As we usher in 2013 I’m sure one of the many things on your mind is “where did the year go?” It seems like only yesterday when we were basking in the warmth of summer and yet here we are only days away from New Years. On to next year. We all want to be more productive, but sometimes we need a little help. Luckily Tammy Erickson in her Harvard Business Review post provides some good fodder on several resolutions worth considering.
“The logic behind productivity improvements is straightforward: make more and/or use less,” writes Erickson. While the guiding philosophy behind being more productive seems simple, it rarely ever is. Employees achieve this goal by 1) developing and adopting new management practices (such as total quality management, lean manufacturing, reengineering, and employee engagement) or 2) adopting new technology and integrating it into their work processes. Both options deliver the desired outcome. However, “historically technology adoption has been the more important determinant of longer-term productivity and growth,” says Erickson.
There’s no question that technology has helped us become more productive – just look at all the product management tools and productivity helpers out there in existence – but there’s a catch. “Technology adoption only improves productivity if it is accompanied by concurrent changes in the way work is done,” writes Erickson. When looking at large productivity gains made from 1980 to 2000, companies placed a huge investment in technology acquisition. “However, research on the returns generated by these investments found that productivity growth occurred only when the technology was accompanied by thoughtful business process innovations tailored to sector – and company-specific business processes.” In other words, technology alone does not guarantee you the desired improvements. The key is a combination of technological improvements as well as understanding how to incorporate those into key business processes.
Fast forward to today. We’re seeing a new wave tools being brought to market. Instead of the information technology tools that increased employee productivity during the 1980s and 90’s, we’re seeing the leveraging social technologies to accomplish the new productivity gains desired. While it’s easy to get swept up in something new, Erickson rightly points out that “the ability of these technologies to drive real productivity growth will depend on whether or not they are accompanied by thoughtful changes in the way work is done.” These new tools promise many business benefits delivering “significant improvements in generating, capturing, and sharing knowledge, finding helpful colleagues and information, tapping into new sources of innovation and expertise, and harnessing the “wisdom of crowds.”
There no question that today’s technologies have the potential to enable a very different level of business performance. Only time will tell if the key to unlocking this productivity is in the successful aligning of new technology with existing critical business processes.