Productivity Consultant – Unsung Hero?

Say the word “productivity” loudly in a group, and watch the reaction. We’re betting that you’ll see more frowns, raised eyebrows and grimaces than enthusiastic responses. And why not? Improved productivity is perceived as something that benefits the organization but not the people who made it happen in the first place. Only pain, no gain! Which means being a productivity consultant can be quite a daunting proposition.

The concept of productivity improvement has been around as long as we can remember. No one denies its importance, and yet, it’s hard to find a group that will take to it with gusto. Much like a nasty vitamin pill, really. What makes it harder to swallow is the fact that increasingly, employees are being judged not only on their technical expertise but also their productivity.

A productivity consultant is an expert whose aim is to improve, you guessed it, the productivity of resources, be it manpower, money, time or space Ask one of them for an opinion, and they’ll tell you that productivity is a way of working smart, by doing more with less. Also, it’s not just a question of quantity; a productive resource is one that creates quality, first and foremost. For example, the folks at Hemphill Productivity Institute recently introduced the Paper Tiger Productivity Solution(TM) Program or and guarantee that it produces great results. Ahhhh, a positive outlook, finally!

In a case of the baby being thrown out with the bathwater, a productivity consultant usually invokes the same reaction as any thought of productivity does. The reasons for this are many. First of all, the whole concept of productivity improvement might be viewed with suspicion by the concerned supervisors and managers. A natural reaction is to think that the entire exercise is contrived to monitor their performance and see if it is up to scratch. In turn, the productivity consultant is seen as a “mole”, someone who has been sent to report any productivity shortcomings to senior management. While this could be true on occasion, more often the fears are unfounded.

Then there are the quality evangelists, who believe that any improvement in productivity must come at the expense of quality. The productivity consultant is therefore seen as a hard taskmaster, heartlessly urging the workers to produce more and more and more….
There may also be some opposition to cost control measures such as reduction in budgets or headcount, as these people would feel that such measures prevent them from delivering to the highest standards.

A productivity consultant may also be seen as a direct threat, someone who thinks he knows the job better. He is therefore an unwelcome intruder on “proprietary” territory. And finally, the most difficult obstacle to overcome is that of past experience. If the supervisor or manager has gone through a similar exercise in the past which resulted in unfortunate developments, he will never trust a productivity consultant within a mile!

Hence, any productivity improvement exercise must be well planned and better executed. Common pitfalls are to use it as a tool for reducing staff or evaluating individual performance. It is absolutely essential that any case of low productivity be examined for the root cause, and tackled at that level. Merely sacking “inefficient” staff is the same as treating a symptom and leaving the problem uncured. Another faulty approach to productivity is to treat it as a passing fad. An inconsistent, blow hot, blow cold attitude will only serve to disillusion and de-motivate the team. Choosing a capable productivity consultant who can deliver the goods, is therefore of vital importance.