customers’ could hope for? What’s the ‘why’?
  2. Rethink productivity from a back-office perspective. How can you free your people from as much ‘waste’ as possible? Aim for potential “lights out finance / HR” scenarios where the business becomes completely self-driving.
  3. Rethink productivity from a front-office perspective. What influences the final impact on an outcome that not only pleases your customers but also differentiates you from the rest.
  4. Rethink the work to be done from two angles: Automation and augmentation. What tasks should disappear and where should you create human-machine scenarios to develop superhuman powers.
  5. Use all this input to review each job-profile in your organization — i.e. what does each role need / not need any more to live up to their full potential.

Good luck!

And please share your experiences how you / your company has already redefined productivity. Value inspiration at its best is when it helps create a better world for all of us. That’s a cause worth aiming for. So share!

About the author

Sales Pitch

Ton Dobbe is a former B2B software product marketer who's on a mission to save mission-driven SaaS CEOs from the stress of 'not enough' traction. He's the author of The Remarkable Effect, the host of the Tech-Entrepreneur on a Mission podcast, and writes a daily newsletter on the secrets to mastering predictable traction.