Improving workplace productivity, step 3: The cost of interference

If I told you that you were only performing at 60% of you, would you want to do something about it?

Once you got past the emotional reaction of feeling criticised (“Who is this guy?”, “Who is he to challenge me?”), it is likely you will feel the need to justify yourself. You’ll probably point out how hard you and your team are working and highlight your performance versus your targets and KPIs.

But this is not about targets and KPIs, this is about potential.

It is not my intent to criticise; I am instead challenging the way you see the world. I see it in every client we work with, and it sits at the heart of our Thinking Focus belief statement:

We believe that people, teams and business units underperform, not because they want to, not because they mean to, but because they can’t get out of their own way!

Every day you and your people face challenges and constraints, either self-imposed, real or perceived. Your people face systems and processes designed with the best intent yet which fail to empower them to deliver greatness, forcing compliance and restricting innovation and creativity, all in the name of consistency. Well, guess what: the only consistency is your people consistently underperforming and not reaching their potential!

In over a decade of working with clients across the world, I and my colleagues at Thinking Focus have noticed the startling reality that, when asked, people in all businesses state that ‘interference’ (the stuff that gets in our way) amounts to an average 40%. Yes, 40%! Which means that, if this is true, people are performing at an average of just 60%!

While I accept that this observation is hardly scientific, the consistency in what more than 200 clients have reported to us over all these years is uncanny. Moreover, a CIPD survey suggested the exact same number, give or take 1%. It would seem that our anecdotal findings are actually supported by an external reference point!

So we know there is a problem, now let’s look at what can you do about it.

Here are three things you can do to get started, and they won’t cost you a penny or a huge amount of time:

1. Quantify the size of your problem or opportunity

The key here is not to get to focused on the number, but instead to look for the opportunity. Dig beneath the surface. One obvious thing to do, which is rarely done, is to ask your people what it is that gets in the way of them doing their best work. So ask them:

  • What ‘interference’ do they have to deal with every day? Get them to externalise it but don’t justify, defend or seek to fix it at this point. Your goal is to understand the issues
  • Can you quantify this interference as a percentage? Ask them how much it affects their ability to perform at 100% of their potential
  • Use this as a rudimentary guide, to size your problem/opportunity

So, for example, if they suggest that the ‘interference’ is at 35%, this means that they are performing at 65% of their potential. Ask them what impact a 1%, 2% or 10% shift would have on their performance. Is it worth fixing? If yes, go to step 2.

2. Review the ‘interference’ list

Invite your people to review the list of ‘interference’ and ask them to focus on just three right now; three that could add the greatest value with least effort. In essence, identify the ‘low hanging fruit’ which will eliminate, improve or mitigate the impact of ‘interference’. Then invite volunteers to pitch up and take on the challenge to fix one.

3. Let them go!

Now, support them, provide time and resources, and let them go unlock some potential for you. This is important as you are empowering them to own the problem and fix it. It also means that any long term solution will be owned by them and will likely lead to wider adoption of their solution than any imposed by management.

There are many benefits from adopting this approach, including:

  • There is a cathartic release from sharing ‘interference’
  • Your people feel listened to
  • They feel included in the choice of priorities
  • Your people feel empowered to improve their world
  • Ownership will increase as they go fix it
  • Business performance improves

I am not sure I can see a reason not to, can you?