Improving the way employees work should be a major concern for organizations and, at their level, for every manager.
Improve work, not the result of work
Let’s be clear, I’m talking about improving work, not the result of work.
When we talk about improving work results (more, faster, better) it is often tempting to focus on the symptoms of the problem and not the problem itself. The issue is addressed at the level of individual performance and not at the level of individual and collective operating procedures.
Pressure is put on an employee, he or she is forced to focus (explicitly or not) on certain indicators, even if it means overlooking others, or even replacing the employee with another. This may work in the short term but it displaces the problem in the long term, it is an individualized approach to an often collective issue and in any case only treats the symptom and not the problem.
Talking about improving work means talking about the way we do things individually and collectively. So obviously we expect that in the end there will be an impact on the result of the work, but a lasting impact because we will have tackled the root causes and not the symptoms.
In one case, the employee is considered to be the adjustment variable of a dysfunctional system. In the other case, it is considered that the employee must use his or her energy to do his or her job and not to solve the organization’s problems, that he or she must be able to deliver his or her full potential.
We could go on and on about the fact that an underperforming employee is first of all a symptom of an imperfect work organization and not an incompetent one, that we should blame the system before blaming the individual or that we should not shoot the messenger… you know my point of view.
In short, there is a consensus on the need to work better instead of working more and this is not a bad thing.
4 good reasons to improve the functioning of your teams based on your sensitivity
Since wanting to change things without a benefit in return is impossible, it is of course necessary to justify why we are embarking on such a process, whether it is towards the company, the management or even the employees themselves.
The first result that can be expected is of course the improvement of performance and results. This will be the angle of the people responsible for the results: operations directors, managers (provided they know how to get enough height to distinguish the problems from the symptoms). For them, in the end, things will be measured in euros, in time or even in terms of quality.
The second one is quite close to the first one but differs a little: a better profitability. Where some people only look at the result obtained, we look at the means used to obtain it. One might think that the two go hand in hand, but this is not always the case: we still often see managers saying “we had great results” while financiers are saying “…. but at what price…?” In short, a poorly functioning team is a lot of wasted energy, an overconsumption of resources, the use of more people and time to achieve a result that could have been obtained with less.
Then we can expect a better employee experience. This implies having an operational vision of the subject, i.e. considering that the employee experience does not only reside in things peripheral to work in the productive sense of the term (all the extras that make people forget the pain while work itself is painful) and in the personal and relational dimension (I feel good, the atmosphere is good, the relationships with others are good). In this approach a better employee experience means less friction points, more fluidity in the work requires a workflow oriented approach. This is the approach of a few (too few) employee experience managers, which is similar to that of operations managers, not for the same reasons (one looks at what the system produces and whether it frustrates employees in relation to their ability to deliver their full potential) but the two converge.
Finally, we can expect a better well-being at work with all its consequences on engagement, turnover etc. Where the “operational” approach to employee experience looks at “does it help or hinder me” in my work, here the focus is on “how I experience it and how painful it is”. The two are complementary but not necessarily linked: one can have a pleasant job but not allow individuals to unleash their potential, in other words one can be heavy and inefficient in a silk cocoon. This is the approach of people in charge of well being, employee experience and managers who have understood that pulling too hard on the rope will break people.
What levers to use to improve the functioning of a team
No matter what the priority objective is, the means to achieve it are the same and we know them well: people, processes, technology.
People: we are talking about skills in the broadest sense, “hard skills” that make us perform well in our job and “soft skills” that make us perform well in a group. Both allow an individual to be more efficient individually but also to contribute to the increase of the collective performance, which is greater than the sum of the individual performances.
Processes: in the broadest sense of the word. Formal or informal, operational and decision-making. It is generally “the way we do things”, whether it is rigid or flexible, formalized or not. It also includes the collaborative style of the company or team. This is an obvious dimension in the world of industry, but one on which the world of “knowledge workers” (a pompous term that makes us forget that it covers more than 1 billion workers today, that they produce most of the value in today’s economy, and in particular the intangible assets that represent 90% of the assets of S&P500 companies, compared to 17% in 1975) is struggling to question itself and to progress.
Technology: machines, computers, software…. Here again, a subject that historically entered the company through industrial production, which then spread to white-collar workers with office automation and ERP in the broadest sense, and is now discovering applications in jobs and tasks that were previously unattainable with artificial intelligence.
Not everyone will use the same levers, not necessarily depending on the objective sought but especially on the sensitivity of the person. Those who are addicted to results will tend to neglect the “people” dimension, while the apostles of well being will not dare to confront the processes.
And that’s the whole point of putting the subject in this way.
Working better: a hybrid subject
Today I don’t think there is much debate about the need to “work better”, nor about the levers available to achieve it.
On the other hand, if we take the time to settle the subject, we realize :
• That it means different things to different people or at least that it corresponds to different objectives.
• No matter the approach and the person, there are only three possible levers.
• Depending on the sensitivity and the objective, certain levers will be favored to the detriment of others.
• And especially that very often several people address a dimension of the subject in a totally uncoordinated way, using different levers in opposite directions or even diverging on how to use a given lever.
“Better work” is a topic carried by different people/functions that in fact rarely talk to each other and do not act in a coordinated way.
In fact, each one acts on its own and the subject of work and operational improvement is a place where they end up meeting. Sometimes ignoring each other, sometimes even fighting.
A more logical approach would be to start from a common vision of what it means to work better and to coordinate so that each one carries a part of its execution according to its area of responsibility and its sensitivity.
Instead, we have managers, operations managers, HR people, people in charge of various subjects all talking about the same subject with different approaches, sometimes with different objectives and goals and acting in an uncoordinated way or even playing against each other.
In the middle you have the employees for whom this is at best a zero-sum game and at worst subject to paradoxical injunctions and contradictory initiatives.